Building Blunders of Brandeis, Part II

It is obvious to me that Brandeis seeks to destroy Modernism on its campus. In architecture there is the so-called “50 year rule” which says that after 50 years a building will be harshly criticized as unsightly, a monstrosity, etc. Considering that many of Brandeis’ buildings were constructed in the 1950s during what is called the Modernist era, we’re starting to hit the 50 year mark where people strongly dislike the styles of Brandeis’ buildings. Take a look at this map of campus, complete with dates of construction:

Brandeis Campus with Years of Construction

I think you’ll find the rule to hold true with your personal preferences. You strongly dislike Massell Quad (1952), Sherman Hall (1959), Goldfarb Library (1965), Rabb Quad (1961) and the oldest parts of the Science Center (1956-1958). However, Usen Castle (1928), the oldest building on campus, is beautiful, and Farber Library (1984), the Mailman House (1972), and Ziv Quad (1980s) aren’t so bad. For me, the 50 Year Rule is a very interesting concept that says a lot about human nature. We like the things from the years around our grandparents’ birth, hate the things from the years around our parents’ birth, and aren’t sure about the things from around the years of our birth.

Nowhere have I seen the 50 Year Rule more clearly expressed on Brandeis Campus than in the Olin-Sang American Civilization Center. One day I arrived at my politics discussion section on the second floor a few minutes early. After I sat down I noticed that one of the ceiling tiles was missing, so I got up and checked it out. I saw the well-known waffle-block ceiling found across campus, but that wasn’t all. To my amazement, I viewed through the hole a beautiful arched frosted glass skylight, the light shining through.

Modernism Revealed

Modernism Revealed

The Light Shines Through

The Light Shines Through

Normally I don’t find connections between my love for Brandeis, architecture, and progressivism, but in this case I do. Progressives don’t believe in erasing the past, we believe in embracing it and fitting it to meet today’s and tomorrow’s needs. Our university sought to hide elements of Modernism, ironically in the effort to modernize classrooms with new lighting, carpet, and “normal” ceilings. Even though progressives may not like the America of the 1950s, that doesn’t mean we see history in black and white, right and wrong, modern and old-fashioned.






4 responses to “Building Blunders of Brandeis, Part II”

  1. I think the Campus Center looks great, actually, and the Castle looks rather silly. I don’t understand why people dislike SCC so much…

  2. Ben Serby

    Personally, I like the variety of architecture on campus. Although we have the shitty, functionalist buildings (perhaps too many), we also have the Castle and – on the opposite end of the spectrum – the wonderful Campus Center. Say what you want about the color; the Shapiro building is a Postmodern beauty. Plus, no one ever seems to talk about this: how awesome is the Rose Art Museum (the building, specifically)?

  3. Andrea

    Hey dudes–

    I think it’s totally awesome you guys are treating this topic, it’s real important. But the 50-year rule doesn’t really work here. You said we should like Mailman and Ziv better than Massell and Sherman? Ziv is just as terrible, probably worse, than Massell. Some of the Massell buildings, like Usen Hall, have some references to architectural history that are sort of interesting. Ziv, on the other hand, is just utilitarian bullshit.

    I think there’s more to the terribleness of some of Brandeis’s architecture than the 50-year rule. Look at Usdan. It’s not just because Usdan’s 50 years old that we can’t figure out where any of the rooms are. Not to mention the other bad things about Brutalist architecture (see the Boston City Hall).

  4. One good thing about the 1950’s – The Golden Age of Unions. You could get a suburban house, car, college education for your children, secure employment, etc. all with a high-school education.

    Unions built the middle class. It’s weird to admire the 1950’s, but economically, it was great.