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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

In praise of LHB architecture

<ns Sedlmayr wrote in Verlust der Mitte that “the new type of architect has become hopelessly uncertain of himself. He glances over his shoulder at the engineer, he fancies himself in the role of the inventor and even in that of a reformer of men’s lives, but he has forgotten to be an architect.” This sort of misguided mentality is the only reason I can think of for Tom Duda’s insistence in his January 25 Viewpoint that Carleton’s new dormitories must have an architecture that reflects “educational opportunities to students of all national, racial, ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds.” I can only imagine the sort of dormitory Duda would design which could simultaneously reflect the architecture of poverty (a tin roof, maybe?), religious diversity (an Islamic minaret?), and racial backgrounds (I do not know of any specifically racial architecture, but perhaps Duda could offer some suggestions). Exactly what kind of cultural hegemony is he raging against? It is quite apparent that the fact that Nourse was built for local Minnesotans in 1917 is not the issue at all. Rather, he simply wants us to accept his modernist hooplah, a 20th century invention entirely divorced from any world tradition or aesthetic principle. And just look what modernism has done for us so far! What kind of culture does Watson reflect? Perhaps Watson’s architect is telling a multilayered story which is simply too subtle and artistic for my uncultured eyes. And what sort of images does Cowling summon up about Carleton’s “creativity” and “independence?” Duda complains that LHB “fails to acknowledge” these nearby buildings, but the proper consideration our new dormitory’s architects should have for these buildings is none at all.

Duda angrily denounces a plan to build more dormitories in the style of old dormitories as “anachronism.” Were he to walk two miles down the street to St. Olaf, he would see an “oppressive image of homogeneity” that would likely melt out his eyeballs. Yet St. Olaf is widely acknowledged to have a more beautiful campus than Carleton’s. They mine all of their stone from the same quarry, and reflect a certain image of Minnesota in their tall and warm buildings that is both modern and local. While they lack impressive constructions like Skinner Chapel and scrupulous designs like Burton, neither do they simply cover their buildings in glass and file away their edges to create a transparently uncreative attempt at innovation, like our wonderful Rec Center. It seems like Tom Duda has a knee-jerk reaction to anything that is not a break from tradition. Doing something well, if it was done before, is to Duda “homogeneity” and “anachronism”. But adopting a consistent style is nothing more than common sense on any college campus. Using the existing vocabulary of architectural forms with meaningful repetition tells a beautiful story. If all the buildings invent their own vocabulary, on the other hand, together they are simply an unorganized pile of rubbish. I hate to break it to Duda in such a public forum, but architecture is not a dramatic gesture to the world that you show off in a gallery—rather, it is a way to plan buildings for people to live in—and even in the art world the perversely innovation-obsessed modernist movement died many decades ago.

I do not foresee a “large-scale student outcry” about finally building new dormitories in the style of our most beloved existing dormitories: Nourse, Burton, Sevy and Davis. I have spoken to several friends about LHB’s design, and not only are they excited that we will not be building another Musser or Myers, they agree with me that Duda’s ideas would be a turn for the worse. I applaud LHB for having the common sense to look at our existing campus with a critical eye and plan a new dormitory that improves our image. To Tom Duda I recommend The Aesthetics of Architecture by Roger Scruton, which he can find in our own Gould Library.

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