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The rumor mill has been all atwitter, ajangle, alive with talk of a 13th house. Nevermind Dudley--they mean a real, flesh-and-blood extra house. Cooler heads have been trying to say no, but really, it's been 20 years since Mather went up and, frankly, it's high time that the College built itself a new undergraduate chateau to house its students, to frighten the locals, to drain the swamps, etc. Though actually maybe it won't be a 13th House because 13 has such bad juju and all, but maybe it would be best just to put together a 14th House and pretend 13 never happened. Can you do that? Anyway, that's not the point.
So if the roster we have now--you know, Quincy, Kirkland, Cabot--isn't good enough, there are still a number of unanswered questions. Like nomers and misnomers: What shall we call our new living HQ? We all know the poor fate of President Hoar, whose dedicated House was eventually nixed for the most unfortunate of reasons. House names cannot be approached lightly, so here are a few suggestions, that I'm sure we'll all agree on for those diligent deans, fastidious faculty and assiduous administrators, not to mention alienated alumni.
For starters, we could have Rudenstine House, or maybe Neil House, since our commander-in-chief is now a lame duck. Not the most inspired. Let's encourage the powers-that-be to look a little harder. Here's a possibility: The Inn at Harvard will soon be owned by our little branch of the University and would make an ideal location. We could simply rechristen it Inn House. Think how popular it would be...unless it actually wasn't popular, being so close to the Union and all, and was rerechristened Out House. That would be unfortunate. Alternatively, Harvard could takeover the apartment building across from 'Noch's. It already sports a dining hall in its basement with a House name to boot: Casa Mexico. So international! We could pay a bit of literary homage, perhaps to Dickens, and erect our own, uplifting Bleak House, or else name it for Harvard ingenue Jed Purdy '97, in order to showcase the stunning good looks of the new architectural wonder. Or, if Harvard built it on the site of the now-departed Coop Annex, it could, in homage to another of the site's previous occupants, give the College "Bow House." The name could be misread, however, leading to sexual harassment suits after much gropius behavior...Anyway, the big boys and girls in the home office will pick their own name, and, as sure as the day is long, it will be for a wealthy donor. Our money's on Rita Hauser. In the meantime, there's still so much to be done in terms of House design. Like, entryways or halls? Napkins on the tables? Another bell tower? Well, it seems like the Georgian thing is a bit overdone and people don't much seem to like high-rises. So we need something new but not so overpowering. Something that would instill pride among those privileged to live in our centuries-old knowledge bastion, yet reasonable enough to accommodate the quotidian needs of hundreds of would-be scholars.
Well, here's a start, suggested by President R. Apparently, old Neil is fascinated with a group of obscure persons known simply as the English Palladians, whose lasting contribution is the style of window named for them. For the last 10 years, the president has recounted the same story to incoming first-year students in his opening address, describing the plight of a young bookworm, from Kansas or some other such backwater, who suddenly discovers a love for the Palladians while at Harvard. Distraught parents can scarcely understand young Junior's not-so-lucrative interest, but nonetheless this avocation is destined to become a vocation. Well, as it happens, not too, too many people around here really have been chasing after the Palladians. Rudy is getting madder and madder, trying to devise new methods to spread his gospel, including a core course that he would teach: Literature and Arts B-41: "The English Palladians, the Search for Truth and its Interpretation." ('Windowsills for Imbeciles,' in the undergraduate vernacular.) A trip to the presidential mansion on Elmwood Avenue reveals a building bursting with incongruous 18th century Palladian windows. Scratch pads--obtained by The Crimson from Mass. Hall wastepaper baskets--are covered by doodles of the distinctive window formation, in which a half circle sits above two tall panes. The windshield of the presidential limo has been etched in the Palladian motif, and, rumor has it, Neil and wife Angelica Zander sport matching his-and-her Palladian tattoos on their forearms.
Well, as it happens, mysterious memos have been circulating through Mass. Hall calling for a new riverside building in the form of a giant Palladian window. One dean tells The Crimson it's "jolly silly," but with backing from on high, the plan may well become reality. Standing a dozen stories tall, current plans call for three tall beams with a half circle pointing upwards on top, with glass filling the space in between. One engineering concentrator confides that the arrangement would shatter and collapse in the face of January winds. But Harvard planners appear impervious to such timidity. Their program is delightfully simple: A different class would live in each vertical post, with a dining hall in the top arch, and the House library and common rooms in the spokes connecting it. You may laugh or cringe and say the whole thing is just preposterous, but as everyone atop the Harvard food chain likes to point out, we've done rasher things before. So let's talk interiors.
Someone said something the other night about "living specialization," and apparently it's the hot thing. The College wants to offer different models of suites for different students. The athlete, or at least the sports fan, can sign up for a large room with ratty couches, TV projector with satellite dish and built-in keg tap. The starving artist can inhabit a cubicle containing nothing but its own six black walls, with black and white postcards of jazz musicians to be tacked up later. The John Harvard Scholar, meanwhile, can pick a similar little cube, only entirely white inside, equipped with not one but two desks, white noise generator and ample overhead lighting. The naturalist would receive a room with inclined walls and rock climbing grips, while the slacker would get a room full of last year's garbage. And, lastly and leastly, the aspiring investment banker, after putting down the cell phone for a much-overdue battery charge, will get additional practice at corporate life in a large common room complete with potted plants, conference phone, marble table and swivel chair. Modern Houses at last.
Come off it. I can hear some of you complaining out there, squirming and groaning, and I have only 37 words for you: Harvard has never, in recent years, been caught up in bourgeois convention where our buildings are concerned, and for that matter Houses are meant to be the means for social experimentation, so really, folks, cool your jets. If you think it's not going to happen, take a gander at Peabody Terrace sometime. Really. The long and the short of it is that the House system is getting old, pushing 70 as a matter of fact, and like Liz Taylor, it needs a little decorative infusion to stay young-looking. Change around here is painfully slow. But if House No. 14 receives the breath of life, it will surely reflect the peculiar thoughts we are thinking at just this moment. Remember, in hindsight, things always look astigmatic, and for now, from cramped quarters in a run-down fifth-floor double, the Palladians look damn good.
James Y. Stern '01, a History and Literature concentrator in Eliot House, is editor of Fifteen Minutes, the weekly magazine of The Harvard Crimson.
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