Friday, February 10, 2012

A Public University Aesthetic

Gorgeous foliage outside teal-and-glass Gabel Hall.
One fine fall day I snapped some photos around campus.  The trees were turning golden and scarlet, and the teals and greens of some of the 1960s and '70s buildings complemented the look of the day, taking me back to the era of the hyper-hued Polaroid.  Who needs a "Hipstamatic" filter when the place actually looks like the 1970s? 

Most of these shots come from the English building, my home, Reavis Hall.  It is one of the oldest, least updated structures on campus.  Last year when the rains came, ceiling tiles were crashing down on the heads of our students.  When the snows melted, the leaks in the roof mixed with the efforts of the newly cranked up furnace to create a building-wide mist.  It was dreamy.  And it smelled like socks.

The interior office photos show the working conditions of new TAs at a public university.  This may be standard outfitting for underlings, or we may be enduring egregious OSHA violations.  None of us seem to mind.

I post these photos not to complain about my lot, not to be "ironic" (I didn't take them with an iPhone so they wouldn't count as hip anyway),  and certainly not to impress anyone with my digs.  I post them to show what a public university really looks like, inside and out, and to give an alternative view of a college campus aesthetic, especially for those who think that these environments fit into a false dichotomy of the ivy-cover ivory towers of the big private schools and the characterless mega-campuses of State U. 

NIU is a mega-campus in a cornfield, for sure.  The bulk of it offends its natural surroundings.  The phallus of the Holmes Student Center pierces the sky relentlessly.  Zulauf (sounds too much like Zoloft) is a brick slab that creates dangerous, blinding winds and keeps Reavis from basking in much needed sunshine.  But tucked back in the middle of the ugly sprawl are the library with its mosaic tiles, the Altgeld  "castle" with its merlons and ivy (all five major Illinois schools have one of these!), and the crop of cute, dated '60s buildings where I spend most of my days. Here's what some of that looks like.

Our Nixon-Era chairs in their grey, grey splendor.

Have a seat.  Cigarette?

Garish '60s buildings are beautiful when nature joins in the colorsplash.

I hope it still works.

We have Ivy too.  Public Ivy.

But no, we cannot afford matching linoleum.

Reavis 314, home of new TAs.  Seats 20. (Currently used by only about 15. You could join us, but the fridge will freeze your salad, and the rest of the room is only about ten degrees warmer than that.)

This painting gets moved around the building. Maybe it's the only one we have. (Don't drink that water.  It tastes like old books, which is appropriate for the English building, but totally not fit for consumption.)

They don't make plenums like they used to.

I thought I heard screaming coming from somewhere...

My first classroom.  Reavis 305.  Only missing one ceiling tile.

I think any of the retro chairs and couches could be designated areas.

L'esprit de l'escalier!

We all live on the third floor.  With the asbestos.
Funny thing is, I can't wait to go back on Monday!


  1. You have made me nostalgic for my old campus!

  2. Hey Robyn, I really liked your blog.. I'm an English Literature student as well, but in Brazil, and I happen to study in a public university here too! And believe it or not, our conditions are the same....


I publish all the comments, the good, the bad and the ugly. Unless I have no idea what you're saying. If you want to email me (with only good I hope), I'm at rbyrd [at] niu [dot] edu.