College Stories 2011: When Buildings Speak

When Buildings Speak

by Greg Smith

Architecture as an art form is something I’ve only recently developed an interest in. But our knowledge and awareness of buildings, conscious or unconscious, shapes our daily experiences, which in turn mold who we become over the years. I am who I am, not just because of the classes I’ve taken over the years or the people I’ve met with but also because of the shapes of the spaces we’ve inhabited together over the last four years.

A walk through UNC’s various libraries is a tour of my intellectual life over the last few years. I walk into Wilson Library and feel my mind twist into the shapes of the Hindi words I studied there. I seem to read and write in clearer German on the eighth floor of Davis but would prefer to do reading on political science on the fifth floor.

Just as important are the spaces dedicated to disciplines I’ve only dabbled in during my career. A walk through the boxy, well-lit School of Library Science library and I become a linguistics student again. I won’t blame my short-lived career as an economist on the claustrophobic feeling of the Music Library, but I no longer do much work on econ or in the Music Library. And — proving there’s no predictability to how we react to places — where else, other than the noisy Union, could I study mathematical logic?

It’s not simply that repeated experience in a place trains our minds to return to certain subjects when we visit. I believe the actual spaces themselves have certain values that we absorb and respond to.

With that in mind, here are some of my favorite study spaces on campus and why:

Wilson Library

Easily the most distinguished of the studying spaces I frequent, I go to Wilson to study Hindi. I first discovered Wilson a few weeks into my first year. Mesmerized by the beauty of the curving Devanagari letters (and eventually words) I was learning in my Hindi 101 class, I felt I needed a place beautiful enough to adequately reflect my growing obsession for India’s national language.

Whether it was Wilson or solely my interest in India that led me to take a stop-out year between my sophomore and junior year, I can’t tell you — the elegance of Hindi and the motley enigma of Wilson — or is it the colorfulness of Hindi and the elegance of Wilson? — will always be entwined.

The Park Library in Carroll Hall

I love the feeling of sunshine pouring in, and the fact that everyone there seems to be working on things that are so different than me. While they struggle with their multimedia projects or create an innovating advertising campaign, I’m looking at constitutional law or

The Law Library

I’m not even sure if undergraduates are supposed to go here or not, but the sense of concentration — even desperation, occasionally — and monotony of the bookbindings makes me feel like I’m in an old-fashioned study. Especially as I consider law school and spending countless hours in buildings just like this one, I find it more and more important to go back here and find out if I can feel my mind becoming more specific, logical, and clear.

Art Library, Second Floor, armchairs facing the courtyard

As I grew more interested in architecture and design, I need a space to foster this. Half of finding a good study space is having something interesting — but not distracting — to look at while puzzling over a difficult concept. Completely unfamiliar with art history, engineering or even half of the vocabulary used to describe buildings or shapes, I can still look out at this odd courtyard and feel inspired and challenged to think in new geometries.

It’s the values that our campus buildings espouse that create and reinforce our mental landscapes over our time at Carolina — honesty, straight-forwardness and symmetry slowly seep into our characters. Just as we dress for the day as reminders for how we want to think of ourselves, we choose places that remind of us who and what we can become.

Everyone who comes to visit Chapel Hill remarks on how beautiful it is, but the real beauty of the campus is in how — if we let it — it will mold our minds during our time here.

Greg Smith, a rising senior, is a political science and German major from Charlotte.