Angling for A's: Quirkiest College Campuses

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View of "Fallen Star" on University of California San Diego's campus. Erik Jepsen/University of San Diego

"Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness," architect and designer Frank Gehry said. It's no wonder then that some of the most innovative designs are implemented on college campuses, where students learn from the past and grow from new perspectives. As students from all over reconvene for the school year, these campuses offer different points of view, not only through their curricula, but through their unconventional building styles. From a student center shaped like dim sum steamer baskets in Singapore, to a 36-story skyscraper in Russia, to a shipping center imitation in the Netherlands, here are college buildings around the world that present different angles.

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"Fallen Star," an art installation by artist Do Ho Suh, on top of the Jacobs School of Engineering building on the University of California San Diego (UCSD) campus. Bing Guan/Bloomberg/Getty

Spirited Sculpture Park
University of California San Diego
San Diego

Campus architecture here ranges from sixties-era concrete buildings to bright and airy contemporary ones, but what truly stands out are the otherworldly sculptures. Developed in partnership with The Stuart Foundation, the collection features site-specific pieces like Do Ho Suh's Fallen Star, a crooked cottage that hangs off the ledge of Jacobs Hall, and Niki de Saint Phalle's Sun God, a massive, brightly-colored bird perched atop a tall archway.

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A view of a mural on the city campus of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma (UNAM) in Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico. Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Painting the Past
National Autonomous University of Mexico
Mexico City

This campus doubles as a UNESCO World Heritage site, home to murals painted by some of the country's most celebrated artists, from Diego Rivera to David Alfaro Siqueiros. The art tells the story of Mexico's history, guiding viewers through curated scenes depicted on the building facades.

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Galapagos Science Center on San Cristóbal Island in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. Courtesy of Carlos Gavela/Archipelago Films

Discover Like Darwin
Universidad San Francisco de Quito/UNC Chapel Hill
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

A joint venture by USFQ and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the main classroom here is one of the world's most biodiverse islands—but the human-made ones aren't too shabby, either. Learn conservation skills in buildings nestled among tropical tree-lined quads.

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Exterior of Fisher Center, designed by Frank Gehry, at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. Barry Winiker/Getty

Acoustic Arcadia
Bard College
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

Known for its fine and performing arts programs, Bard College took its reputation to the next level with the Fisher Center. Designed by Frank Gehry, the $62 million layered stainless steel-paneled building, which houses theaters and rehearsal studios known to have some of the best acoustics in the nation, is also fully powered by geothermal sources—rendering it free of fossil fuel emissions.

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The Shipping and Transport College on the Maas River in the Netherlands. Masci Giuseppe/AGF/Universal Images Group/Getty

Supply Chain Style
Shipping and Transport College
Rotterdam, Netherlands

Where better to learn the nuts and bolts of maritime transport and logistics than a college built on a port, designed to emulate a shipping center? The architecture mirrors the curriculum, in which students complete simulations of real-life scenarios to gain hands-on experience in the industry.

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Venice International University on San Servolo island in Venice, Italy. Julian Weyer/Getty

On Island Time
Venice International University
Venice, Italy

Running late for class? Call a water taxi. At VIU, located in a lagoon on the island of San Servolo, the only way to get to campus is by boat. The architecture is emblematic of the island's rich history—transformed from monastery to hospital, with remnants of the vineyards and gardens that once covered much of the land.

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University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa. Hoberman Collection/Universal Images Group/Getty

Mountain Construction
University of Cape Town
Cape Town, South Africa

Nestled just below Devil's Peak, this university uses geography as architecture, with the buildings melding into a mountainous backdrop. It's a setting that comes with risk, though; last year, a wildfire on the slope raged through the campus, destroying several historic buildings, including the library and its special collections. Restoration efforts are still in progress.

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A sunset view of the main building of Lomonosov’s Moscow State University in Moscow, Russia. George Mathew/Getty

Classroom in the Clouds
Moscow State University

If you have office hours in the Main Building, you might want to factor in some elevator time to your commute. At 36 stories, the skyscraper houses not only departments ranging from geology to performing arts, it also has a concert hall, theater, museum, swimming pool, hair salon, police station and post office. The star atop the tower weighs 12 tons alone.

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Rochester Institute of Technology Dubai's Innovation Lab, designed to look like a quantum microchip. Courtesy of RIT Dubai

Innovation Station
Rochester Institute of Technology Dubai
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Located in Dubai's Silicon Oasis, the city's technology hub, the new RIT campus has a futuristic look to match its forward-thinking ethos. At the Innovation Lab, designed to look like the core of a quantum microchip, campus members, start-ups and researchers come together to share ideas and showcase new technologies.

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Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Hufton+Crow/Universal Images Group/Getty

Dean of Dumplings
Nanyang Technological University

If this student center has you craving dumplings, you're not alone—the building, actually named The Hive, is also affectionately referred to as the "dim sum building" for its similarity to stacked steamer baskets. Not everyone is sold though; The Architectural Review likened the building to "something of a forlorn car-park aesthetic."

Correction: 08/31/22, 12:27 p.m. ET: This article was corrected to clarify Universidad San Francisco de Quito's acronym (USFQ) and that the Galapagos campus is not built in the Spanish style, as a previous version listed.