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Master Plan designer dies

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On Monday, May 7, Calvin College lost a good friend.  William Beye Fyfe, the architect who designed the master plan for Calvin's present campus, passed away at the age of 90 in his Woodstock, Ill., home after a brief illness following a stroke.

Fyfe's other architectural achievements include designing the campus of Rockford College in Rockford, Ill., and designing a number of public libraries in the Chicago area.

In his youth, Fyfe was fascinated by the many Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes in his hometown of Oak Park, Ill.  After graduating from Yale's school of architecture in 1932 Fyfe became one of the first students at Wright's Taliesin school in Spring Green, Wis., and throughout his life remained a dedicated follower of Wright and his Prairie School architectural style. 

Fyfe's partnership with Calvin began in 1957 when the college hired Perkins and Will Architects of Chicago, whom Fyfe worked for from 1957 until 1975, to design a new campus.  At the time Calvin was outgrowing its original campus on Franklin Street.

Working together, Fyfe and Dr. William Spoelhof (President of the College, 1951-1976) came up with a set of design principles for the campus (see box below) aimed to both symbolically represent and physically promote such ideals as the integration of faith and learning; integration of administration, faculty, and students; and the inter-relatedness of all the disciplines.

In addition, the Prairie style of the buildings-low-slung, set into the contours of the land, and all constructed of the same beige brick that has come to be known in Grand Rapids as "Calvin Brick"-was intended to reflect Calvin's belief that we are caretakers of God's natural creation.

Fyfe's affinity for nature grew from his own intimate involvement with the land.  Both in his youth and for a time after WWII he worked on his family farm, and he used the farmhouse as his headquarters for many years.

Fyfe continued to collaborate with Calvin until he retired in 1975, and maintained ties to the college for the rest of his life.  When Calvin hired Frank Gorman as its first full-time college architect in 1997, Gorman and President Byker spent an entire day touring the campus in golf carts while Fyfe and Dr. Spoelhof pointed out aspects of the architecture and explained their philosophy.   Gorman continues to follow both the principles Fyfe and Spoelhof laid down and Fyfe's Prairie style of architecture in all of Calvin's current building projects.

After retirement Fyfe turned his attention to community involvement.  As well as serving on numerous boards and commissions in Woodstock and McHenry County, Fyfe became very involved in supporting peace and nonviolence movements.  After his first wife, Margaret, died in 1983, he remarried and adopted the Quaker faith of his new wife, Mary Endres.

Calvin College memorialized its beloved architect while Fyfe was still living by naming a room after him in the president's residence, DeWit Manor.  Calvin President Dr. Gaylen J. Byker, his wife, Susan Byker, and Dr. Spoelhof attended Fyfe's memorial service, which took place on June 2 in Woodstock. 

"He was not just working for us," says Spoelhof, "he was a dear friend."

Calvin Art Gallery
Exhibit: "The Calvin Campus through the Eyes of Frank Lloyd Wright"
Oct. 5 - Nov. 2, 2001

Grand Rapids Art Museum
Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit and lectures, Oct. 12, 2001 - Jan. 6, 2002


Fyfe followed four design principles as he developed the Knollcrest Campus:

Unity of Knowledge. This refers to the integration of all knowledge, or the organic oneness of knowledge, as symbolized by the relationship of all academic instruction buildings to each other, around a common point of interaction, the Campus Green.

Community of Scholars. The faculty should be thought of as a family of professors whose solidarity of purpose and unity of spirit contributes to strong inter-departmental discipline and a stronger Christian community. The efficient planning and design of faculty offices, lounges, coffee shop, and meeting rooms accomplished this.

Faith and Learning. The correlation / integration of the three most important facets of formal education are represented by (the relationship of) such buildings as classrooms / laboratories, chapel, and library. This is referred to as the "educational triad." The emphasis is placed on academic-religious orientation rather than on social orientation, although it was understood that as much learning occurs in residence halls as occurs in the classroom.

Multi-use Buildings.  Facilities are designed to accommodate a variety of functions. Administration is not separate and distinct, but is mixed with faculty offices, classrooms, and lecture halls to make a more interactive community.

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