UMass Dartmouth Architecture: Interaction and Isolation

By Carrie Martin, Contributing Writer

UMass Dartmouth students are using their campus all wrong. At least, if you look at it from the perspective of the university’s architect, Paul Rudolph.

He designed the campus to encourage interaction and unity.

For example, the scalloped concrete walls are intended to act as an empty backdrop that brings attention to the students and the professor.

The widening and narrowing stairs are supposed to cause people to bump into each other and have interactions. But in today’s age of technology,the only reason students bump into each other in the hallways is because they’re scrolling through their phones.

Judy Faraar, Archives Librarian at UMass Dartmouth, says Rudolph “wanted to break through the boundaries of a commuter campus and make a space for community,” a challenge for a campus constructed in 1964 as a commuter school.

In a 1970 Umass Dartmouth yearbook, formerly SMU, these areas are pictured holding numerous student gatherings.

Back then they used the locations to perform improv skits, hold rallies, and practice musical instruments.

But on today’s residential campus, areas that were designed for socializing are now used by students to kick back alone between classes, scrolling through social media or finishing an online assignment.

Rudolph’s dream of interaction and inclusion are a thing of the past.

On the quad, the pedestrian walks are a series of intersecting pathways that allow for students to take a unique route to any building, always passing new faces.

“Every architectural detail on this campus was thought out carefully to add to the community experience,” says Faraar.

Rudolph understood that staff, faculty, and students would enter campus by car, so he designed berms that were raised and trees planted on the outer sides of buildings to block the view of parking lots.

When you’re on campus, the outside world fades away. But today’s students view this isolation negatively.

Isolation was exactly what Rudolph was trying to prevent. To combat it, lounge areas were an important feature in his plan.

He called them sky rooms, areas where students could gather and rest in between classes.

These areas are circular by design so friends could sit together, meet new people, and socialize.

But students aren’t using those spaces to socialize anymore. Most students now use them to do school work in between classes, only rarely in groups.

Melissa Sherry, a senior resident at UMass Dartmouth, uses the lounge areas to study before classes, but not to meet with friends.

She says, “If I need to meet with a group for a project we book a room in the library, I’d rather have a quiet organized space to work in than the lounge benches.”

Some students don’t use the spaces at all

Kylie Souza, a senior commuter at UMass Dartmouth, would prefer not to sit on campus between classes. “If I have over an hour between class I go out to my car and sleep or listen to music. I’m busy all day and don’t get a lot of time to just relax by myself.”

She doesn’t like the lounge areas on campus because the seats aren’t comfortable.

On any given day, a lounge area in the Liberal Arts building is filled with about a dozen students relaxing.

One or two students are likely sleeping, another might be making a phone call. Some are texting, a few are on their laptops, most are alone.

If they are talking to each other, it’s in digital ways that Paul Rudolph couldn’t have imagined when he built these walls.

 

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