January 28, 2005

Razing campus eyesores of the 1970s.

I was surprised and delighted to read of the plan to demolish Van Hise, the tallest building in Madison. There are uglier buildings on campus, many of them built during that historical lapse of taste known as the 1970s, but Van Hise looms right behind Bascom Hall, the beautiful, historic building that tops Bascom Hill, the heart of the UW campus. For those who don't know Madison but do know NYC, Van Hise is to Bascom as the old Pan Am building is to Grand Central Station. One building is elegant but relatively short, and the other building occupies the visual space above it, greatly diminishing the aesthetic impression from crucial vantage points in the city.
Gary Brown, the director of UW's Office of Planning and Landscape Architecture, told The Capital Times that Van Hise - along with many other buildings that date from the 1960s and 1970s - has such basic problems that it would be cheaper to tear it down than to try to fix it.

As I read, I can't wait to see what else is on the list. I know it won't be in order of ugliness, but they've got their eyes fixed on the Era of Ugliness buildings. How I would love for them to take down the Humanities building and that concrete pedestrian bridge that connects it to campus! I read further into the article. My heart leaps with joy! The Humanities building is on the list! Also the pitiful Peterson and the oggly Ogg Hall. Hooray!

Not only did these buildings always look bad -- though perhaps some aesthetic blindness prevented people from having any awareness of the fact -- but they also always were bad structurally. The 100-year-old buildings on campus are not on the demolition list: "they "have 'good bones' - good structure and viable floor-to-floor heights and can be renovated to last another 100 years." They are also beautiful. And it is perhaps not just a lucky coincidence that the beautiful buildings are the structurally sound ones. Attention to structural soundness is part of the process of making a building beautiful.

UPDATE: Here's a photograph showing Van Hise (the squared off building) behind Bascom Hall (the peaked roof in front):

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