An Open Letter to Devco Architects

Dear Devco,

Rutgers is once again talking about renovation of the College Avenue campus. We have seen your proposal for Lot 8, the former Grease Truck parking lot. We are writing to say that it will not do.

There are certain background considerations of which you need to be aware.

The first is the larger problem of our slum campus. Rutgers students are so used to their surroundings that most no longer notice them. But when they visit friends at schools with real campuses, they are ashamed.

That being the case, we see your proposal as aggravating, rather than alleviating, the problem. We are not prepared to see you hired at this juncture.

Below, you will find a brief discussion of what you will have to do to earn our endorsement for the College Ave renovation project.

 

Take a moment to write President Barchi and tell him that you have enlisted in the campaign to demand that the Board of Governors name Devco's grease truck complex the Robert L. Barchi Minimum Security Facility and Outdoor Sports Bar as a permanent monument to his aesthetic sensiblity and administrative vision. He will be pleased and flattered that you have taken an interest.

E-mail

Robert L. Barchi

Assure President Barchi that you understand perfectly well why so many NJ legislators, Devco representatives, and BOG members are happy with him for seeing that Rutgers wound up with

This, and not . . .

 

 

 

 

 

. . .this!

 

 

No NJ strip mall architecture on College Ave 

We have seen some of your designs for College Ave. They are reminiscent of the plans commissioned by R.L. McCormick before he was persuaded to resign the presidency. Here is one of your proposed designs. It is, we gather, meant to go in the parking lot where the Grease Trucks so long marred the Rutgers landscape.

It won't do. Let us be clear about what we mean here. It is not just that we are not prepared to accept this particular proposal. We will not accept anything that remotely looks like this proposal. We will not accept anything designed by anyone who had anything to do with this proposal. It is the concept exemplified by this proposal that is egregious, as well as offensive to anyone who cares about the historic Old Queens campus.

We don't want to offend anyone here, but we simply don't want any of your NJ strip mall architecture, especially with blaring TV and prison-block residential complexes, on our campus.

We just don't want it.

If you get rid of the concept, we will allow you compete for the right to provide buildings for the College Ave campus.

Georgian, nothing but Georgian

In just a couple of years (2016) Rutgers will be celebrating its 250th anniversary. It was one of only nine colleges in existence at the outbreak of the American Revolution. Today, most of the others -- Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Columbia, Brown, Penn -- are private institutions. Only two -- Rutgers and William & Mary -- are public.

The dominant style of architecture on the original campus, suitable to the 18th century origins of the school, is Georgian. For instance, Old Queens hall, just a few hundred feet from where Alexander Hamilton's artillery held off a large British force while George Washington and the Continental Army retreated safely in the direction of Trenton, is in this style.

We will expect any buildings added to the College Ave Campus to honor the Georgian style in architecture. We do not mean witty "postmodern allusions" to Georgian, or strip mall architecture with "Georgian features." We mean Georgian.

If you fail to understand what we mean, study the picture of Old Queens just above, then go back up to your strip mall monstrosity at the beginning. Try to get a handle on the difference.

 Georgian in the Old Quad

If you ever actually visit the Rutgers campus, you will notice that buildings in the old quad that stretches away behind Old Queens -- Murray, Milledoler, Van Dyke -- are in the Georgian style. Here, for instance, is Murray Hall

 

 

There are exceptions, as with the Super 8 Motel design of Scott Hall. (As part of the College Ave renovation, we expect Scott Hall, the "river dorms," and other examples of cheapjack 50s construction will demolished when the new buildings are completed.)

But before they succumb to the wrecking ball, we'd like to remind you that these too were once considered "modern" architecture, not unlike your proposed design for our campus.

This brings us to our first stipulation. Before we let you touch a square inch of soil on the College Avenue campus, we are going to require you to go through a preliminary trial.

 College Avenue Gym:

a Georgian Architectural Treasure

We are not going to advise you about how to jackhammer up College Avenue and the other noisy, litter-strewn, traffic-choked streets that make the Old Queens campus feel more like an urban slum than a university campus. We imagine you are competent to get this done.

But we would like to point out to you an unremarked architectural treasure. It is the building presently called the College Avenue gym. It has a history -- the New Jersey state legislature met there on several notable occasions -- but now serves no serious academic purpose:

Your "trial" project will be to transform the shell of this wonderful old Georgian building into a complex that includes (1) 15 seminar rooms, solidly built so as to provide noise insulation, (2) a small student theater for the CAP players and other theatrical groups, and (3) a lecture room that will do honor to Rutgers when visiting lecturers appear at the university.

 Seminar rooms, student theater, lecture hall

Let us make clear the need for the renovation you will need to undertake to prove your credentials for more important projects.

To give you an idea of what your College Ave gym renovation should look like when you've completed this preliminary stage, let us show you a few actual examples.

First, at real colleges and universities, the seminar experience -- 12 students seated around a table with a professor in well-appointed surroundings -- is an essential part of the learning experience.

At present, there is only one such room on College Ave, in Bishop House. That room is noisy, cheaply furnished, and has been junked up with "visual aids" equipment that destroys the seminar ethos. It is terrible.

Here's a seminar at a New England school that understands the seminar experience to be an essential part of one's college education. Include a suite of 15 such seminar rooms.

Second, in the absence of decent theater facilities, the College Avenue Players have had to put on productions in a lecture room in the unutterable Scott Hall, with horrible acoustics and no proper lighting or stage area.Here, for instance, is a good small student theater at another university close to Rutgers. Include one like it in your renovation.

Third, guest lectures at Rutgers are given in the hideous "Multipurpose Room" in the equally hideous Student Center: surroundings that look more like a Texas high school auditorium than a college lecture space. And here's a lecture room at a university that understands that decent facilities have a huge impact on the way visitors perceive the institution. Create one such lecture room.

The number of people affected by a few such changes would be huge. For instance, if just 15 seminar rooms of the sort pictured above were in use during all available classtimes, literally thousands of students who are now being cheated of the seminar experience would benefit during their time at Rutgers. Not to mention the thousands who, over the years, would attend theatrical productions or come to hear visiting lecturers.

 College Ave: if Devco passes the test

If you manage to complete the trial projects described above satisfactorily, we will consider endorsing you for the College Ave renovation. But we will need further evidence of your suitability.

To master the idea of collegiate Georgian, for instance, you will need to have studied examples of what is needed at Rutgers. Here, for instance, is an example of a collegiate quandrangle from a university in Massachusetts.

It is true that this is an especially graceful example, having been constructed in the 1930s when costs were lower. But similar buildings in Georgian style are being built right now all over the country by colleges and universities that have some sense of what a college campus should look like.

Here, for instance, is an example of very recent construction:

Try to follow us here. This is a complex that, scaled to size, differently oriented and situated where the "grease truck parking lot" now exists, would have a hugely positive impact on the way visitors -- let alone students and faculty -- perceive Rutgers.

This example of collegiate Georgian happens to be at William & Mary, the one other colonial institution that, like Rutgers, has remained public. It offers an obvious model for our College Avenue renovation. Anything else, in our opinion, would be a terrible mistake.*

This complex was designed by Robert A.M. Stern, a prize-winning architect noted for his sense of how modern materials and traditional designs can be combined in settings calling for a harmonious relation between older buildings and new construction. Mr. Stern is based in New York City. Perhaps the Ditzco architects who designed the NJ Strip Mall complex above could arrange to visit NYC for a short consultation with him. If they were to do so, and then were to come back, rip up the design with the blaring TV and the retail stores, and set about creating a Georgian quadrangle that would grace the Rutgers campus in a way suitable to a collegiate setting, we would be happy to pay for their NJ Transit tickets (round trip). Just contact us at Rutgers 1000.

The building above at night.

 

Whether or not you consult with Mr. Stern, however, we want you to scrap your hideous design and give us something like this on College Ave. Then Rutgers students wouldn't have to slink past the Grease Truck lot and avert their eyes and feel obscurely ashamed that they go to a place like this.

Inside the building above

The stakes here are huge. The brightest and most intellectually engaged students, if you give them blaring TVs and retail stores, will simply transfer to better schools. That's already happening at Rutgers on a not inconsiderable scale, but your new design will change the trickle of transfers to a flood, we guarantee you. Then the administration will have to replace those who transfer with even greater numbers of unqualified students at the bottom end, just to balance the budget. Rutgers' already dismally low entrance standards will drop through the floor. All because of your blaring TV and retail stores.

 We do not deny that many boosters are thrilled with your design, especially the huge blaring TV. On one fan board a booster proclaimed jubilantly that

"It creates a buzz! It gives people outside of Rutgers something to say like "hey did you check out the park with the big TV?" I see it as a huge opportunity to have a centerpiece that attracts attention to something we can control. Blast pro-RU stuff all day through that thing!"

But we'd like to point out that a large percentage of boosters (1) never attended Rutgers, (2) have no understanding whatsoever of universities as institutions of higher learning, and (3) are exclusively focused on a semi-pro football or basketball franchise using the Rutgers name. To them, "blasting pro-RU stuff all day long" seems simply a logical extension of a mental world they already live in.

 Budget

Let's start with a fun fact. The William and Mary building above cost $75 million dollars. Rutgers' annual athletics deficit -- the deficit: that is, the cost overrun that must come out of general university funds -- is $27 million a year, and is going to rise spectacularly once Rutgers enters the sordid "Big Ten" conference. (See Professor Killingworth's cost projection for relevant details.) Worse, $7 million a year of that money has been coming out of mandatory student fees.

If Rutgers were to free itself from commercialized Div IA athletics tomorrow, that deficit would magically vanish. Think about it: in under three years, Rutgers could pay off the entire cost of a Georgian complex like that at William and Mary, one that would do honor to the university, provide greatly expanded facilities for education, and help attract top NJ students. Even better, $21 million of that would come from student fees, having been used for purposes -- e.g, once again, seminar rooms like the one shown above-- that have a direct and important impact on undergraduate experience.

Unlike football, which every year represents tens of millions of dollars poured uselessly down the sump of useless institutional costs, these are permanent contributions to college life. A complex like the William and Mary quadrangle -- built for just a bit more than the amount that Rutgers wastes in one year on commercialized Div IA athletics -- would be there a century from now, having served generations of students and alumni. Aren't these irresistible incentives to return to participatory athletics and, at the same time, save the soul of Rutgers as an institution of higher learning? Is there any sanity left in the administration or on the BOG or Board of Trustees? Any at all?

Now, the longer term picture. A serious estimate is that Rutgers has poured over $600 million dollars down the sumphole of Div I athletics since it joined the "Big East" conference in 1994. Just a few years ago, Rutgers spent over $100 million on a huge ugly concrete shell since given the wince-making name "High Point Solutions Stadium." Last year, the school spent $58 million on its athletics budget, with a deficit -- $27 million, $7 million of which came from mandatory student fees -- that was highest among Div IA schools in the nation.

That being the case, we want to assure Devco that, once you have successfully completed your trial period, there will be plenty of money for the building projects that the Old Queens campus needs so desperately.

The reason is this. When President Barchi has succeeded in breaking Rutgers free from its imprisonment in the sordid "Big Ten" conference and returning the school to the tradition of participatory (Div III) athletics in which it competed for over a hundred years, athletics savings will amount to $50 million per annum. By reserving that amount annually until it reaches $600 million, the College Ave renovation project can be completed and paid for in a dozen years.

Devco can play an important and honorable part in the process. If your efforts on the College Avenue gym renovation are satisfactory, and if a newly-submitted set of plans in collegiate Georgian style seem to us appropriate for the Old Queens campus, contact us about getting our endorsement as the choice to undertake further renovations.

Rutgers 1000