Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Tavern: Still Open

Is it just me or does one feel freer in the Station Building than in any of MICA’s other buildings? Right away one could hypothesize that this feeling of increased freedom is due to the station building forming the edge of campus, marking the beginning of the rest of the city; instead of being sandwiched between other private, institutional buildings one feels something of the extension of the world beyond and its boundless heterogeneity. No doubt this is true, but it is only partially responsible for the feeling of openness. As a freshman, I inhabited the space on the opposite edge of campus, the Commons, and I assure you that it did not posses the qualities in question. Rather it seems to turn away from the beyond only folding back in on itself. I have set foot in the Gateway only briefly, but I would venture to assert that, although perhaps slightly less severe, this hermetic condition prevails there as well. Perhaps, the walls of the Station are a little more like semi-permeable membranes, allowing it to assimilate some of the character of the surrounding area; however, I think that the architecture of the three buildings is not so much the key factor here . So what makes the Station unique? What makes this edge less severe? The Tavern.
Bars in general have always been known as ‘public houses’. In this case, the openness owes its source to something a little larger than individual buildings, namely the greater urban organization, the relationships between structures and functions. What we have here is an isolated yet potent example of the Jane-Jacobs-effect: the salubrious opening effects of mixed functions within the same neighborhood, bringing in fresh bodies and eyes, preventing the streets and one’s senses from stagnating. As one approaches the edge that is the Station, the world on the other side of that edge—manifested in The Tavern—inserts and asserts itself just within the boundaries of campus. It plants itself just before the Station, in between it and a long string of MICA buildings, puncturing the close knit-fabric of the campus and creating a mélange. And if this part of the outside world which juxtaposes itself with the campus is all alone—it makes up for this solitude by way of its colorful character. For The Tavern may be lacking in anything but character, character of an order somewhat opaque. The Tavern opens up a portal to a social setting that is other, removed from the hallowed, but let’s face it, sometimes stuffy halls of academic institutions.
I don’t want to villainize MICA, nor portray the role of The Tavern as completely in opposition to that of the school: The Tavern’s role is a necessary counterpart that is good for the school, and on the other hand, the Tavern certainly benefits from the school’s proximity too. “All work and no play makes one dull”, is a platitude that can’t be overlooked: when the intellect becomes either exhausted, joyfully reaches some final destination or loses its way in the labyrinths of thought one must either rest, celebrate or in the latter case, temporarily turn away and establish a distance between oneself and one’s puzzle so as to gain a fresh perspective on it—certainly the Tavern provides this distance, a place where there is no obligation to work. And on the other hand, how many times has The Tavern provided for students just released from school functions with recently learned ideas fresh in their minds the opportunity to discuss and explore the alternative possibilities of what they just learned in perhaps not enough time or in a more rigid way in the classroom? Even if one rarely visits The Tavern itself, while one works in the station building, in a small but significant way, they are also inside the Tavern at the same time, and this might even hold true for all of the other buildings throughout the whole campus, although I feel the pull is stronger the closer one gets (e.g. the printing facilities.) The Tavern provides a paradox: a place on campus, i.e. a place where one runs into classmates (whether one likes it or not, although one of things about the Tavern is that, perhaps unlike school, there is no obligation to speak to your classmates if one is so inclined), that is simultaneously OFF campus. The only thing left to open up The Tavern completely, the next big step: abolish the drinking age.

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