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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The new residence hall designs should prepare for the future: a plea for pragmatism

<inability is a concept that is highly valued at Carleton today. Through policies such as the comprehensive composting and recycling program, the college has been emphasizing consideration of how our actions today affect tomorrow’s world.

And why should this principle apply only to the natural environment? Surely we want to create a built environment that future Carls will be able to appreciate as well. Every building changes this landscape, so the architecture we choose for new construction is extremely important.

This is why I was so dismayed by the commentary criticizing the architecture of the new dorms in the Carletonian’s January 25 issue. Yes, the new dorms are designed to be reminiscent of Nourse and Evans, but that would seem to be the logical choice considering that these dorms remain aesthetically pleasing after close to 100 years of service, while Myers and Musser, only 50 years old, already look dated and out of place.

Also, while the author of the previous article seems to suggest that Nourse, Burton, and Evans are symbols of a less egalitarian past for Carleton, buildings are not fixed in time. These dorms are as much a part of today’s Carleton as yesterday’s, and their continued popularity is credit to their elegant, practical, and, in the case of Evans, quirky designs.

It also seems unfair to accuse LHB, the architects of the buildings, of architectural insensitivity. It’s important to note that there were student advisors working with the architects on the design implementation, and, in fact, the final vision seems to fit well into its environs.

At the January 17 information session, the design committee stated that they found students preferred the traditional design used in other buildings around campus. It hence illustrates a great deal of respect for Carleton that they incorporated this influence into their buildings rather than shoving their own design down the throat of the campus. One wonders if Magney, Tussler and Setter, architects of Musser and Myers considered this when choosing the Brutalist designs for those dorms.

This brings us back to the notion of aesthetic sustainability. If the college wants these residence halls to be pleasing to the eye 100 years from now, their beauty shouldn’t fade with this decade’s fashion. There’s no reason to gamble on creating campus blight when there already exists a strong and well-liked precedent for elegant design at Carleton.

Last week’s Carletonian article raised other concerns about the new dorms as well. The author indicates that during the information session a concern about the “utterly conventional” floor plans was raised. While I don’t remember the issue ever being mentioned, one only has to look at the blueprints of the buildings posted in Upper Sayles to see how incorrect that statement is.

The interior floor plan is, if anything, the most unconventional on campus, with the obvious exception of Evans. The layout goes beyond the usual technique of rooms wrapping around the hall that other dorms use, and includes “pods” of rooms and windowed study nooks at the ends of the halls.

Similarly, the question of the high embedded energy cost of bricks was not brought up by students, as last week’s article suggests, but was discussed by the architects, who made it clear that sustainable building was one of their primary concerns. They stated that bricks are very good at keeping heat in, and hence the energy cost of transportation is more than made up for by the long-term benefits of a well-sealed residence hall.

Carleton takes pride in preserving our natural space, and we should accord no less importance to our built space as well. A new building inevitably has a huge effect on the campus as a whole, but LHB’s design seems to ensure that next year’s new residence halls will be a well loved part of the Carleton landscape, even if they last as long as the older dorms that influenced their facades.

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