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Culture Shock on the Hoof - The Fucking Bluebird of Goddamn Happiness [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Culture Shock on the Hoof [Nov. 14th, 2002|11:00 pm]
[Current Mood |artisticartistic]

Took a walking tour of the many places on the CWRU campus that my position will require me to visit. The pace of walking changes your perspective because you don't merely admire the beautiful old stone buildings as they whiz by. You can examine them at your leisure.

And be jarred by the wincing ugliness of the modern buildings that cozy up next to them.

Now, this happens on every major campus. Stone and brick buildings erected in an age of architectural beauty (and cheap labor) are of necessity joined by newer structures from an era of unions and modern materials. Certainly there were modern buildings at the University of Oregon, and at Notre Dame, but at both of these campuses the grand old ladies huddled together at one end of the grounds, their faces turned toward a park-like quad with bronze statuary, their backs to the "new money" usurpers. You can hear them whispering and clucking their tongues.

Such genteel planning played no part at Case. And it more than any of the others is blessed with a multitude of truly fabulous buildings--churches, not just one Notre Dame Cathedral, but at least half a dozen truly impressive structures; Severance Hall and the Art Museum; Adelbert Hall, where I am lucky enough to be working (even if superman would complain that my office was a bit small for changing). There is much to admire.

And cozying up to it, too crass to know its place, are monstrosities like the Baker Memorial Building. I don't know who this Baker guy was, but if I were him I would be steamed. Baker is a tissue-paper building from the 60s, the kind that looked like an abandoned wreck before anyone even moved in. Squat, rectangular, it's short sides made up of pebbly concrete prefab and the long edges that nasty metal-and-glass combo with the lower half of each pane lined with yellow-beige plastic, a color far too ugly for Banana Republic. It's snugged up next to a delicately spired church that looks pained, trapped as it is next to this Steve-Buscimi-in-a-leisure-suit monstrosity.

It's not alone. Tributes to building materials gone wrong sprinkle the campus like warts, punctuated by enthusiastically awful yard sculpture (since when is a 30-foot-high tailpipe "art"?).

And the most enthusiastic thing people can say is, "you should have seen the ones they tore down!"

New buildings are being constructed at Case (a HUGE campus quad-sected by major thoroughfares so that you don't realze the extent of it as you drive by). Some, like the new hospital, show an appreciation for classic design with subtle modern influences. Others, like the Peter B. Lewis Building (trust me, you really do want to look) are horrifying extensions of bad lawn art, embarrassments for the future, when a new generation will look upon them and wonder, "What the fuck were you thinking?"

Actually, I'm doing that already. And retreating to the stone grace of Aldebert Hall, grateful to consort with this grand old lady and retreat from bad architecture once again.