Founded in 1864 as the National Deaf-Mute College, this institution emerged from the Columbia Institution of the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind, a grammar school chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1857. The campus was laid out by the landscape architecture firm Olmsted, Vaux & Co. beginning with a plan in 1866. Initial buildings were designed by Frederick Withers, partner in Vaux’s separate architectural firm Vaux, Withers & Co. The institution’s name was changed to Gallaudet College in 1917, and again to Gallaudet University in 1986.
Situated in northeast Washington, D.C., the university was initially surrounded by farmland and has since been hemmed in by gridded urban and industrial development, with a rail depot located directly north. Olmsted and Vaux’s plan called for dense border plantings and a meandering circulation network designed to provide choreographed passages of scenery. As suggested by the firm, the southwest corner of the campus was purchased to house faculty residences separated from academic buildings by an open field, today known as Olmsted Green. Early buildings include the flagship Chapel Hall (1871), prominently overlooking the main entrance on Florida Avenue, the President’s House (1869), and College Hall (1878), all by Withers.
Over the twentieth century, the campus expanded north, with substantial growth in the 1960s and 1970s. The Gallaudet Mall, bookended between Chapel Hall and the Merrill Arts Learning Center, serves as the university’s epicenter. The Modernist Hanson Plaza, built in 1975, was updated in the 2010s by Studio Twenty Seven. In 2016 the University commissioned the U.K.-based architectural firm Hall McKnight to transform the campus’ western border, better integrating the school with its surrounding neighborhood. In 2018 Dangermond Keane Architects, in partnership with Stantec, produced a master plan to guide future development. Today the campus measures 99 acres, with the original fourteen-acre core listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district in 1974.