Concrete Buildings are Beautiful

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Posted on: June 9, 2019

One of the most universally disliked structures on campus is the Mathematics and Computer building. Part of this sentiment may arise from the fact that what students experience inside is nothing short of suffering, but I would argue that this is a common trait shared between many locations. What sets MC apart from the rest is the looks. With its imposing concrete façade, many students have described it as depressing and giving off the same aura as a prison cell.

When MC was constructed in the 1960s, a style of architecture was experiencing its peak in popularity: Brutalism. Definitive properties of the movement included bare concrete, geometrical design, and a lack of any decorative elements, a stark contrast to the more ornate designs that were popular in the pre-war era. It symbolized order, strength, and a certain humility in the years after World War II, in part due to economic struggles and in part due to ideological changes.

These ideals, in my mind, embody precisely what is taught within the building. Mathematics is clear, orderly, and objective, the truths that it sets are eternal and unchanging: order. Mathematics is a fundamental field of study that serves as the basis for understanding the world: strength. Mathematics is not about producing fancy results; it’s about producing correct and necessary results: humility. The imposing and almost subjugating aura that the building gives is what should be felt, and it serves well as a constant reminder to the importance of what is taught within.

As another example, consider the Dana Porter library. Roughly designed around the same era, it too bears the ideals of Brutalism at its core. Stern concrete walls, perfectly geometric construction- and it too encases that which fulfills the ideals. The books stored within bear knowledge, that which has been passed down to us from our precursors in order to be learned from and furthered, in order to build a better future. Especially as an academic institution, these books represent the peak of order and are what gives us all the strength to pursue the studies that we do.

Today’s world has rapid changes. Society’s ideals vary quicker than people can follow, and what may be the newest trend one week could simply vanish in the next. As everything from the political climate to popular culture seems to be going in directions that we cannot predict, there is a desire to hold on to what objective truths remain. The ideals that Brutalism embodies, the permeance of it all offers a reprise to our fast-paced world. MC and DP standing central in our campus should be looked at not as ugly buildings, but as beautiful bastions of knowledge that stand firm, regardless of how the world they stand in may change.

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