Morse, Stiles renovations need more careful consideration

To the Editor:

Thomas Kaplan’s judicious piece on the renovation of Morse and Stiles (“Decisions for Morse, Stiles not finalized” 12/6) rightly focuses on the question of consultation with faculty and students about the plans and the decisions that seem to have been taken by University officials in disregard of the feelings of those living or working in the colleges.

My estimate is that some 90 percent of the visionary work planned by Stephen Kieran and associates has received, and certainly deserves to receive, nothing but reactions of awe and gratitude. The plans for the construction of an underground theater, the return of the dining halls to dignity by expanding and separating the food service areas, and the truly extraordinary plans for the greening of the colleges are all breathtakingly beautiful.

Like the stunning renovation of CCL into the Bass Library, these plans would create beautiful spaces from unsightly or unused ones, but unlike the Bass Library, these plans have nothing conservative about them. They are visions of the future and models one hopes might be imitated widely.

The relatively small matters of the reshuffling of existing spaces are something else. Neither fellows nor students understand the imperatives behind the relocation of the dean’s apartment in Morse or the offices of dean and master. Nor is it clear to me that students would overwhelmingly prefer to give up private bedrooms for common rooms. My own, informal poll shows students fairly divided on the issue, which makes one wonder whether the motivation for the change is the worthy aim of luring more seniors (who would have both private rooms and common rooms) to choose to live on campus or some more questionable sociological claim or aim that privileges group activities over privacy and intimacy.

A decision not to redo the dour, uncleanable, concrete entryways seems to be based on some vision of preserving an architectural vision rather than attending to the disgust-quotient of those who must fight their way to their rooms by way of such filth. And most peculiarly, a decision to divide the rather tiny courtyards into three — part for outdoor eating, part for a display of recyclable water and part to be leveled for playing frisbee — seems to be based on some notion that the very tiny level surface that would result (suitable for table frisbee?) would better please students than the current slopes and paths.

We must not lose sight of the truly extraordinary plans for the expansion and environmental renovation of the colleges, but those relatively minor questions of decisions that relate to the living and working quarters of students, faculty and staff do need to be reconsidered.

Leslie Brisman

Dec. 6

Brisman is the Karl Young Professor of English. He is also a Morse Fellow.

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