There’s no way of knowing what the architects and contractors had in mind when they were planning this year’s renovation of my home, Allison Residential Community. But for me, there’s no doubt that they were out to construct the perfect residential hall. And in many ways, they succeeded.
I was beyond impressed when I first looked around the space where I’d spend my first year of college. I had heard that Allison was a nice building, which was a big reason why I ranked it first on my prospective housing list, but once I saw the real thing I realized it stood far beyond my expectations.
The rooms are spacious and well-lit, the halls are fully carpeted, the lounges are replete with flat-screen TVs and the bathrooms look like they belong in a Kohler commercial. The building planners had every calculation just right — dorm area, water efficiency, temperature control — but there was one that they overlooked completely: capacity for social interaction.
People have compared Allison to something of a hotel, usually as a way to complain about their own buildings and remind me how lucky I am to be where I am. It’s a fair comparison, not only because of its stylish interior decorating and nice amenities, but also because, you have essentially no contact with the guy in the room next to you.
The fact that the rooms are so spacious also means that they’re far apart from each other. Even further is the nearest lounge; there’s only one on each floor, and ours is typically empty unless someone wants to microwave a sandwich or watch Sunday Night Football. And because our rooms are nice, bright and temperature-controlled, there’s seldom reason to leave them. The door to each room is thick and heavy, and they take a serious effort to prop open. We've been encouraged from the beginning to keep them closed for reasons of security, anyway.
Sadly, the only time I really interact with guys in neighboring rooms is the occasional awkward encounter in the bathroom. On a normal day, I’ll have more conversations with my floor-mates through the giant mirror on the wall than face-to-face.
I didn’t know that architecture could be a serious factor when it comes to fostering friendships, but here’s the truth: the new Allison just wasn’t designed for making friends.
The impact of dorm architecture, while subtle, is a major influence of how students interact in every residential building on campus. Looking from building to building, it's easy to see how Allison was left behind.
Everyone I know in Jones Hall has already formed a tight-knit clan with all the other members of their floor, simply because they spend most of their time together. Everything in the building may be wooden and slightly decrepit, but the chairs and couches set up outside most rooms create chill-space where everyone can come to talk, study, play board games and commiserate after drunken escapades on the weekends.
We’ve all heard Elder’s reputation for having a cult-like sense of dorm identity. At last Saturday’s football game, I noticed a group of freshmen with “GO NU” painted on each of their chests and “ELDER 2ND FLOOR” on their backs — it wasn’t clear which they were more proud to show. It may be because there are no upperclassmen to intimidate them, but Elder’s relatively small rooms pushing students out into communal space has to be a serious reason why its residents have become such close pals in a few short weeks.
Even PARC, Allison’s ugly stepchild forever relegated to sit in its shadow, has suites that draw students together and encourage openness, if for no other reason than for students to collectively complain about the conditions of where they live.
Meanwhile, my floor’s poor CA is still devising increasingly creative plans to help us all get to know each other better. We’ve had ice cream socials and Sunday brunches, sitcom viewing parties and hallway study sessions, but nothing will help replicate the incredible group bonds we’ve already seen develop in other residence halls.
The other day a girl told me about a Saturday night when she stumbled back into her floor in Bobb, only to find a boy lying in a puddle of his own puke in the middle of the girls’ bathroom. I had to chuckle, not being able to imagine such a scene on the floor of one of Allison’s pristine linoleum bathrooms. And it made me a little sad, because in the end, the scenes of misplaced drunkenness and deteriorating bunk beds are what make college, well, college.
Some people grow up to live in boundless mansions with 72-inch TVs and voice-activated air conditioning, but they still look back to college—the time when they frequently passed out on the floor and ate Ramen noodles for breakfast—as the best times of their lives. Why? Because of the experiences they had with friends all around them, in close living quarters where they were hardly ever alone.
That’s where I’d like to be spending my time. Not in a hotel.