An Interview with Jim Miller, University Architect

Posted: November 24, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Dave Andrews

As university architect for nearly 20 years, Jim Miller has been at the forefront in creating George Mason University’s physical image. Over that time, the university’s programs and reputation have grown right along with the buildings.

Before joining Mason, Miller worked in private practice in Washington, D.C.

What do you find most fulfilling about your position as university architect?

I really enjoy contributing to the physical environment and growth of Mason. It’s exciting to be a part of building a university from the ground up.

What past work experiences have helped you or given you inspiration as you guide the expansion of Mason?

I worked with some of the greats in architecture, Marcel Breuer and Aldo Giurgola. Both are world-famous architects who were very practical with their designs. Working with them helped me develop an eye for design improvement.

What are some of the changes you’ve seen over the years?

Back when I first got to Mason, the [Fairfax] campus pretty much stopped at Robinson Hall. There was no housing on Presidents Park; no Prince William Campus. I was involved with the acquisition and development of the Prince William Campus. And I was also very involved with the development of the Arlington Campus’ buildings. Back then, [the Arlington Campus] was just an old department store with a big parking lot.

I held a dual role when I first got here. I was director of facilities planning, as well as the university architect. All of us [in Facilities Planning] had multiple roles back then. The growth this campus has experienced has been enormous. Twenty years ago, we had a total capital program of about $100 million. Today, it’s about $900 million.

What is the overall vision you have for architecture at Mason?

The goal is to produce the best possible designs within the resources we have. There was an established palette of red brick on campus, so we’ve continued with that. We never went the way of hokey stone or gothic architecture. When [former Mason president] Dr. [George] Johnson hired me, he said that this place was starting to look like “State U” and we needed to up the quality of the design of the buildings. He felt that all of the buildings were boxy and not edgy enough. But now, with each and every building project we take on, there is much more attention given to the design and surrounding physical environments than ever before.

With so much construction going on, it seems like there’s no end in sight.

Well, at some point, we will have built out the Fairfax Campus. That’s not to say there won’t be any more land, but rather the transportation network to get here is the main limiting factor. Right now we’re working with Loudoun County and the town of Leesburg and Northern Virginia Community College to get a new campus in Loudoun County. There’s always room for growth and progress.

The funding from the state is somewhat sporadic. Mason has to take [the funding] as it gets it, because you don’t know when it’ll stop. If state funding were consistent, the projects might be more spaced out. But that kind of consistent funding is never the case.

What do you think is Mason Facilities’ greatest accomplishment to date?

Mason has gotten away from the commuter school image and established itself as a major university in the region. This is, in part, a result of the huge increase of on-campus housing, state-of-the-art academic buildings to allow for more research, and sports and recreation facilities that keep our students happy and entertained. We’ve grown up as a university. The facilities that we’ve built have had a significant impact on Mason’s overall image.

What do you consider the most exciting thing going on right now with Mason’s construction efforts?

The improvements that we’ve made, and continue to make, that directly influence student life are some of the most exciting projects we’re involved in. Additional housing and the numerous new programs now available to students are changes that have created a totally new atmosphere here at Mason. These are key components that will completely change this campus for years to come.

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