Life as I knew it
For the past four years, my home was on campus. Days and nights were spent in the studio, working on an endless loop of projects. Even on holidays and game days, the work never ceased. Every project had to be better than the last one, better than last year’s, better than the others. Always, always more to do.
Today, I had to be on campus again, near the architecture building, and so my camera came along. Not that I have any shortage of photos of the architecture building. When you spend so long somewhere, you tend to have photos. When you spend so long in a building that is used to demonstrate projects and ideas, you need to have photos. These images, however, are just what I wanted them to be, not photos I shot to fulfill an assignment.
There are things about an architecture building that most people won’t get at all. This looks like an unusual building, with exposed vents and pipes and conduit, no finishes on the exposed concrete walls. But for an architectural education building, it is actually fairly typical. Leaving everything exposed is a way to surround students with the information they will need to know. The sizes of those ducts and the amount of space needed to hide them between floors is important knowledge for an architect. The concrete formwork was a product of the 70s, when fuel prices were skyrocketing and institutions were seeking ways to improve efficiency. Thick slabs of concrete are slow to heat up in the Florida sun. The modular rhythm of the slabs is a 4’x8′ repeat, not only because that is the size of the plywood used for the forms, but to echo the module of most common building products, such as drywall.
All of that is important, and has become part of why I do love this building that I no longer have a place in. There is more to it than just facts. As I said, this is the building where I spent most of my waking hours for four years. And those waking hours were much more numerous than most people’s. There are parts of this building that I have come to love, that are as familiar to me as most students’ favorite bar is to them. This is where I laughed with the other initiates into the world of architecture, and where we bemoaned our choice of profession as we watched lights turn off all over campus but right here. This is where we spent so many football games, as the rest of the campus was at the stadium, and the alumni were parked on our lawn roasting hotdogs and playing games. This is where I was when the Gators, led by Tim Tebow, won the BCS championship and the whole city erupted with joy.
Even without these memories, however, there are moments, like these stairs that are somehow so immediate, that I really love. I have always loved stairs and their many forms. It is an entirely different experience to walk up stairs like these than it is to walk up a set with a more standard switchback. There is a slightly thrilling feeling to continuing on the run, almost as if you could miss a stair and tumble all the way to the bottom, rather than to be stopped half a flight down. These are stairs for the young.
Even these stairs, with their modified switchbacks (or at least, flights and turns), provide a different experience from so many others. The openness, the angle, and the palm trees that grow beside them all make them feel freer than most stairs do. It is hard to find an experience like this within a building, particularly a public one, because stairs have become relegated to the back of the building, where they are enclosed and designated as means of egress in case of fire. Elevators are the way to really get around in most buildings. This is a terrible shame, that we give up our freedom of movement and wait for a cage to take us where we are going. The experience of using our own legs to get where we are going and to see how far we have come is a wonderful one. Peering over the railing to see if we thrill at the height, seeing the iterations of stairs beneath us, these are pleasures that we should seek.