Gabriel Okolski: Sterilizing GW’s campus

Last week, as I groggily made my way to an 11 a.m. class, the sound of construction greeted me along with the normal chatter of students in the Ivory Tower food court. A team of men was installing a large mural above the common area, and throughout class I was wondering what sort of new display would be there.

After returning, I was not impressed.

Now, a large advertising mural hovers ominously above students enjoying a book or a lunch. Rather than a beautiful billboard showcasing the majestic monuments of the District of Columbia or a large piece of student artwork, the decoration consists of blurry photos of three students with peculiar smiles on their faces holding fruit. There is a token black girl off to the right eating with her white friend, both armed with fake smiles to fight the notion that GW is a school full of wealthy white kids. There are more examples of contrived interracial friendships in the background. In giant, ugly letters, the viewer can read what this disaster is all about: IVORY TOWER DINING.

Considering the artificial nature of the people in the display (not to mention the fact that I can’t buy much fresh produce in Ivory Tower), it’s pretty clear that this showcase is merely an advertisement for the STAR tour guides to point to while bringing prospective students around campus. Worst of all, it is the epitome of GW’s sterile use of decoration and design in newer campus facilities. And if anyone in Rice Hall cares about making GW a comfortable place to be, they will spare this sort of atrocious adornment in upcoming developments and opt for something that says much more about this University and its students.

The produce brigade that will be a part of all my future meals in the basement of Ivory Tower is not the only example of poor design choices on campus. Take, for instance, the Hippodrome, the usually unoccupied heart of our “Student Union.” The only articles adorning the walls are some photos of our sports teams that played long before I came here; a few autographed photos of celebrities who have come to campus in the past; and an upcoming “Wall of Fame,” which seems as if it will never materialize.

Other buildings that have been put up in the relatively recent past, including the School of Media and Public Affairs building, 1957 E Street, New Hall and Ivory Tower, have the sterility you would expect to see in a K Street office building, not a growing university. Don’t get me wrong; they are beautiful, new and clean, but they don’t make much of a statement about college pride aside from a few flags hanging overhead. Marble floors and high-tech classrooms should not be the only elements relied upon as the foundation of a school’s image; new development should include more art with a GW feel, more student spaces for studying and meetings, and design that is interesting and differentiated from the area’s professional buildings.

There are some bright spots in the equation on campus. Ric and Dawn Duqu?s Hall, the new School of Business building whose name I am still unsure how to pronounce, has integrated student lounges and e-mail access stations seamlessly within the structure. The edifice also has a place for students to grab something quick in between classes, a good idea despite the fact that Java City does not offer much in terms of actual food. Ivory Tower’s open basement area provides a great student meeting locale and has been met with nothing but praise since its creation. The University should keep these design elements in mind when building GW’s future.

There is one building on campus that makes me feel good about my school: the Academic Center. Its boring name is the only negative point about this place. It is such an unusually cool building on campus that can’t be found anywhere else. The main glass stairwell is a colorful mosaic of student flyers, exhibiting the diversity of our campus community. The art department always has interesting sculptures and paintings sitting around for me to stare at when I’m bored in class. It happens to be such a nice building that the University decided to put the Visitor’s Center there.

The structure that serves as prospective students’ first glimpse of GW should serve as a model for the University to follow. We need more spaces that are unique to the school and make students feel at home. Next time GW’s administrators plan on putting visual decorations in a building, they should sponsor a student art contest rather than running to the members of Colonial Cabinet. Buildings should be designed to attract students for reasons other than class and dorm rooms. And most of all, we should be taking advantage of every opportunity to display GW’s rich history and proud community. Perhaps it’s a corny dream, but I think these tactics will do much more for the school than plasma TV screens and billboards of students holding produce.

-The writer, a junior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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