Shin: Northwestern’s architecture needs a change


Heiwon Shin, Columnist

There are two things I would like architecturally from Northwestern. On the macro-level, I would like to see the whole concept of a divide between North and South Campus gone. On the micro-level, I would like to see residence halls with good balance between social life and private space.

Last year, the campus was plastered with slogans for “We Will,” NU’s fundraising campaign. One of the We Will campaign’s priorities is to “connect campus and community” by building a “vibrant, more diverse, and tight-knit community on our campuses” and nourishing “the traditions and shared passions that bind us together.” I like the idea very much in theory. But the online video about this particular goal talks a lot about wearing purple – literally, in clothes – and what it means to wear purple. But is the campus – the physical campus – embodying this purpleness in the figurative sense?

I interpret being purple as being one, uniting as one community while still embracing our rich diversity.  But with a North-South dichotomy and with certain dorms having reputations for being social or anti-social, I’m not sure if we are living up to our potential of being purple.

On the macro-level, our Evanston campus is more or less a polarized line. Although with the move of the Department of Art Theory and Practice to 640 Lincoln St. this has changed a bit, for the most part the North Campus is known to be the math and science part of NU, while South Campus is known as home to humanities and social sciences.

Perhaps this is because it’s simply easier to divide than to integrate. I wonder if efficiency is always the best answer. College, after all, is about trying new things, meeting different people and getting out of the comfort zone. NU should move out of its architectural comfort zone, stop dividing up the campus according to traditional categorization and create a new model for this age and era by integrating different studies in the same building. Staying the same will not keep a good institution good.

One way this could work is to integrate different departments. Computer science could be paired with psychology, anthropology with industrial engineering, economics with astrology, religion with mathematics and so on. Architectural change can bring interdisciplinary buildings and layouts for programs.

Especially with the newly revealed two-year campus live-in requirement for future students, architecture on the micro-level — the dorms — should balance the social and private lives of the students.

I lived in Elder Hall last year and this year I live in Allison Hall. In Elder, I knew everyone on my floor, but in Allison that’s not the case. I still don’t know the 20 or so people who live on my hall including my next door neighbors. Fellow Allison residents tell me that you have to make a conscious effort to get to know people. Architecture has a key role here. Elder lounges are open and it’s easy to drop by or see people, whereas Allison lounges, except for the main lounge on the first floor, are sealed off in a corner and you have to open the door to enter, making visits more intentional.

Freshmen, in particular, should not be divided into such different dorm styles. At least the first year of college should be about forming a new culture. If people have difficulties getting to meet others, then that would not be possible.

Of course, especially for the upperclassmen, some dorms could strengthen the solitary spaces for those who need it, but there could be a way to combine and balance the strengths of different dorms.

Kind of like hardware and software for a computer, the architecture of the campus and NU’s programs and plan should work together to create harmony and to truly be effective.

Heiwon Shin is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].