The Spanish Architecture of Texas Tech

The Texas Tech University Administration Building exemplifies the historic, physical, and conceptual links to the past. In August 1923, the Board of Directors of the newly designated Texas Technological College selected William Ward Watkin to design the new campus to be built west of the town of Lubbock. Watkin, who had traveled in Spain, based his façade design of the Administration Building on Spanish architect Rodrigo Gil de Ontañón’s 1553 redesign of the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares.  This renovated building was in the Estilo Plateresco or Plateresque style—the earliest architectural phase of Spanish Renaissance design.

Another precedent for Watkin’s design was the Archbishop’s Palace, also in Alcalá de Henares.  Although Tech’s building is much wider than Alcalá’s, the central portion is very similar to the original.  As seen in Watkin’s original sketch, he initially intended for the main entrance façade to have windows and an upper arcade similar to Alcalá.  During the subsequent design phase, several elements were changed—in some cases enhancing its replication of Alcalá.

Watkin believed that climatically and geographically, West Texas had more in common with the Southwestern United States and with Central Spain than with the rolling hills and coastal plains of southeast Texas.  He also appreciated the history of Spanish exploration on the High Plains and Spanish mission architecture he found in San Antonio. 

In Texas Technological College’s “Campus Bulletin” Watkin explained his choice of a historic prototype, writing:

“In its architecture, ‘Texas Tech’ is carrying on the traditions of the early architectural history of the State.  . . .  This style of Spain which was the background of the missions in Texas, was one of the most impressive and inspiring of Europe.  The architecture of Spain in the middle of the 16th century, as one sees it in such examples as Leon, Alcalá de Henares, Salamanca, and Toledo, carr[ies] the simple splendor of the wall more for robust and at the same time for artful work than is characteristic of the other countries of western Europe in their periods of Renaissance. . . . The great table lands of west Texas upon which the buildings of the new college are being built have a likeness in color and character to the table lands of central Spain, and this group of college buildings . . . can carry the early traditions, fittingly tying-in the bond of tradition, the old history and the new, the past, the present and the hope for the future.” 

                                                              ~William Ward Watkin

Contemporary Echoes  --  Architecture --  Our Lady of Guadalupe

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