Thursday, January 30, 2014

Here at the Crossroads...

The new plans for a student center at the University of Notre Dame, confusingly called "Campus Crossroads" exhibit a level of cynicism and disrespect for the students that is hard to match. Students are the life of a University. Education is a University's first mission. At Notre Dame, we claim to educate the heart and the mind, but in many ways, our investment is elsewhere. Our investment is in accruing prestige, not knowledge. We care more about maintaining our huge endowment rather than endowing our students with the lessons of Fr. Sorin and Blessed Basile Moreau. We care about going against convention and being the first to do something new as if tradition no longer has a meaning to us.

Besides the fact that the facility in question is neither groundbreaking in design or concept, the disregard for student need is astounding. First of all, The stadium is not the center of campus now, and it shouldn't be. Our strength as a University is not in our sports programs, but in our faith and our academics.  Secondly, the quad system of the University is completely overlooked in a design that turns the buildings proposed away from each other and not toward each other. Instead, they have a huge field that nobody will be allowed to use lying between them blocking any natural path from one to another. The proposal furthers the sprawl of the campus, pushing for expansion while forgetting the need to keep our campus walkable. I doubt I would go all the way from my home in Morrissey (and Bond Hall) to a student center that was on the edge of campus. The walkability depends on being able to travel directly and quickly to other building. Instead of creating a behemoth building which is difficult to walk around, every effort should be made to improve, renovate and build in the heart of campus, centered on God Quad, which houses the very symbol of our University.

I have watched this campus develop for the past 5+ years. I have seen the new Law School building built as well as Ryan Hall, Stinson-Remick, Geddes, the Morris Inn, and the Stayer Center. I have followed the path that campus planners have been taking closely not only because I am an architecture student, but also because among the many reasons I love Notre Dame is the beauty of its campus. Notre Dame's campus center, which currently includes God Quad and South Quad is distinctive, ordered, and meaningful. It points not only to the early years of the University, and the hard work of those that built this place we call home, but also to the fundamental realities which led to the founding of Notre Dame.

Recent developments have been haphazard and, having seen the plans for the future, I do not see our campus staying comprehensible, compact, and beautiful. Instead, I see a University desperate to be relevant to other institutions just as desperate as it is. I see haste and carelessness in an effort to show a good face to the world while quality of student life, the very core of all we do, is rotting away, and this new student center seems to be just another shiny package used to brag to the world that we are a premiere, forward thinking institution while spitting in the faces of the students for whom, officially, it is built.