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On Williams Architecture

Well-done WSO post from Kevin O’Connell.

It does not take a degree in architecture or design to determine whether or not a building is beautiful, that is, pleasing to one’s senses. That is entirely subjective, though I will hazard to assert that there are certain qualities in architecture that a great majority of human beings, wherever they are from or whatever time period they live in, find beautiful. It is important to note that when the Beaux Arts style was first introduced in the late nineteenth century, it was universally acclaimed by both critics and laypeople.

The buildings on campus that were built before the second world war represent a variety of architectural styles. We have colonial, collegiate gothic, Georgian revival, English Renaissance, Medieval, and Neo-Classical buildings, to name a few. In my opinion, these incredibly diverse buildings are united by their beauty, which I feel has a universal and timeless quality. The campus also has a good representation of the architectural fads of the post-world war two world. We have modern, brutalist, utilitarian, and postmodern buildings. In my opinion, what distinguishes these buildings–and divides them from the older construction on campus–is that they fail to be beautiful. They lack the symmetry, balance, basic polygonal structure, adornment, and sight sensitivity that unites the diverse older buildings.

Postmodernism is a brand of gourmet architecture and therefore represents a choice. The college did not build the NAB, SAB, and Paresky center in the style that they did to save money. For the same price, the college could have built buildings in a more traditional style that would have positively interacted with the older campus. Granted, in the early twentieth century, when Chapin Hall was built, there was a large labor pool of skilled Italian immigrant stone-masons whose ubiquity and expertise made adornments significantly less expensive than they are today, when several generations of mass construction and modernist taste have all but eliminated masonry and stonecutting as trades. Nevertheless, other colleges, such as Middlebury and Harvard, have made a conscious effort to ensure that their new construction, in addition to being environmentally friendly and highly functional, also blends in with the old campus and is beautiful, despite failing to live up to the grandeur of those older buildings.

What say EphBlog’s readers?

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