The Poetry in Hoyt Hall

When I arrived at the UW campus in Laramie ten years ago, like everyone I was immediately struck by the picturesque beauty of Prexy's Pasture and the ensemble of buildings surrounding it. What a wonderful harmony between architecture and landscape we enjoy! Yet I must confess that no individual building impressed me as truly excellent in and of itself.

 And then I explored further and encountered Hoyt Hall. Hoyt grabbed me instantly, and all these years later I still believe it's the most interesting building on campus. I go out of my way to walk by it almost every day. Hoyt was built as a womens’ dormitory between 1916 and 1922; the architect was William Dubois of Cheyenne. It was named to honor of Dr. John W. Hoyt, UW’s founding president.

 Why do I love it? Hoyt Hall is simply a beautiful architectural composition. Dubois designed a façade with a wonderfully complex and balanced rhythm. The vertical divisions and subdivisions are endlessly fascinating to study, in the same way English majors might analyze a poem by Keats. (The diagram helps explain this.)

The proportions, to my eyes, are excellent; that extra bit of solidity at the end of the wall, for example, is just right. And look at the vertical movements! How perfect that the Prairie-Style horizontal roofline is broken in three places, by the peculiar Mission-Style parapets that had no precedent on campus or in the area. And how clever that the roofline was not broken where the bay windows thrust upward, resolving themselves in attic-level dormers. In 1922 this was stylish and innovative, yet deeply classical.

 The backside exhibits a different and complementary hierarchy. The main public space, wrapped in glass, is allowed to step forward in an honorific manner. If the building is a symphony, this is the intermezzo.  I expect this was originally the ‘living room’; it’s now an especially-habitable conference room.

 And I wonder, as I walk behind Hoyt, if the fire escapes were part of the original design, or a later modification. I can see women of the 1920s hanging out on these makeshift terraces on warm evenings. I’m sure young men reenacted Romeo and Juliet from below. I imagine how Edward Hopper might have painted such a scene.

 Now, Hoyt Hall has not been well-loved, and the interior spaces are relatively miserable for academic use today. It's a difficult place to work, and certainly needs to be better-insulated for comfort and energy use. That will change soon; the University has commissioned a modernization. I'm confident the architects will preserve Hoyt’s remarkable design quality, while giving my colleagues a better place to work. I hope those evocative fire escapes will survive.

NOTE: Some improvements have been made to Hoyt Hall since Dr. Denzer wrote this article.

By Dr. Tony Denzer

Caption:  The rhythm displayed by repeating elements in the four stories of UW’s Hoyt Hall façade  as diagramed by Dr. Denzer.