Shifty air conditioning, less-than-potable water, dented marble stairs and a unisex bathroom in the basement. “I think there is, like, one bathroom in there,” said David Li, a Weinberg freshman.
However students characterize their experiences at Harris Hall, they can’t make new memories there for the next 18 months. The home to philosophy and history lectures, Harris will officially close for renovation on Dec. 15, with some inconveniences in store as students and professors adapt to its absence.
History department staffers will have to negotiate a swift exit and haul themselves to 1800 Sherman, their temporary new home.
“Besides the week or two moving, which is an interruption, the major issue is it will be farther from South Campus,” said Department of History Associate Professor Benjamin Frommer about the Sherman office. Students will also need to walk an extra distance west of campus to reach their professors.
Latin American History Professor Frank Safford’s office is swamped with boxes, leaving little walking space. “I will be retiring as of August 2010, probably before it has been reconstructed. So all of this is, for me, just a big pain.”
Meanwhile, the university is changing its scheduling plan, with more sections scheduled for 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. For the next two quarters, though, the university will not need to add additional space because classes will be spread out more evenly, according to Jaci Rivera, Assistant Registrar for Scheduling and Registration.
But the real adjustment comes next fall, when the number of classes peak — there were 125 classes in Harris this past quarter — causing an increase in lectures on North Campus. But those classes will still be mostly on South Campus this winter and spring, Rivera said.
Weinberg freshman Mark Birhanu isn’t looking forward to the inconvenience of having his classes move north. “I take lots of Poli Sci classes, and they are going to be moving to Tech,” he said.
But in light of the current condition of Harris, some students and professors alike are eager for the renovations, which will modify the building’s interior but preserve its Bedford stone exterior with improvements ranging from new plumbing to new electrical and sprinkler systems.
Furthermore, a new air-conditioning system could potentially reduce the rate of in-class naps. Outdated projection screens will be replaced with Smartboards. Meanwhile, a terrace will protrude from Harris 108, the wood-paneled room home to a statue of Norman Wait Harris, a prominent banker of the Harris Trust and Savings Bank of Chicago, who funded the building. It’s not mere coincidence that the building by architect Charles Coolidge reminds the onlooker of a bank.
Some professors and staffers further acknowledge that the structure speaks to its time period. “The style of architecture is characteristic of the post-World War era,” Safford said.
According to Associate Professor in Asian History Peter Carroll, Harris conveyed the permanency and aspirations of liberal arts at the time. Indeed, Norman Wait Harris provided for its construction on the condition that it would be dedicated to the learning of history, politics and economics. In the lobby, a metal plaque reads, “This Hall dedicated to the advancement of government responsible citizenship and social services is the gift of Norman Wait Harris erected 1914.”
An “architectural style that says ‘government’ is that classical style,” University Archivist Kevin Leonard said.
Because of the World War era in which it was constructed, this memorial style may not give off the most cheerful impression. Safford said the exterior has the feel of a mausoleum: “It doesn’t give a sense of light. There’s a gloomy memorial feeling.”
Yet, a more thorough survey will instead unearth some lighter and more personal touches to this seemingly somber stone shack. The bathroom, located in the basement of Harris Hall, bares the etching and scribbling on the bathroom stalls: personal heart-to-hearts, snarky words of wisdom (“Hate men, love food”) and Shakespeare quotes.
Some students’ appreciation for the building’s distinct historic charm allows them to look beyond its glitches and initial impression. “It just has so much character and personality. I think that it’s like being friends with someone who is just a little bit flawed,” Communication sophomore Jacob Watson said. “You love the way the water fountain on the third floor doesn’t work the way you love a friend who talks too much.”