Property Type: Institutional
Neighborhood: Boise State University  |  County: Ada  |  Building Status: Public  |  Architectural Style: Modern
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The John B. Barnes Towers Hall is a student dormitory on the campus of Boise State University. The towers were originally constructed in 1969 and opened in 1970 as the Towers Residence Hall. It originally operated as an all-women’s dorm, providing on-campus housing for approximately three hundred students. It is situated near Capital Boulevard along the Boise River.

The Towers Residence Hall was one of Boise State’s first residence halls, following the Morrison, Driscoll, and Chaffee Halls and preceded the college’s designation as a university, which was gained in 1974. In 1989 the residence hall was renamed Barnes Towers after John Barnes, a former president of Boise State University, and the building has since retained this name. The Barnes Towers Hall remains a housing option for Boise State University students, and is generally used to house first-year students.

The Barnes Towers Hall has not undergone many significant changes since its construction in 1969. It features two circular towers joined by a rectangular connection area. The entire structure is primarily constructed of concrete and brick. The outside has a masonry appearance due to this extensive use of red brick.

The towers themselves are each seventy feet in diameter and seven stories tall. Each floor above the ground floor contains the living spaces for students with dorm rooms situated radially about a central lounge in each tower. Aside from the circular towers themselves, the building displays no irregular lines or features. The windows on each tower are positioned in vertical lines, separated by flat, almost pillar-like brick structures. The base of the towers appear narrower than the upper stories, making the towers look somewhat like they are growing up. This, along with the vertical orientation of the windows and other tower features draws one’s view up, giving the impression of height to this relatively squat building.

Overall, this building is very plain and is designed in a modernist architectural style. It is very functional -although one may question the utility and functionality of circular living towers and how that impacts the shape of the rooms- and features relatively few aesthetically pleasing features. Despite this, the circular towers provide a quality to the building that makes it interesting and unique and set it apart from surrounding structures. The Barnes Towers Hall is a fascinating element of Boise’s architecture and is a quite visible and interesting sight along Capitol Boulevard.

According to an article in the Lewiston Tribune from 1998, the new executive director of the Idaho Board of Education had to stay in a dorm on the third floor of Barnes Towers. Greg Fitch had yet to find a permanent residence in Boise, but had to start his job at the state capitol building. Additionally, as part of an agreement with Boise State University, the Boise Fire Department uses Barnes Towers as part of its staff training. The towers are used to practice high-rise firefighting techniques. One room is filled with smoke, although no part of the building is actually set on fire.

The Barnes Towers Hall is a very interesting part of Boise and has demonstrated its value to the community architecturally, historically, and functionally. It continues to serve as the living space for hundreds of Boise State University students. Despite its lack of obvious beauty, it is architecturally attractive and symmetrical, with clean lines and functionality that contribute to a structure that combines the brick prevalent in historic Boise buildings and a modern look that provides a date stamp of sorts in Boise architectural evolution.