Hennessy takes audience on a virtual architectural tour and on a real stroll

President John Hennessy presented his annual address to the Academic Council in two of Stanford's newest buildings – one devoted to the study of economic policy and another (still under construction) that will house the School of Engineering.

Jack Hubbard

President Hennessy's tour included the Science and Engineering Quad, which is nearing completion.

Equipped with three dozen slides and a laser pointer, President John Hennessy played tour guide, campus historian and architectural expert – and raconteur – last Thursday during his annual state-of-the-university address.

As his stage, Hennessy chose the auditoriums of two of Stanford's newest buildings – one devoted to the study of economic policy and another (still under construction) that will become the headquarters of the School of Engineering.

He delivered the first part of his address, titled "Positioning Stanford for the Future: New Places and Spaces," at the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Building, new home of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

The second part of his May 13 talk, which focused on new science, medicine and engineering buildings, was titled "Positioning Stanford for the Future: Extending the Legacy." It was held in the Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center. It was the first public gathering at the center.

Construction at an all-time high

"The amount of building on campus will peak this year at an all-time high – an all-time high possibly since the beginning of the early days of the construction of the Quad," Hennessy said at the beginning of his address in the Gunn Building.

"Now you'll be happy to know that every single building we're building we have the money for. We haven't borrowed against the future. We haven't borrowed against either undergraduate financial aid or faculty salaries. We are doing this in a prudent fashion as we go forward."

Hennessy's slideshows included photographs – historical and contemporary – and maps, including one showing the original layout of campus designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, as well as aerial views of the present-day campus.

He showed color architectural renderings of future buildings. One showed law students chatting in the courtyard of the future Law School Faculty and Clinics Building, and another showed students walking on the campus of the future Knight Management Center.

L.A. Cicero President Hennessy gave the first part of his address at the annual meeting of the Academic Council in the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Building, the new home of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

President Hennessy gave the first part of his address at the annual meeting of the Academic Council in the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Building, the new home of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

"I believe that Stanford has become a great research university in no small degree because of its willingness to take risks, to be bold, to be progressive, to be western," Hennessy said, adding that the university's facilities play a key role in defining and enabling the work of its faculty, students and staff.

Ensuring that the Stanford community thrives

He said that each of the construction projects the university has undertaken over the last 10 years has had two goals: first, to ensure that the Stanford community and succeeding communities of faculty and students and staff will continue to thrive as the university carries out its academic mission; and second, to maintain the quality of the architectural experience – the look and feel of campus and "the great gift we got originally from the Stanfords."

During his presentations, Hennessy told humorous anecdotes drawn from the three decades he has spent on the Farm – as an electrical engineering professor, director of the Computer Systems Laboratory, dean of the School of Engineering, provost and, since 2000, president.

He told one story about a backstage chat with Itzhak Perlman after the renowned violinist performed on campus, who said: "Mr. President, Stanford University is a great university, but you have terrible performance facilities. You should be embarrassed."

"Well I was," Hennessy said, which drew appreciative laughter from the audience. "What he didn't realize was, that turned out to be a good fundraising story for future opportunities."

Hennessy showed a stunning color image – an architectural rendering – of the future Bing Concert Hall, glowing golden in the evening light, a picture that drew quiet gasps from some people in the audience.

"I've told the architect that the building has to look this nice at night when you look down the main axis of the museum," Hennessy said, delighted at the reaction.

A brisk walk to the newest quad

After a brisk stroll across campus to the new science and engineering quad, Hennessy continued his address in the auditorium of the Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center, an octagonal-shaped building with a terraced courtyard designed to double as an amphitheater.

While dozens of people set out on the cross-campus stroll before Hennessy left the Gunn Building – ushers appeared along the way to point everyone in the right direction – the president quickly caught up with the group at Memorial Fountain.

Setting a brisk pace in his navy blue suit and broad-brimmed straw hat, Hennessy took the lead at History Corner.

He led the group under an arched pavilion on the east side of the Quad, then straight across the middle of the Quad under a hot late-afternoon sun. The group passed under the arched pavilion on the west side of the Quad, then between two rows of palm trees along the path to the new Science and Engineering Quad.

Hennessy later remarked on the beauty of that vista. He urged the audience to visit the top floor of Green Library's Bing Wing, where they would get a spectacular view of the scene.

First gathering at future headquarters of Engineering School

L.A. Cicero President Hennessy walked with Jeff Wachtel and dozens of faculty and staff through the Main Quad.

President Hennessy walked with Jeff Wachtel and dozens of faculty and staff through the Main Quad.

At the Huang Center, Hennessy showed an artist's drawing of the new Science and Engineering Quad depicting the four buildings that will eventually anchor each corner: the Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building (Y2E2), the Huang Center, the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, and the Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering Building.

"When all that is done, the last of our large-scale, prehistoric, 1960, industrial, slum-like buildings can come down finally," he said, a remark that drew laughter from the crowd.

Pointing to one corner of a map, Hennessy singled out the Ginzton Laboratory.

"Here's that old Ginzton building, which will disappear," he said, using his red laser pointer to draw an imaginary squiggle over the building on the screen.

Hennessy urged the audience to visit Y2E2 (shorthand for Yamazaki and Yang, environment and energy), located in the southeast corner of the Quad. The building, which set new sustainability standards at Stanford when it opened in 2008, was designed to reduce energy and water consumption.

"If you've never been in Y2E2, you should go in it," he said. "It has these great atria that run all the way from the basement to the top floor and come out to these louvers, which are computer controlled and can be used to control the air flow in the building."

At the Huang Center, Hennessy talked about the importance of arcades as one of Stanford's signature architectural features, and said arcades will eventually link all four buildings in the Science and Engineering Quad.

"One of the things I love about this side of campus, in addition to its restoration of the Olmsted quadrangle plan, is what I think of as the modern interpretation of some of the classic parts of Stanford architecture," he said. "Of course, arcades around the Main Quad are one of the unique things about the Quad, and here we have a modern interpretation of arcades, keeping its value."

Hennessy recommends other new sights on campus

During his talks, Hennessy urged the audience to take their own strolls and visit the newest places and spaces on the Farm, including Munger Graduate Residence, the biggest single housing project undertaken since Wilbur Hall was built in the 1950s.

Munger, which opened in late 2009, is located near the Law School. It consists of five apartment buildings that now house about 600 law and graduate students.

"It's really nice to walk around and see the open spaces," Hennessy said. "And they have a nice café."

He also talked about the renovation of the Peterson Building (Building 550) on Panama Mall, a former laboratory and one of the original sandstone buildings on campus. After an extensive renovation, the building celebrated its grand opening in late April as the new home of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design.

"It's a wonderful new space," he said. "You should go over there and take a look. It's really spectacular. It keeps the old architecture and it keeps what's great about that part of the campus, but allows us to reinterpret and reuse the building in new ways."

At the Huang Center, Hennessy also talked about the new buildings on the Medical School campus, including the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge, which held an open house last week. The building, including its downstairs café and bookstore, will be fully functioning in time for the first official day of school on Aug. 18.

He also showed a slide of the new Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab, an industrial-style building located at the corner of Stock Farm and Oak roads.

"I never thought Stanford would become a leader in automotive racing, but in fact, we have become a leader in automotive racing and automotive technology, primarily on autonomous vehicles," he said, referring to the Stanford Racing Team.

The team won its first autonomous race in 2005 with Stanley, a car developed for the Grand Challenge held in the Mojave Desert by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The second car, Junior, took second place in the agency's 2007 Urban Challenge. Their third car, Shelley, will attempt to scale Pikes Peak without a driver in September.

Looking even further into the future, Hennessy said Stanford will one day capitalize on that expertise, replacing even the Marguerite shuttle buses with autonomous vehicles that would "run at such a speed that nobody will ever again bother to do anything but park at the edge of campus" and get into an autonomous car.

"We're not there yet," he said. "But we'll get there."

Preparing the Farm for new research and learning 

Hennessy said that Stanford is always thinking about the future.

"When we think about all these great buildings, we realize that we're preparing the campus for doing the great kind of work that it will have to do in the future," he said. "We're preparing our students and our campus to support that kind of research, which is so important as we go forward."

Stanford, which has led by being bold, has always been creative about its future.

"The only way we can be truly exceptional is by being leaders in the fields we're in, by being the people who define how the field is shaped. The goal we have with what we're doing in these new buildings is to continue that great tradition of leadership," he said.

Hennessy concluded each slideshow with a signature color photograph of Stanford, taken at the intersection where Palm Drive meets the Oval. Memorial Church is at the center of the image, flanked on both sides by sandstone wings of the Quad, and beyond it, the rolling foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

"No campus in the world has a view like when you drive up its main gateway," he said. "We're lucky to have it."

At the end of his presentation in the Huang Center, Hennessy answered questions from the audience on a wide variety of topics, including the overseas studies program in Beijing, electrical power generation on campus and the status of plans to build a new hospital.