As he stood on a podium before Baker’s grandeur, Dwight D. Eisenhower said,”Dartmouth is what a college should LOOK like.”
Other world leaders, including the current President of the United States and the leader of Finland, who have visited campus share one thing in common in their speeches, they all echo Ike’s infamous quote.
Many people on campus are deeply moved by Baker tower, and for good reason. It is the centerpiece, the crown jewel of the campus. If Freedman would like an intellectual legacy, this is the place to do it. But we cannot be blind to the things that “make Dartmouth, Dartmouth,” and Baker is at the heart.
Baker tower means a lot to me. I have drawn it several times, photographed it, and waxed poetic about it in several lines: “The wispy tendrils of ‘smoke’ arched in the sky, buckling like a bolt of slightly subdued electricity across a Jacob’s Ladder. Then the Big Green ignited the sky with a pyre of emerald green from a fantasy, the amorphous, unearthly green, Baker’s double out of the Emerald City of Oz, the Northern Lights.”
I have drawn it several times for Winter Carnival poster entries, because I have never gotten it quite right, never captured the feeling, never captured the contest. And that is how Baker was created, a design contest. Philadelphia Independence Hall found a place on Dartmouth’s campus.
Why were design contests abandoned? The military often pits Lockheed Martin against other contractors for fighter jets. It is not efficient, but it produces the best plane. When they replaced the F-16, I liked the YF23 better than the YF22. The angled tail fins and triangular wings looked more futuristic. But that contest was not about looks.
So goes the argument for the new library, the uncontested design. The interior function dictates the exterior. Dartmouth’s campus is a piece of Americana, placed as an ideal model for all institutions to aspire to as far as architecture. Looks matter as well as function.
I do not fault the architects except for their mill concept. I believe with alterations as outlined by Joy Kenseth, the library is salvageable, and indeed, will be the grandest library in the country as we enter the 21st century.
I don’t know that we are particularly proud of mills. Maybe we would lavish more love on a modernized barn concept, as this typifies individuality, but I don’t propose it. As Matt Benedetto ’00 noted in the public hearing on the library yesterday, “The idea of a mill connotes mass production, and that is the antithesis to a liberal education. It is more in line with the Orozco paintings in the basement of Baker portraying stagnant ideas carried by skeletons who pass graduates, miniature skeletons themselves, into glass vessels, to preserve dead ideas.”
What are the qualms with the new library? They begin with the view from the North, the new North quad. The library will be taller than Carpenter hall, and consist of an unbroken wall nearly three hundred feet long, the size of three full grown blue whales laid end. A bit has been done to dress up this structure, but not enough. There is a token bend in it. A wall like this is of monumental scale comparative to the Three Gorges Dam in China, a showcase of Communism on a scale not seen since the Great Wall. Here we have a Great Wall.
If a great wall is needed, I propose making it with many swooping bends, in a whimsical wave. Nature loves waves, she models light and ocean break, and the hills of New Hampshire after them.
As it stands, the arcade to the north is a walled-in refuge, very introspective, suitable for a city, but inappropriate in our surroundings. We revel in the surroundings here at Dartmouth, they are a strength, and Baker looks out from the tower to the hills. We are home of the oldest outing club in the country. Students fall over themselves to sign up for a 50-mile, 24-hour hike through the woods to Moosilauke. I have been studying organic chemistry in a dark corner of the stacks and been greeted with the bright, wide eyes of a red squirrel, a native of the northern forest, not Boston. Moose run up East Wheelock Street (real ones).
In Montana, I visited Chico Hot Springs, at the foot of Emigrant Mountain, whose name suggests it is too good for the other peaks. Stars shine bright out there, as bright as in Hanover. The spring was piped to a swimming pool surrounded by changing rooms, a saloon, and an eatery. I could have been anywhere if not for the constantly recharging, non-chlorinated water. The defiant mountain was blocked and the stars blotted out by harsh lights. What a waste!
This is blindness to surroundings. Hiring Venturi has been compared to hiring Frank Lloyd Wright, as they both produce bold designs of great acclaim. Frank Lloyd Wright was acutely aware of environment, and surroundings. Fallingwater, his masterpiece, incorporated a rocky stream that flows through the structure. And Venturi is conscious of surroundings, too. The campus cries for cohesion, and Venturi will provide it, in the form of copper roofs that will age green. Stanford and Boulder, beautiful campuses, have their tile roofs, we have green.
My credentials, of course, to make architectural decisions are questionable. As a student at the hearing said, as students, we are filled with passion about it.
Professors from the department of Art History are pushing for changes, and they should be given credence. Joy Kenseth, who spearheads the movement for change, has taught Art History and architecture at the college for 27 years. She is backed by others in her department with similar credentials.
It has been said that faculty are the only ones that care about this issue. Students are indifferent. I believe this to be wildly untrue. I would challenge someone to find a student that does not care about Baker library. They are few and anomalous. The proposed Berry Library is ATTACHED TO IT!
The apparent apathy has been orchestrated by the administration. The last time to appeal the library was in June. Most students had left, and only a few stragglers would be back for summer, those wanting most to rope swing in the river.
My roommate, Jon Heavey ’97, was Student Assembly president, and as such, in the know on such matters. He pushed for disclosure of the plans to no avail. Now the plans are unveiled, when they are set in stone to break ground in spring.
But there is a public hearing. And the public hearing is orchestrated just as deviously. Konrad VonMoltke says there are several ways to control a meeting: Hold it at an awkward time, when no one can come — the meeting was held at 2 p.m., during sports practices and classes; Have a gathering of a small amount of people in a large auditorium. This facilitates discomfort, and amplifies authority– it was held in Cook Auditorium.
The campus is up in arms, but can be placated. There is no shame in a second draft, and Venturi deserves one. It would not delay things that much, and this would still be Freedman’s baby. The interior of the building looks fantastic, and indeed, we are incredibly fortunate to have such an addition in the works.
We can only hope that James Freedman and Jim Wright see the light, set things right as Frank Lloyd Wright would have it.
When I wax poetic, I say, “Baker Tower, a faceless building to a freshman, accumulates character burned in your brain by the blaze of 1,000 sunsets, Dartmouth Undying, like a vision,” and the song rings in my ears.