Student voices needed for campus vision

Last Thursday, two architects from Polshek Partnership presented the tentative plans for the new Baxter student center at two forums in Wege auditorium. After viewing a slideshow describing the new building’s functions, students had a chance to browse through the floor plans, elevations and models.

The purpose of the forums was not only to make students aware of the appearance of the new Baxter, but also to solicit feedback about the building’s design and its role as a campus social space. However, despite the fact that student participation is essential to plan the facility, which will shape the College’s social space for at least another half century, the forums were sparsely attended, with only about 30 students present.

Though few students currently on campus will benefit from the new Baxter, almost all could provide feedback about general patterns of social activity on campus. Students must take greater advantage of these opportunities to influence one of the most monumental buildings of the College’s recent history.

The current design, while impressive, is in great need of student feedback to finesse its design and function. The function of many of the spaces seems undecided – a problem which could prove disastrous within such a large structure. Most notably, the architects admit to being unsure about how to design the basement, a space that could potentially be used to replace the Log as a venue for many campus social events.

The current plan places a pub directly below the Snack Bar, adjacent to a lounge and a multi-purpose room. While all spaces seem useful, their current configuration makes little sense. The pub is isolated from the lounge, which will hold pool tables, an arcade and a dance floor. With so few students on campus, a single centralized social space seems preferable to social competition between individual, isolated spaces. It is important, then, that there be easy movement between the proposed snack bar, pub and lounge, effectively joining them together.

Students at the forums suggested that the pub and lounge area be combined, an idea that the architects said they would take into account. More student input of this kind is vital to the success of this project.

Adjacent to the pub area, the multi-purpose room also seems to lack a specific function. Current designs allow for the room to house musical performances, parties, lectures, movies and plays. While such flexibility is admirable, without focus it will be unable to reach full potential for any of these functions.

It can technically host plays, but it has no backstage or storage space and could not accommodate a full set; it could hold musical performances, but might not be fully insulated from the noise of the nearby pub and radio station. Moreover, if various groups expect the multi-purpose room to fulfill too many functions, the space may become overbooked.

The questions raised by the proposed Baxter design bring to light some greater issues about general campus social spaces. One issue relating to both the Baxter plans, and the campus social spaces in general, is the lack of decisiveness about function. Goodrich – one of the few social spaces which will be available once Baxter closes – is currently used as a coffee bar, study space, party space and as an area for performances and concerts.

This combination works only with careful planning, and the use of alternative campus spaces, such as the Log, for events that would not be compatible with Goodrich’s other functions. The two venues are able to work in conjunction now, but when they must replace Baxter, the balance will be much more difficult to obtain.

Likewise, the spaces in the new Baxter must be designated specific functions, and this process necessitates thought about the use of other campus spaces as well. If Baxter basement becomes home to a rowdy pub and Thursday night dance parties, maybe Goodrich should take full custody of performing arts events.

Such decisions would allow students to prevent conflicts between neighboring events, and also ensure that student groups, such as Cap & Bells, are not pushed around from venue to venue, unable to secure adequate and guaranteed space for their functions.

In the end, the College has to find a way of creating a space in Baxter that works well with Goodrich, the Performing Arts Center, the Log and many other campus spaces. Effective interaction between these spaces can only be possible if there is a vision of what each space actually is. Student input is vital for creating this vision.

Therefore, to move beyond the lack of decisiveness of function inherent in many of the College’s social spaces, the new Baxter must achieve a balance between the centralization of spaces necessary on a small campus, and the specialization of function important for maximum efficiency.

With the new Baxter taking on these responsibilities, students must give the architects and administration more feedback about the College’s current social spaces.

Beyond student examination of these problems, administrators must weigh in as well; perhaps the CUL or Baxter committee could take a few meetings to look over the current plans and evaluate the efficiencies of the available social spaces. With a less significant agenda than last year, the CUL would have energy and time to direct at providing feedback before the design’s completion.

To voice concerns about the current design on offer other suggestions, students are encouraged to visit the Baxter Renovation feedback site at http://wso.williams.edu/polshek.