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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

the university hall where I work

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A lot of the time the halls of my building really are this empty. Professors are in their offices with doors closed while they silently pore over texts. But these shots are mostly after hours, so it looks extra quiet. My building whispers: English Literature, writing, scholarship. To me - heaven. In theory, at least! As I tell dear DS, I am a very literary person for someone who hardly reads. At the end of the day, this time of year, the evening light slants in across the hall from the grad student lounge, from the open stretch of trees leading to the bell tower, where my favorite beech tree stands. This is the part of campus that looks like a quintessential university.

Sadly, the 110 years this building has existed may be its life span, since it will be demolished in the next couple of years. It doesn't have enough structural integrity to withstand refurbishment, and things have begun to fall apart, as you can see. I'm pretty sure in the new addition across campus where they'll move us I won't have a big office with a high ceiling and wide oak trim on the doors as I do now. So I'm enjoying every moment I work in this space. I do look forward to being close to the river when we move, but I will miss this hall. Most of us in my department - professors and students alike - love this old building. But some can't wait to be rid of it, poor thing.

I get too attached to certain old things. I never want to see them go, even when they're decrepit. There are lots of cracked, chipped, broken and threadbare items in our possession that should probably be tossed. Like this chair that belonged to my mother and her step-mother before her. I don't want to re-cover it or get a new slipcover made. It's not just that I don't want to worry about ruining something brand new. I really like it aesthetically. When a thing is beautiful to start with, made of fibers, wood or ceramics that are well crafted, it becomes more beautiful as it ages. Some things look bad even when they're new, like blue plastic tarps. But I guess beauty is as they say in the eye of the beholder. And if I had just lived through an earthquake, watching my house crumble into rubble, a blue plastic tarp as the sky begins to open up in a shower would be a beautiful sight.




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78 comments:

Oliag said...

Ruth, you are such a wonderful photographer that anyone looking at these photos would fall in love with this beautiful, well used building....Today most public buildings are not made of such beautiful wood and glass and brick because it is too expensive...no more decorative wooden details to be found under the eaves...rarely does a school building have the "school house" light fixtures...only flourescent lighting...You see I don't like to change either.

Sometimes change is good though...for 30 years I resisted putting new windows in my old house because I loved the wavy old glass...last year we gave in because of heating costs...and I love it...go figure...:)

...Oh and you should see the old office chair that I am sitting on right now...not as picturesque as the chair you photographed I'm afraid...

Sandy said...

I enjoyed all your photos. Your post reminds me of my brother-in-law who worked for Griffith Observatory as Business Manager for thirty plus years and then several years ago they refurbished the whole observatory and I've yet to see it.

But i use to love the tours he would take us on at the old observatory, all the beautiful old old treasures, the building itself was one big treasure but all the nooks and crannies and.... oh it was great!

lovely you said...

I like this post, the pictures and thoughts in it- especially the last one and the new header, too. I like a good mix of the old and the new as long as everything is QUALITY, you know?

Why the MSU basketball label? Did I miss something?

Helena said...

Thank you for the lovely pics. I'm so sorry that it will be demolished. I love old beautiful buildings with a history behind.

amuse me said...

It is sad that older building in the US are deemed to decrepit to refurbish. It just seems curious that buildings twice as old as ours are still standing, and being used, in England, France, etc. There is so much rich history in older buildings.

Loring Wirbel said...

The colors and light and shadow in these pictures seem more pronounced than anything I can ever recall seeing along Grand River Avenue in my years there. But I think your eye makes everything more vivid than real life.

C.M. Jackson said...

ruth-this is heaven and I am so happy you took the photos and shared the beauty of the old building where so much learning and thought took place. I am certain in time the new building will hold some meaning for you and those who seek higher education. Perhaps, the loss of the old building might be lessened by thinking of all who walked those halls and are now out in the world, thinking, writing and creating like you..

Vagabonde said...

I feel so sad for your building. Last November when we went to Paris I went to find my kindergarten and primary school in Paris – I had not seen them since I left them. They were there exactly as I remembered. They were built at least at the turn of the century I think. Only one panel had been added to my primary school wall saying that during the war (before I was there) a few Jewish girls had been taken out by the German and sent to camps. I tool a photo of the schools. I also like old furniture. When we furnished our parlor here we went to many country auctions and we purchased chairs, fainting sofa, marble tables from old plantations. They have more feeling I think. The rocking chair has needlepoint on it and a few holes from moths, but I still like it more than a new one. I think you are right to keep your old armchair as is.

VaNeSsA said...

Oh Ruth, I love you r pictures, and I am in love with your building. Perhaps it comes from growing up on Alaska, where most buildings are under 40 years old (and ugly, boxy, cheap looking things, in my humble opinion) and there are FAR too many blue plastic tarps displayed in plain sight, perhaps it comes from a family trip to Europe when I was six (and how I remember the gothic cathedrals of Spain), but I LOVE old buildings. When we go back east periodically I revel in the architecture, even the bits of the architecture that are cracked or crumbling. Especially the bits that are cracked and crumbling. Your pictures make me ache for beautiful surroundings of the man-made variety. Visual poetry. Thank you for these.

ds said...

Ruth, those photos are so perfect, I could smell the building--love old! Reminds me of the old things I cherish here & their aura of connection to people we knew.

I think literature is supposed to be housed in an old stone/brick building--think of all those magnificent libraries in cities around the world--as befits its status. The patina of wisdom just isn't visible in blocks of "new."
But I'm biased ;)

Thank you for this--and for the reminder that in certain parts of the world right now a blue tarp is indeed a welcome sight!

shoreacres said...

I hate to hear of any loss of buildings like yours. It speaks not of necessity but of priorities, of our society's general distaste for history and our reluctance to put forth the necessary effort to preserve what is beautiful as well as utilitarian.

You mention lack of structural integrity, but I wonder sometimes about our societal integrity, and the lack of wholeness which results from lopping off and discarding great chunks of our past.

Of course, I'm in the restoration business, which prejudices me. But it's a fact - anything can be restored and preserved. It's a matter of cost which decides whether restoration takes place - cost not only in dollars, but in time, energy and willingness to persevere. Obviously, I'm aware of Michigan's economic pressures which dictate squeezing every dollar, and I understand that tear-down-and-rebuild often beats rennovation in terms of cost. But I don't have to like it ;-)

I confess to an irrational belief that students learn better and learn more in an environment rich with shadows and shades from the past. Walking the same hallways and touching the same banisters as those who came before helps a student begin to swim in the great stream of knowledge, just as libraries with isolated carrels and dust and open stacks help to communicate the mystery of learning better than a computer terminal.

All that sounds a little weird, but I believe it, so I'll let it stay. As always, your photos are superb.

Cusp said...

Great pictures and so evocative. Mind you I love empty and abandoned old buildings with all the 'ghosts' of past lives and conversations. Years ago I really enjoyed a project documenting an old residential hospital.

There seems to be a certain craziness (probably called 'economics') in not preserving and renovating buildings such as your workplace. Likely as not some will not recognise its worth and beauty until it is all gone.

In our little country market town they are about to demolish a whole row of 1960s shops and a church. Those buildings replaced Georgian and Victorian buildings which, in the 60s, were seen as ugly and unworkable. What will they replace the 60s buildings with you ask ? A complex of shops and upmarket apartments in Neo-Georgain style apparently.

I'd rather they'd left it all alone and had Georgain instead of Neo-anything.

As Joni M. says '...you don't know what you've got til it's gone...

Deborah said...

Ruth, those hallways look as though they have quietly absorbed 110 years of words and thought and learning. And the chair - the wooden one - is as literary a place to sit down as ever there was.

The beautiful photographs are evidence of your tender, nostalgic attachment - the last one was absolutely perfect.

Ginnie said...

Suddenly I started thinking of my Martha Cook residence at U. of Michigan, Ruth...and the Law Quad. What if they had to be torn down? I don't think I could bear it. I so agree with Linda/Shoreacres...the shadows of the past are so important for what we learn today. And SEE! What a beautiful tribute to your old dame. You did her proud, I know.

Mary said...

What magnificent photos of this building. It appears the quintessential college building and God knows I've spent my life in them! Your photos are so powerful I can hear the quiet and the rustling of this one through your images: should the building ever be razed, these images will conjure its reconstruction for you. Thanks for this, my first visit to your site!

Mary
Flat Rock Creek Notebook
www.flatrockcreeknotebook.com

Shari Sunday said...

I like the new header. I enjoyed seeing where you work. Until I read some of the comments I confess to readily accepting that the old building had to go as it does look a little dangerous, but why can't we save old buildings like this? They are so much more beautiful. That is what a college campus is supposed to look like.

♥ Kathy said...

Oh no! I hope they don't destroy it! You made it all look so beautiful in your pictures Ruth!

shoreacres said...

It took me way too long to find it, but here it is...

Fewer and fewer Americans possess objects that have a patina, old furniture, grandparent's pots and pans -- the used things, warm with generations of human touch, essential to a human landscape. Instead, we have our paper phantoms, transistorized landscapes. A featherweight portable museum... Susan Sontag

Jeanie said...

Oh, Ruth, I love Morrill and I can't imagine anyone capturing its mood any better than you have with these photographs. They're lovely, moody, and very "hallowed halls." It makes me almost unbearably sad that this building is coming down. I keep thinking they could do SOMETHING with it. Where will they move you?

photowannabe said...

Its difficult to see another piece of history crumbling before ones eyes. fortunately you are archiving the wonderful bones of the building. Keep doing that. When its gone its so easy to forget.
I think my favorite photo is the wooden chair outside the office with the wonderfu reflection on the floor. I wish I had thought of taking a picture like that.
That would be great to hang on your office wall when you are moved. A great reminder.

Susan said...

I love the photo of the empty hallway with the gleaming tile floors. A lot of love and caring has gone into that building. I hope when they tear it down, that they will let you salvage a piece of the architecture for yourself...it would be perfect for l'atelier.

Thank you for connecting us to the world.

veri word: worra

maggie said...

Enjoyed seeing what your eye was drawn to photograh. Shift happens, no one or no thing is immune eh!

Fragrant Liar said...

Oh yeah! I love these photos. Especially the one of the hallway and the chair and the really shiny floors. College floors always seem to be really shiny. Do college students just have really clean shoe soles?

Barry said...

Wonderful photos. I can understand your attachment to the place and why you will mourn the passing of its spirit and character.

Let's hope the new building will still be around in 100 years.

shicat said...

Hi Ruth, Oh my, these photos are just wonderful. There is something about everyday objects and interiors that are so inviting.
It's a shame your building will be demolished. Beg for the lights and any remnants you can get! Peace my friend.TGIF

Montag said...

The loving attention you pay to this structure makes it shine with history, and when it is gone, you will make it live on.

Wonderful story.

Kamana said...

what a beautiful place. :)

Christina said...

sweetheart,
these photos are just gorgeous.
xo

Babs-beetle said...

It's sad when these beautiful old buildings are demolished. I suppose it has to happen sometimes.

Beautiful photos :)

gemma said...

I love those hallowed halls. It is a shame they will be torn down. I think they would make a beautiful ruin someday.

Susan said...

I'm with you. Which I guess explains why I have an antique toaster my guy had to convince me to put in the pantry in favor of a new (and far less interesting) one.
And the old altar boy chairs from a church. And the old bookcase from the boys' reform school (they wrote their names all over the back of it).
Character. That building is fragrant with it.

Terresa said...

What a lovely tour in photos of that campus. I like the vines on the walls, the pic of the blue sky & red brick building, and the hallway picts best.

I agree that things become more beautiful as they age, including people (my gram was living proof of that until she passed away).

Ruth said...

Oliag, yes. It seems that each generation ushers in a "type" of architecture. We can look at a building and be pretty certain it was built in the 1960s, for instance. Now most of my life I thought those 1960s structures were ugly. But there is something happening where all things vintage become appealing, and even 1960s designs are up for rethinking. But when the generations take a previous set of structures down, just to do something new, I bristle. We just haven't learned, as a culture, to really value the essence of much of anything.

Ruth said...

Sandy, some of the old California architecture is truly remarkable. Solid and gorgeous. So much Arts & Crafts stuff. I hope the refurbishment of Griffith retained the old features.

Ruth said...

Lovely, eclectic is the best, I say. The meaning, essence, value of objects because of something besides just how they look together, but that's important too. Sometimes I can't explain why I love a thing. I just do.

The MSU basketball label is an oops. I meant to click just "MSU" but it picked the basketball label instead. Now Blogger is in another silly out-to-get-me phase when I can't edit my synch-ro-ni-zing posts, so I can't fix it. I hope this phase doesn't last the two months it did last time.

Ruth said...

Helena, it's good that you know how fortunate you are to live in Helsinki with such rich buildings and history. So beautiful!

Ruth said...

M., what you say is pervasive - the planned obsolescence. Or just lack of long term planning. I've heard that in Europe there are regulations against building between towns, leaving the countryside pristine. Even our roads and highways are built with little foresight, the way they crumble in cold weather and heavy traffic. In Germany, the autobahn is built 18 inches thick. Is it just a matter of money? Or is it a lack of vision and will?

Ruth said...

Loring, thank you, and sometimes I wonder if that's a good thing. I admire photographers who show the mundane, in mundane ways. But I guess we each have our POV, and that's what comes through. I is what I is.

dutchbaby said...

The first photo with that splash of red and the light shining through the door took my breath away. It would make a beautiful quilt design; an Amish one.

The photos of the gleaming industrial linoleum and exposed pipes remind me of the beautiful, old, somewhat disheveled buildings in UC Berkeley. Makes me think I ought to drive over there to capture some images.

I'm with you; I would wish this building to stay forever.

Ruth said...

That's good, C.M., maybe the building has done its work. It's incredible when I think about the professors who have passed through here, in English, Religious Studies, and History.

Ruth said...

Yes, Vagabonde, old things collect imprints of experience, becoming polished with something from life. Also, it's more of an adventure to find just the right thing that is hiding in a corner of a used items store, I think. And it feels good to recyle too. Not that I want to disrupt commerce of new things.

Oh said...

The picture with the chair, the plastic-y chair...no, no! the picture with the wood chair...no, no! the picture of the torn upholstered chair - THAT's my fave! OK, no, all of 'em, but definitely this last with the worn material. You and your camera are a wonderful match! (you took all these, right? I know you did. Love your "eye" for a composition.)

bella rum said...

Ruth, I love your photos. Such emotions they have evoked here. They capture the essence of this wonderful building.

I hate to see these old places go. It's hard to fight City Hall though. With friends and relatives and members of our community, we waged a long and difficult battle in my hometown to preserve a historical pier. It was a sad day when they removed it. I'm sure you will be very sad when they demolish this wonderful building that you have worked in and laughed in and shared friendships in and captured so beautifully in these photos.

Ruth said...

Oh hello, VaNeSsA. Yes I guess you do pay a price up there for all that natural beauty, with the worst of the man made non-beauty. I'm afraid commerce drove city planners to build strip malls, and it hasn't been good for much - not downtown shopping centers, not visual aesthetics, not the environment. You have to take the whole person, the whole culture, the whole impact into account.

Ruth said...

DS, yes, literature connects us with people of other times, so sitting in a place from another time conjures even more of the essence of that. One of my prime experiences was reading one of the Harry Potter books (is that literature?) that had just come out, in my room at Trinity College in Dublin, with its 12 foot ceiling, looking out the 10 foot window onto the quad where the full moon was shining on the statue of George Salmon, creepy Provost who didn't want women admitted to Trinity.

Ruth said...

Linda, your voice mingles with professors' and students' (and mine), in countless conversations and discussions about the ways the State and the University are cutting costs. I'm glad I don't have to sit in the President's or Provost's chairs as they force this down our throats. At least they leave most of the decisions of how to cut to the departments and colleges. But we still have to protest, and we do, this, as well as things like class sizes going up. Imagine the poor students at UC, seeing a tuition increase of 32%!

I hope hope hope someone will listen to our office manager who has suggested utilizing some of the structural elements in the new space. We have some fireplaces (I actually had one of those offices for a year) and other moldings that are just gorgeous, and I wonder if they will be preserved.

Ruth said...

I don't know, Cusp, it seems like every generation is a reaction to the last one. We keep thinking we've learned something from history, and then the people in charge do stupid things. Once in a while people protest and keep the stupid thing from happening.

Oh, I love those old Georgian neighborhoods in London and Dublin. Your story of the demolishment and neo-revival is sad.

Ruth said...

Thank you so much, Deborah. I didn't mention the 110 years of dust in my window corner. Well maybe not 110 - maybe just five. Oh I hate dusting.

I am fond of that last photo myself, maybe because I love the chair so much. And it is heavy.

Ruth said...

Boots, I realized only recently where the site was where you and I flew a kite when I was 7. That spot with it's gorgeous brick buildings, so visible up high on our way to Trader Joe's in Ann Arbor, and the Law Quad when we get ice cream on State St., I can't imagine them coming down.

Ruth said...

Hi, and welcome, Mary. After visiting Flat Rock Creek Notebook, I see what you mean! It's an honor to have you visit, and enjoy yourself. I'm glad you found me, so I could find you too.

Ruth said...

Shari, I think we'll look back on this time as when everything changed, universities changed. The next few years will see all kinds of programs folding. Maybe we'll sadly regret losing stuff along the way but will be glad to have universities.

Ruth said...

Thank you, ♥ Kathy, but sadly, I think it's a done deal.

Ruth said...

Linda, well isn't that wonderful, thank you, it was worth it (to me). Of course - Susan Sontag.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, I know. They are building onto Wells Hall, toward the river. Imagine. I mean the setting is lovely. But it's sad, no?

Ruth said...

Sue, you gave me a great idea, to hang some photos in my new office of the old hall! Thank you, thank you.

julie king said...

the light in these photos is just wonderful. and those red classroom doors! worn and lovingly used -- describes a lot of our belongings and well us too!

Ruth said...

Susie, I would love to take a piece of the mantel of fireplace in my old office across the hall. The building was a women's dorm when it was first built, and that was part of a lounge. They would be crazy not to incorporate some of the elements in the new space, especially the oak, which is fantastic. I have a huge cabinet in my office too, where the PhD dissertations used to be stored. I would love to get that in my new office, but would it even fit? I also love the idea that Sue gave me, to frame a photo, or several, of this building and hang them on my new office walls.

Ruth said...

Yep, Maggie, it's true. Things change, and we might as well adjust.

Ruth said...

Fragrant Liar, we have two nice ladies who come to the building around 4pm every day M-F and clean and take care of things. I don't know how often they wax, but in the winter, it must be really tough to keep up with it. My office is a mess, with students tracking in melted snow and salt all day.

Ruth said...

Barry, thanks.

Let's hope we want the new building to be around in 100 years!

Ruth said...

Thank you, Cathy. I love the spring, summer and autumn best in this building, when the light pours in off the bell tower yard. And when the windows are open at lunch time, we hear the carillon play tunes. It's magical.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Montag, yes, you're right. And I'm going to print some of these images and frame them, as Sue suggests, and hang them on my new office walls, next to my Turkish kilim.

History, my man. It's what we do with it that matters, I guess.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Kamana, I'm glad you see it.

Ruth said...

Thank you, dear Christina. Happy to see you. xox

Ruth said...

Babs, I know. I hate to think of them doing it with big claws and machines though. I wish we could take it apart brick by brick. That would only take a few years, right? It seems like we should take as long pulling a building down as it took to put it up.

Ruth said...

Oh, Gemma, I love that. We could have a picnic inside half fallen walls.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Susan, I'm glad you smell it too. It would be fun to go antiquing again. Too bad we don't need anything.

Ruth said...

Terresa, I completely agree about people aging and getting better. Faces lined with experience and all those people who've loved them. Yum.

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby, I'd love it if you'd design a quilt like that. I confess it was a surprise to me when I first saw the brown and red paint together in this building. Now I love the combo.

Now I look forward to the possibility of you sharing images from UC Berkley. Please.

Ruth said...

Oh, I missed you. It's nice to have you like my pictures so much, you know.

Ruth said...

Bella, I'm proud that you fought for that pier. Good for you. I wish you had won, but at least you fought.

I'm afraid I'm pretty fatalistic about this building. I'm going to figure out a way to take a piece of it with me. I have a piece of Pont Neuf from when it underwent refurbishment in 2003.

Ruth said...

Julie, ust about everything wears out. Actually I need to be far better at taking care of my stuff than I am.

CottageGirl said...

I thought I wrote earlier ... but perhaps failed to hit the right button!!

Love your stately old building ... so many great conversations and compositions. So many scholarly thoughts and wise lessons taught.

Your writing touches my heart!

RoSe said...

Such a wonderful post and photos Ruth, I LOVE them and your new header too. Thanks for visiting my blog and posting, awesome that you lived in Ashland! Take care, thanks for all the inspiration and poetry, both visual and verbal.

wesslea said...

Oh, I knew the building as soon as I saw it. One of my favorites...........for the way it makes me feel. Sad to see it go...............

Ruth said...

CottageGirl, thank you for that. I'm so glad.

Ruth said...

Thank you, RoSe. Ohhh, Ashland.

Ruth said...

Oh hello, my dear Wendy. I miss you (and your hair precision).