Late this past summer, the big move finally happened. Decried as an act of fundamental injustice by some and accepted as the irresistible hand of fate by others, the administrators of the College of Arts and Sciences moved the Department of History from its traditional digs in Merrifield Hall across the quad to O'Kelly Hall. The move is still a work in progress with aesthetic and practical matters still outstanding. On the whole, however, I think that whatever our new digs have lost in dignity, they have more than made up for in character.
First, if Merrifield Hall was rough around the edges, O'Kelly is positively jagged. For Merrifield Hall's neglected dignity, O'Kelly provides a kind of genuine, authentic, urban-type neglect. The building itself was built in the mid-1950s as the home to the Medical School. It was the first major post-war construction project initiated on campus. Like most of the central campus, the building is in College Gothic style, although it lacks the refinement and attention to detail of Merrifield hall.
There are remnants of its past use as a space for laboratories and other medical facilities (although these are fast disappearing). One of my favorite new rooms that the Department of History acquired was clearly a "wet" lab. (I lobbied unsuccessfully to have this as my office primarily so I could call my office my "Laboratory"). The brown tile walls pierced by various ducts complement a a battered Formica floors complete with drains and rusted pipes. For the time being, the space is filled with cast-off furniture and, for lack of a better phrase, undifferentiated crap. It is destined to become a lounge of some sort, but for now, it's a place for the imagination.
The halls of O'Kelly stand out as well. Cheerful yellow lockers alternate with ratty and disused display cases. I can imagine the lockers serving the needs of medical students with their lab coats and stacks of thick books. The display cases apparently replaced the lockers at some point and they displayed the triumphs of the now defunct school of communication.
The most famous wall-treatment in O'Kelly is the Rich2 painted graffiti wall. A miscalculated plan to paint over this wall created a minor splash across the blogosphere. Apparently calmer heads prevailed and the wall still graces our building. It adds to the more urban, more provisional feeling of O'Kelly especially compared to the traditional and rooted feeling of Merrifield.
My office is just short of palatial. I've imported most of my old Merrifield style furniture rather than succumbing to the temptation to upgrade to latest particle-board masterworks like many of my colleagues. I have a solid wall of tables and desks suitable for Rankian ruminations over dusty tomes, stacks of important archaeological documents, and, of course, my happy gaggle of computers.
The classroom space is adequate. The seminar room, the heart-and-soul of any Department of History, is still a work in progress. They've made it a "smart classroom" by adding a digital projector and computer, but they've neglected to install a blackboard or white board. We've been promised one, but it's four weeks into the semester and I haven't seen it yet. My favorite aspect of the new seminar room is the obstructed view seat. It's just like an old ball-park!
We've been promised, many, many upgrades over the course of the semester, but I've already come to like the ratty, urban, and disjointed feeling of our new digs. For some reason (perhaps it's the palatial office), I feel relaxed and creative in this space.