November 16, 2011

Letter to the Editor: Preserving the image of the Arts Quad

Print More

To the Editor: Re: “Cornell to Build First New Humanities Building Since Goldwin Smith,” News, Oct. 21

The Arts Quad is not a location, nor is it an assemblage of buildings. The quadrangle is the symbol of the humanities. It encapsulates the beauty of Cornell University. The image of the Arts Quad is what you glimpse from all parts of the campus; when you sit in Olin library and watch students study outside on those rare sunny days, or as you walk along Campus Road from North Campus. And once seen and then entered, it is always unexpectedly thrilling as its expanse unfolds. It is the gateway to and from the clock tower, appearing majestic and collegiate. It might even be a bit unsettling to walk through on a cold moonlit night. But it is always there, always the same and always unchanging. On Oct. 21 an article appeared in The Sun titled “Cornell to Build First New Humanities Building Since Goldwin Smith.” I eagerly read The Daily Sun every morning, but on this day it was difficult to get past the first paragraph. As I continued to read, I learned that the goal of the $61 million spectacle would be to transform the experience of the Arts Quad and revitalize the heart of campus. Interestingly, the new building would be the first humanities building to be built since 1905. Not surprising, the same firm who designed the new Physical Sciences building just across the street is behind the similar glass facade that will encapsulate Goldwin Smith. I couldn’t shake the sour taste I had after reading this article and decided to ask other students their thoughts. A friend and Arts and Sciences student sarcastically remarked, “I can’t imagine learning about Socrates in a glass box.” Another voiced that the quad signified to her a place “where over a century of learning had taken place and with buildings centered around a beautiful open space.” The goals that the new humanities building purport to realize are contradictory. The Arts Quad does not need a new gateway and there is no need to transform the experience of the Arts Quad less revitalize the very heart of this campus. It is no coincidence that every brochure, correspondence or literature published by this University depicts the image of the quad. It is the image in our minds that is what attracted us here, what sustains us and what we remember when we leave. It is that which we first think of when we think of Cornell. Changing the image as intended robs something from Cornellians to come that past generations have experienced unadorned. We owe the image of the Arts Quad, as it exists, to them and to ourselves. There is a good reason why there has not been a new humanities building built on the Arts Quad since 1905; the Arts Quad must and should remain an image fixed in time, high above Cayuga’s waters forever.

Rachael Schuman ’13