A Brand New Boylston

FEATURE

BOYLSTON HALL

Those who have not been inside Boylston Hall since its renovation should take a few minutes to see how the building has changed. Not only does it have a whole new interior, but the classrooms and offices have been drastically rearranged. Halfway through its first semester of use, familiarity with Boylston has begun to replace its novelty, and on the whole, students and faculty seem to enjoy the new building. Everyone, however, seems to have a different opinion as to where the design succeeds and where it leaves something to be desired.

The old and new insides of Boylston are, literally, as different as night and day. "It was really dark and cavernous-looking before," recalls Classic concentrator Joshua Mann '00. The dingy, poorly-lit hallways on the upper floors have been rearranged, and the rather grey ground floor has been redecorated. Bright colors and unfinished wood permeate every aspect of the new decor. Walls throughout the building sport colors ranging from light beige to olive green and burnt orange. Sunlight reaches nearly every room, and in addition to the lighting in classrooms and offices, lights along interior hallways even illuminate the ceiling. The study carrels on the fifth floor receive light from the skylights and are a welcome alternative to Lamont. Even the basement is warm and bright.

Ticknor Lounge is furnished with loud but comfortable armchairs--anything would have been an improvement over the previous furniture, which seemed to have been made up of items collected at various rummage sales. The C'est Bon cafe in the mezzanine is convenient to the back of the new auditorium, which has seats positioned on a steep incline two stories high, somewhat like a scaled-down version of an omni-max theater. Having taken classes in both the old and new auditoriums, Lee Hampton '01 considers the new room "an improvement, but not a life-changing experience...the view is better than the old auditorium if the professor uses the blackboard a great deal." In the end, Hampton does not see a great distinction between the auditorium and other lecture halls.

Dr. Marlies Mueller, Senior Preceptor in Romance Languages and Literatures, is much more enthusiastic about the auditorium and the prospect of being closer to her students. "The old auditorium was not good for people who liked to interact with students," she said. Dr. Mueller has been teaching in Boylston for over thirty years. Faculty members like Mueller, who have spent many years in Boylston, were aware of problems with the old building that probably escaped students' notice. "Not one of windows in the old building opened," she remarked. Although the architect was forbidden to alter Boylston's historic facade, many of the existing windows are now fully functional.

The renovations have also improved the heating and cooling systems, which were formerly centrally controlled and rather unresponsive to temperature changes. "Sometimes in the spring when the air conditioning was on, I used to teach while students wore coats--you could see their breath in the air!" Mueller recalls. The new, modern system is much easier to control and even provides teachers with thermostats for individual classrooms. Difficulties with this system, however, have persuaded university officials that classroom temperature control will soon be discontinued. Elizabeth Randall, project manager for the Boylston renovation, cites wide temperature fluxuations for prompting this step: "People crank up the heat and then forget to turn it down," she said.

These kinds of practical concerns are reminders that Boylston's renovation was meant to address academic functionality in addition to aesthetic improvements. The new building houses the departments of Linguistics and Comparative Literature in addition to Classics and Romance Languages. "I think the trend towards housing related departments together is a good idea," says Linguistics concentrator Becky Tinio '00, who is thrilled that her department finally left its temporary home on Dunster Street. In the basement, Comparative Literature displaced the language lab and the media production center, both of which are now less convenient to the departments in Boylston Hall. The University made decisions regarding department placement long before Ms. Randall began the Boylston project.

Space allocation in the departments features lounge areas on each floor. The Linguistics Lounge contains a large curved wipeboard, perhaps so that TF's can continue to work during coffee breaks. "The new offices definitely make [Boylston] more communal," according to Mann. This openness comes at the expense of office space, however, which was significantly reduced for all of the departments. According to Ms. Randall, however, each of the departments had input into their own areas. "We met with each of the five departments, and they put together a design team including professors and grad students." The architects worked with the departments according to their individual needs, but could not always accomodate everyone; for example, Romance Languages' desire to allocate more space for its numerous teaching fellows appears not to have been satisfied.

Completing the renovation in time for the fall semester involved a host of logistical difficulties. "We had a lot of problems getting materials delivered in a timely fashion because of the boom economy, aid Ms. Randall. The project often stalled because of suppliers. For instance, deliv- ery of the end-grained Texas mesquite flooringfor the entrance lobby was delayed by a heat wavein the South that slowed production. Confined by arelatively short time frame and the summer surgein construction, Randall says, "In the future, Iwould prefer projects that don't end in August,when everyone is trying to finish construction atthe same time." The price tag for the entireproject, including planning and constructioncosts, came to 8.3 million dollars.

For all the renovations, several featuresremain unchanged inside the building. Theseusually create a sharp, almost comical contrastnext to the newer, flashier areas. The brick walljust inside the entrance remains unchanged, forexample, but no longer fits with the new parquetflooring and cheery yellow walls. The staircase,which was only recovered in brown carpet above thethird floor, looks even more ridiculous. Now thelower stairs, with their black stone steps, standout like sore thumbs against the modern design.Perhaps the carpenters, in their haste to finishon time, forgot to recover the bottom stairs.Students can also wonder at the rationale behindthe oddly-shaped bench outside the auditorium andthe wall booths built into Ticknor Lounge.

"Some of the changes seem a little superficial"Tinio says when asked her opinion of therenovations. Careful observation reveals shoddyworkmanship that supports her feelings. Theflooring is often poorly laid out and does not fitexactly against the walls; linoleum in thebasement has already begun to buckle in places.The most maddening flaw in the building involvesthe plain baseboards that run along nearly everywall. The boards never quite manage to restperfectly flush against the wall, regularlyexposing hairline gaps between the baseboards andthe wall.

Quibbling about minute imperfections aside, oneof the changes that affects students most has beenthe replacement of the two large ground floorclassrooms with three smaller, cozier ones. Eachof these new classrooms are wired to the hilt withaudiovisual technology. Wall-mounted speakers,permanent video projectors and fully-automatedscreens make showing videos a simple process.Simple, that is, except for the fact that theinner walls of each classroom is made of glass.So, in spite of the high-tech, fully automaticblackout window shades, light from the hallwaycannot be blocked and provides enough glare torender the movie screen nearly unwatchable.Perhaps the architect momentarily forgot that hewas designing an academic building rather than adesign showcase. Also, the video projectors arepermanently fixed in each of the classrooms,prompting some TF's to complain that theeffectively reduced classroom size makes foreignlanguage instruction difficult. Though noteveryone has classes in Boylston, anyone who hastried to enter the building recently will findthat inconvenience starts with the front doors,which are deceptively difficult to open.

The dysfunctional classrooms and cramped officespace are less than ideal for the faculty andstudents who work in Boylston Hall. Aesthetically,however, the new design is bright and exciting,making the building a cheerful place to spendtime. Putting aesthetics before functionality ishardly a sound policy, even though an attractiveenvironment can mediate occasional inconveniences.But the new Boylston Hall is a great place tovisit. Try to spend a little time in TicknorLounge if you get the chance, its a great place torelax between classes. As for the rare individualwho preferred Boylston's previous, gloomierincarnation, well, de gustibus non disputandumest ("There is no accounting for taste")