Every time I walk to class along the East Mall area from the western part of campus, I cannot help but notice the way the buildings change from the orange tile roofs and tan brick facades of campus’ west side to the modern steel and glass-paneled buildings that populate campus’ eastern half. The sense of familiarity I feel around UT’s historic buildings immediately replaces the insecurity of being in an area that is unknown to me.
Don’t get me wrong, change is inevitable, and in the context of the East Mall, these new buildings are necessary to provide students with more space to study and socialize. However, the new buildings significantly alter campus’ architectural identity and fail to unify the eastern half of campus with its more active and iconic western end.
A unifying architectural style is important for a university because it contributes greatly to the overall aesthetics of its campus landscape and because it physically conveys the social and cultural unity of the campus community. To this end, the people making design decisions regarding campus’ future appearance should seek to strike a balance between the modern aesthetic of East Campus and the more traditional buildings in West Campus.
According to architecture professor Lawrence Speck, the construction of some of the new buildings along the East Mall, such as the Student Activity Center, has been planned since the mid-1990s. The addition of the SAC and other buildings has changed the distribution of students around the campus area — previously most student activity was centered around the Main Mall. This indirectly encourages students to experience different parts of our campus.
However, the newer buildings look out of place on the East Mall. For example, the Bernard and Audre Rapoport (BRB) building, located on the south side of the East Mall, awkwardly contrasts with the SAC; their close proximity makes it feel like the SAC engulfs the BRB. The presence of the Liberal Arts Building and the Gates Computer Science Complex, with their modern architectural styles, unbalances the area.
Yet the transformation of East Campus is only just beginning, according to Speck. The construction of a medical school building in the east side of the campus, along with a few other major projects that have yet to be approved, will pull students further east. These projects, Speck says, are important, since they will house facilities that are necessary for student and faculty research. These new facilities will help to strengthen UT’s status as one of the top ranking universities in research in the United States.
However, a question still remains: Will these projects create a more unified architectural landscape on campus? East Campus will never be able to compete with West Campus’ signature architectural style. Nonetheless, individuals and authorities who are responsible for UT’s campus planning should put more emphasis on preserving the University’s identity in every new campus building, so that the spirit of our alma mater will be visibly present no matter where you are on campus.
Syairah is an economics sophomore from Rawang, Malaysia.