March 21, 2019

SIMS | Let’s Meet at Zeus

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Editor’s Note: This piece is part of The Sun’s dueling columns feature. In this feature, Katie Zhang ’21, Dining Editor, and Katie Sims ’20, former Associate Editor, debate, “Which cafe is better: Temple of Zeus or Amit Bhatia Libe Cafe?” Read the counterpart column here.

My first invitation to the Temple of Zeus was within two weeks of arriving on campus, in a clear and straightforward email from two former arts editors, inviting all of the prospective writers to a section meeting. The simple phrase “Temple of Zeus in Klarman Hall” was baffling to me; I didn’t know where or what Klarman Hall was, why there might be an ancient Greek temple in the middle of this building and what business we had holding a meeting there. I googled “Temple of Zeus” probably a dozen times leading up to that meeting, hoping the cafe that came up (which Google said would be closed at that hour) was really where I was supposed to go.

I did, luckily, find myself in the right place, and when I walked nervously through the East Avenue entrance of Klarman Hall, I was struck by the grandeur of the massive glassy atrium.

Is the grandeur of Klarman Atrium gratuitous? A clear example of form over function? A poor use of resources? I’d venture a “yes” to all, but you could say the same about virtually all of the things we do for our own enjoyment. And in the endless (and maybe intractable) back-and-forth between Zeus and Libe, I think the biggest consideration needs to be the atmosphere, determined by the physical environment, the ability of the space to meet its demands, and the social design.

Why not care about the food or the coffee? Walking through Zeus, it’s clear that the majority of the people are not chomping on seitan-hummus sandwiches, and while there are plenty of soup bowls and coffee cups around, I doubt that the brand of coffee is really what brings people to Zeus. Zeus is far less about the Temple of Zeus Cafe than it is about coming in and walking a lap to find friends. It’s about meeting people through shared tables and eating packed-at-home lunches sitting against the wall with a friend. It’s working meetings, study groups and coffee chats.

The pale colors, bright lamps and whole-roof skylight keep Klarman well-lit, more so than Libe, despite Klarman being in a basement and Libe having panoramic windows to the Arts Quad. Additionally, its size gives it a seating capacity far greater than Libe. And while both are virtually overflowing at peak times, Zeus has slightly more room between the tables, as well as bigger walkways and floor space. You can breathe, walk around and see past the sea of bodies just a little bit more easily. Plus, more people means a better chance of finding a friend.

One of the best yet least-appreciated features of Zeus is that it is open 24/7. Because it exists in both the work and social spheres — and you can go at any hour of the day — it has the widest range of possible uses. Want to read The Sun at 7 a.m.? Zeus. Want to study on a Saturday before the libraries sluggishly open their doors? Zeus. Working meetings? Zeus. Conflict-resolution meetings? Zeus. Lost freshman looking for adventure at night? Zeus. Writing an essay at 2 a.m.? Zeus. While the Temple of Zeus Cafe’s hours are significantly more restrictive than Libe’s, the cafe’s atmosphere can be accessed at times when Libe’s can’t, albeit without the coffee and pastries.

Finally, and most importantly, the size and structure of the tables at Zeus are purposefully social and collaborative. While the majority of the seating in Libe is those individual armchairs with the desks, the vast majority of seating in Zeus is tables and chairs letting multiple people circle around. They’re enough to spread out lunches, laptops or notebooks, allowing the time to be productive and extended. While the simple question of “Could I share your table?” can be daunting or stressful, it encourages meeting new people. While there is plenty of meeting new people to be done at Libe, the general arrangement of seating is set to enable comfortable, solitary working conditions within a high-density area.

A beautiful social workspace is perhaps the best investment a university could make. It is uniquely possible on a college campus to have so many people collaborating on self-motivated projects and to have knowledge flowing in such large volumes. When our spaces encourage us to collaborate, we learn just as much from our peers as our classes, and become much more adept at synthesizing and sharing our knowledge. While sitting alone in Libe armchairs, noses in our own books and laptops, is sometimes a necessity, the conversations and jokes and smiles we can find at Zeus may just help us fend off ever-looming isolation.

Katie Sims is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She currently serves as a senior editor on the 137th editorial board. She was the associate editor on the 136th board. She can be reached at ksims@cornellsun.com.