When last we spoke, I mentioned that the iconic castle at Brandeis University was at risk. Well, now we have further details of the plans by the administration recently approved by the Board. Rather than tear down the whole thing, they’re opting to keep the parts that most tie into the marketing of the school, the A and B sections that appear so frequently in imagery, and that contain the well popularized Cholomondley’s coffeehouse. The rest they intend to tear down and replace with a modern block shaped dormitory.
Alumni interested in discussing this and in organizing a response to this may wish to join the newly formed Facebook Group. Let me know if you need an invite to join, I’m not sure.
Anyhow, I do understand the pressures. Students want modern dorms with A/C and efficient working heat. ADA compliance is a beautiful thing. Safety is important. Residential students bring in more revenue. But here’s the thing: In the past decade (so, recently in college evolution terms) they knocked down the cottages and the Ridgewood dorms and rebuilt very large modern facilities in their place, so I’m not sure how much pressure there actually is for more beds. I know there’s a growing international population that drives some of the demand for residential facilities. But I do actually think that safety and energy efficiency are the bigger drivers. I think if not for these there’d be no debate. But faced with this, I do acknowledge the compromises of the current plan. It is always cheaper to knock down an old building and start from scratch than it is to rehabilitate an old structure. Building new gives lots of opportunities that just can’t be done effectively with old structures. The Castle is a study in inefficient use of space.
But it’s a castle. It’s not supposed to be an efficient use of space. And too much of the campus already was, or has recently been turned into, unappealing blocks. The Castle is a refreshingly organic (so to speak) and culturally unique object. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. The administration recognizes this and is trying to preserve what they see as the parts that most embody that legacy. Sadly, the parts are very much less than the whole. At the same time, they’ve had scaffolding and safety netting up and all over the whole thing for a year or two now, fully selling to everyone the fact or image of the building as structurally unsound and falling apart on a daily basis. A current editorial in the Justice carries the perspective of at least one student.
So, the Castle is unsafe. It’s inefficient. Fixing it while retaining the exterior and they layout is expensive, especially doing it right and not just slapping some patches up. With the new dorms in place, the school can afford to close down the Castle as a dorm while they address the issue. Now is the time. So alumni and students who want to influence the plan need to vote with their dollars, both earmarking any current donations for preserving the Castle exterior in its entirety, and reminding the administration that alumni dollars are a long term value, whereas the cost of reconstruction is a short term one. I have no idea if that’ll work at all, and I’m at least content that the administration is in fact trying to do its best given the needs and limitations it has, and isn’t just bulldozing the entire structure.