Friday, April 11, 2014

Seminar notes - Architecture readings

We started out by coming up with examples of spaces on campus to discuss in the context of the readings. WID came up first, and I (Patrice) pointed out that as discussed by some of the authors, WID seems to be following a trend by which research institutes include a publically accessible area, “public beachhead”, but there is a boundary across which the public is not allowed.  In WID it seems access is restricted to the first floor with elevator access to upper floor education areas that remain sealed off from the research areas. It was also pointed out that, even though you can’t access the stairs in WID as part of the public, they are glass so it makes you feel like you can access something, even though you can’t.
We also discussed the name. The name does not include the name does not refer to any particular field, which may help lead people to correctly interpret that it is meant to be interdisciplinary. Daniel said WID is in the midst of trying to recast it’s name so that people refer to it as “Discovery Institute” rather than “WID”. We also talked about who is working in WID. Jamie Thompson came up and also the point that WID was built in part to keep him on campus, consistent with the theme of building to attract/keep star researchers as consistent with what we saw in the examples in the readings.
            As a second and third examples of spaces on campus, we discussed Sewell Social Sciences and the Humanities buildings. Daniel pointed out that although it is named after a prominent sociologist, Sewell, no one ever calls it that. Nonetheless, it is a legacy building. As for the Humanities building story, we discussed it’s brutalist architecture and the stories that go with that, and that we did not collectively know to what extent were true. The story is that it was structured to be riot proof. You can’t just march through the building.  It is also rather unusable, unlivable.
            The conversation turned back to WID, when Jen brought up Linda Barry, who holds workshops on campus for kids. She is a well-known cartoonist. Never had tenure track job. She was hired to promote the integration of art and science and get people to think more about creativity. Greg pointed out that right now you can see the work of some of her students plastered to the windows of WID, facing University. They area drawings of profile pictures. Greg said it was charming. That you have these paper, homey drawings looking out of the glass walls of this expensive sleek building.
We diverged to the topic of art generally, and Daniel said he thought there were some really interesting tensions between how we think research gets done and how we think art gets done. That we are not at all surprised to walk into an art studio and find a mess. That artistic creativity would be fostered in this kind of atmosphere. But that when we walk into a place where research is being done, we expect order. A space that reflects the methodical way in which we perceive research being done.
The conversation then turned to Science Hall, which I said I thought was sort of at the opposite end of the spectrum from WID in some ways. That it represented the humanity and warmth, that some of the people in the readings felt was disappearing from more modern facilities. June said that he once talked to a professor who had an office in both Science Hall and another building and that this professor said he strongly preferred his office in Science Hall as a place to get work done.
            Jenny pointed out that there is a difference in spaces on campus in terms of how much you it makes you feel like you can make it our own, or feel like you are just a visitor inhabiting that space. She pointed out that in some parts of the Humanities building for example, art students are encouraged to make their mark on the building, make it their own space. And she compared this with another more research-type space where you were not free to move things around or change things to meet your needs.
            Haley brought up the large common area space in the School of Education as a place for unplanned interactions and Daniel said that it was not unlike the common space at WID. The School of Education then was discussed as an example of an old building that was made new. And we talked about how a building can be very old and in need of attention like Ag Hall, or new like WID, but also old but made new like Hiram Smith and School of Education. June said he though their was value in a building that is old, but new in that it holds the authority of tradition. And that new holds authority in representing the cutting edge.
            We also talked about buildings and newness in terms of buildings offered as amenities to students, pointing to as examples all the new slick dorms and Gordon commons. Greg said this speaks directly to students. When you ask students to pay tuition that goes up every year. It’s clear in those kind of marketing efforts. The amenity, and knowing that this institution.
            Daniel and Greg brought up the point that buildings have lifetimes and are part of an ecology. And that, that ecology really matters. Greg pointed out that to build WID something had to be demolished. (There was an extended conversation about this ecology stuff, but my notes are a little spotty, sorry)
Jen brought up the question of whether some academics on campus are given more say in the architecture of their buildings than others. Daniel said he guessed that how much say people had over their buildings generally has probably gone up. That probably architects considered the future inhabitants in the past, but probably do more today. And that Frank Lloyd Wright did not care much about inhabitants.
            It was pointed out that it would be probably be hard to piece together the considerations made in the construction of the Sewell Sociology Building the way Leslie did the Salk Institute or Mesa Lab. Leslies actors were all high profile, everything was preserved in terms of documents. He could get the rich historical background. But would probably be pretty difficult here.
We talked a bit about the 1962 article we read and Daniel pointed out that a lot of the rhetoric used in that article is that same rhetoric used when planning research buildings today.
            We turned our attention back to WID and Jen brought up the question of who gets to be there and for how long. Who do you get rid of when you want to invite someone new in? Daniel said that, that is the idea behind WID. That it is supposed to be a space occupied by it’s occupants on limited terms.
            Haley jumped in with a surprising example, saying she new a place where a series of hospitals were being built and designed so that if they go under they could be converted into hotels.
Greg said that would seem to reflect the idea that we have a plot of land and we have to make money off it. He encouraged us to imagine a similar logic on campus. What are you trying to maximize on campus? Buildings last so long they are sticky, they stick around you are stuck with them so the time scale of a building is a positive and negative.
            We also talked about the idea of the campus as porous. How open is to returning alums? To the public? And what does that mean for public and alum support. Jen said that when her parents came to the UW-Madison to visit her they were surpised at who they saw at places like the terrace. They thought they would see all students. I shared that when I was growing up in Madison I thought the campus was where everyone hung out in every town.  Daniel  brought up the idea of the University as also a place that is supposed to do political work. A place that can be a place where people think civic life is.
            But is this changing? Greg pointed out that in the redevelopment of the library mall they are going to remove the speakers tower and make more room for food carts. (I’m missing some connecting point here, but…) he also noted that there is a lot of attempting social engineering through architecture. June said that at the university he went to in south Korea there used to be a wall enclosing it. But that the wall has since been taken down.
            Daniel drew the conversation back to the readings bring up a quote that stood out to him, and he says gets at the question why do we build building x? The quote was from Henke and Gieryn (I think) about the production of legitimate knowledge and legitimate places. Daniel said we have to have a WID because other places have to have a WID. And yet it had to be the same an a little different. On a related note, Jen brought up something that seems to be in vogue at Stanford where they have a design school (I’m not sure exactly what this refers to). Daniel said that they are looking at something similar for the School of Human Ecology here. And that we could do a whole class on imitation.
Daniel brought up the question, how different is this state than other states (with respect to the publics relationship with the university). How unique is this university? June brought up the point walls and Meredith noted that at Yale you have this split between working class and elites. Here we probably have a division between people who think that the university is theirs and people who might not. Daniel said this brought to mind a book titled, “Anti-intellectualism in America”.
 This made Haley think of PR during the GI bill in 1944. She said at that time the UW-Madison was “the” university in the state. Daniel followed up, pointing out that the GI bill was very popular and populist. That massification of education came with the GI bill. And asked Haley if from her research it seemed like people more pro university because the doors were being thrown open? Haley replied that, that’s what the literature suggests.
Greg said universities have been a safe place for political discussion, generational differences to play out and culture wars, ect.... And symbolically, they are still that site. A place for the messiness of democracy. For my parents, yeah those kind of people that do that stuff.

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