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Ask Cam

Doing circles around Clark

February 6, 2009


I’m enjoying having Cam back and hope others are as well. I have heard that one function of the cinder circles outside of Clark Building was to keep flaming cocktails and other things thrown by Vietnam war protestors from going into the windows. Is this just myth, or is there truth to this story? Thanks.

Cam's answer:

Well, CSU certainly wasn’t immune from political protests that marked this era. In fact, the fire which destroyed Old Main in 1970 was believed to be intentionally set, according to our veteran CSU historian Jim Hansen. No arson was ever proved, though.

After some sleuthing, your investigative mascot discovered the real story behind cinder circles on the Clark Building (and a few other buildings on campus). University Architect Mike Rush tells me:

The Clark Building, the Library, the Eddy Building, the Education Building, Student Center and others were designed by James Hunter, a regionally well-known architect who authored many of the international style buildings on main campus.

The circles are actually flue tiles, as in chimney flue blocks that are normally stacked vertically to create a chimney. In our buildings and in many across the country, they were employed in a horizontal position to create a sun shade over a glass curtain wall to prevent heat gain from the sun into the building in the early fall and summer months while allowing for daylighting and views. Glass technology has certainly advanced since then, and we are now able to allow more direct glass exposure while still mitigating the heat. The recently completed Computer Science Building is a great example of the use of high-tech glass.

I believe the flue tiles were most notably used by internationally renowned architect Marcel Breuer. As with many successful material applications and design styles, this proliferated itself into many buildings of this time across the United States.

Still, Cam wonders: If Old Main had had cinder circles, would it have become a circle of cinders?