If I May: Amherst’s Architectural Missteps

Right here, in the very first sentence of this article, I will admit that it is probably too early for me to have an opinion on the new science center. It is not supposed to be done until next fall, and perhaps once it is completed (and all the heavy machinery and piles of dirt are gone), my opinion will be different.

However, the new building is starting to take shape, so I’m prepared to go on record and say that I am thoroughly nervous about how it’s going to fit in to our campus.

This past weekend, while my parents were visiting, I expressed to my mother some of my worries about our new building. I told her that I thought that the relative size of the building does not fit the established aesthetic of the buildings at our college.

I told her about how recently, I was driving from King Dormitory to Marsh House, and I realized for the first time how massive this building is going to be. It seems like it’s almost two or three buildings fused together. While it is perhaps no taller than some of the other buildings on our campus, to me it still feels like something out of an industrial compound and not really a collegiate science center.

No building on our campus even approaches the colossal appearance of the new science center. This is not to say we don’t have larger buildings: obviously, Merrill Science Center is a massive space as well as a much-maligned building.

Now, like many others, I think Merrill is ugly, but there is an aspect to it that I’ve grown to appreciate. Due to how it is built into the topography of our campus, Merrill does not look large at all, nor does it seem to take up a huge amount of space. The new science center, on the other hand, looks like an alien starship that landed where the socials used to be.

Of course, the building’s unusual size does not necessarily mean that it is going to be a bad building. While I’ve heard some rumors from students about potentially decreased lab space, I, of course, cannot judge how nice or effective the buildings utilities and functionality will be. However, I just think that the decision to make it so conspicuously large is just another example of the college administration (or whoever exactly is responsible) failing to understand the existing aesthetic and feel of our campus.

The new Greenway dorms are the epitome of this issue. I wrote extensively about this in a column last fall, but in short, I find that the Greenways were designed in a way that overly relied on eye-catching, pseudo-stylish gimmicks like large board games, bright colors and patterned wall-paper. This is in stark contrast to most of the other living spaces at the college, which largely value a far classier, traditional style.

After about five minutes of my rant, my mother stopped me and said something along the lines of, “Jake, the building isn’t even done yet. Why don’t you wait until it’s finished, then you can get angry about it?”

I know that she’s right. I mentioned it at the top of this article. It is probably way too soon for me to have such a negative opinion of this building.

However, I am increasingly worried about how the college is handing its renovations and additions to our campus. Like many students, I gave the Greenways the benefit of the doubt during their first year, but come room draw last spring, almost no upperclassmen wanted to live in our brand-new dorms.

I hope that the new science center is a great addition to our campus. But if it is not, I hope that the next time the administration plans on making a huge change to our campus, they think about how that choice is going to fit and perhaps involve students in a more significant way.