This campus is graced by any number of beautiful buildings: the Memorial Union, Bascom Hall and Science Hall, among others. Even Grainger has a certain attractiveness, if one enjoys the pristinely new, un-broken-in look. But there is one building whose very brutality makes it the finest — if perhaps most maligned — building on campus.
Yes, the George Mosse Humanities building should be a revered icon of the university. Instead, the administration has pledged to destroy the building as soon as they're able in a misguided attempt to "beautify" the school. Before this happens, it would be beneficial to remember all of the glory that the Humanities building represents.
The building looks brutal — and, indeed, it should. It is one of the key buildings in the world to be dedicated to the "brutalist" school of architecture. Its rarity as a model of perfection for an elusive school should be enough to protect the building from any detractors. Finely wrought facades and enormous windows can be found anywhere. But the raw mass of the Humanities building is a true thing of beauty. The building hulks over one of the finest corners of campus, squatting like some elder god jealously guarding his territory from the arrogant beauty gazing down upon it from Bascom Hill.
This aura of defensive belligerence is tangible, and has led any number of students to consider using it as a fortress. Though few revolutions are likely to be belched out from the cavernous lecture halls of the Humanities building, the idea that this solid mass should be the student's last refuge from violence is fitting. What better refuge than a building whose physical brutality belies the nobility of its soul? The house of the history and art departments — the great foundations of Western civilization — should indeed be the veritable church of last refuge for students at Madison. Just as Medieval Europeans fled the marauding hordes of Vikings by seeking refuge behind the thick doors of darkened churches, so should students know that their refuge will always shelter them.
Yet for all the nobility of its soul, only the dedicated may reach the true inner sanctum of the Humanities building: the professors' offices. Many a naíve freshman has been lost to the surely Minotaur-populated halls of the upper floors of the building. Yet the experience of wandering the maze of the fourth floor, following the neon stand-ins for clouds of fire and smoke, is a necessary experience for those seeking the wisdom of their professors. The journey is often more rewarding than the destination, and those who devote themselves to knowledge will find that the soul of Humanities is yet a living presence, guiding the pure of heart to their destination. But just as surely, those whose greed drives them to arrogantly exclaim on the horrors of the building shall never find the true path to their TA's mailbox to hand in their final exams.
Indeed, there is much hidden beauty buried in the labyrinths. Rumors abound of treasures stored away in the upper floors. I myself once possessed a fragment of a map purporting to show the whereabouts of an art gallery on the seventh floor of the building. Since that time, expeditions have brought back only tantalizing clues to the treasures buried in this sacred vault. Can there be any doubt that this tomb — just as Tutankhamun's — contains treasures more glorious than the sun rising in the East, or more beautiful than a young girl in love?
Against all comers, the Humanities building rudely stands its ground, refusing to bow its head in shame, proudly displaying its ancient horror to the lies of beauty upon the hill, reminding us all of the beautiful depths of our own flawed souls. It guards its treasures jealously — keeping its richness deep in its depths, knowing that those who scorn its surface are not worthy of the true grandeur that lies within. So before we applaud those who would destroy such a building, we must examine our own souls and see the reflection of a maligned and misunderstood greatness.
On a personal note, this is my last column as a writer for The Badger Herald. I am leaving this fine paper in order to dedicate my energy to forming the Student Government. Although I have spent four years at the UW-Madison doing my level best to avoid anything to do with ASM, I can no longer ignore the fight for a responsive and responsible Student Government. In the coming weeks, I hope to hear from many of you with input for a new student constitution.
Steve Schwerbel ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in international studies, political science and history. He is chair of the Constitutional Committee of the Student Government.