The architecture of Southwick Hall brutalizes campus

University Heights is a heavily trafficked road. On weekday mornings the on-campus bus is often slowed by students walking in the freezing morning air three or six deep across the asphalt. On weekday nights you can glimpse bundled runners and tennis players walking home from training or practice, north to Living and Learning or south to Simpson and the WDW complex, braving the long walk against the south-east vista that looks out on Mt. Mansfield and Camel’s Hump. Friday and Saturday nights find a group of fifty or more students waiting at the stop behind Coolidge Hall to be ushered downtown by short-tempered, terse bus drivers. Chances are that they’ll seldom notice, or care to notice, the fusing of two of the most opposing architectural styles on campus. Indeed, there’s such a smattering of visual textures around campus that it’s more than likely that we’re relatively used to such historical diversity, moving between Lafayette and Old Mill without batting an eye. Gone are the days when architects and painters can make the front page, shattering aesthetical notions of beauty or form. Southwick Hall, the building with the huge white columns at the center of the circular drive between the Coolidge and Redstone buildings, which was originally conceived as a women’s student union when it was built in 1937 to the tune of a whopping $300,000 seemed an unlikely candidate for the 1973, 1.1 million dollar addition of the Music Building with its ultramodern recital hall. No doubt it would have seemed even stranger to the Army Air Corps members to whom Southwick Memorial Hall was home in 1943. “The music building was built in the Brutalist style, which was a popular style for campuses at the time. However, the use of this aesthetic is made more interesting because of the way that it interacts with the surrounding built environment,” Eliza Vedder Plantilla, a graduate student in the Historic Preservation Department said. “Passing into the courtyard created by these three structures, we find an intimate space that makes each building more interesting for the contrast that the others provide. I think this addition is a rare example of how distinct architectural styles can complement each other, even (maybe even especially) when built in close proximity,” she said. “Brutalism” is a term that is used to describe the raw, exposed concrete of buildings built in that style from the ’50s to the ’70s. Le Corbusier, a Swiss architect, coined the term. Bailey-Howe Library is built in this style, as well Boston’s City Hall and many other buildings throughout the world. Hated by some, the concrete with the grain of the wooden scaffolding embedded in its surface has a way of feeling open and soothing and distinctly civic, absent of any Anglo-centrism that might define Southwick’s colonial revival style of architecture, with its white columns, brass lanterns and marble staircases. Now seldom used, the organ in the recital hall was one -of-a-kind when it was custom built in the French Baroque style by Charles Fisk in Gloucester, MA. According to a 1974 Burlington Free Press article, music department faculty seemed to hope that it would bring prestige to the hall and “increase the scope of the university’s teaching capacity in that field.” The electric organ in Ira Allen has now taken over. I stood on the stage for a few minutes on Friday in the empty, 350-seat hall shortly before it would be filled with patrons for a recital being given by Paul Orgel. I whistled to myself. The acoustics are so good it felt as though a room full of people were whistling at me, all in the same key.With contribution from Gabriel Millman.