Thursday, December 06, 2007

Living In A Brutalist Meat Locker

This post might seem like it starts far away from where it ends. In that cause, I will tell you now that it discusses:
  1. How cold my office is at present.
  2. Why this has not yet been fixed.
  3. Why architecture critics like Brutalist architecure and why no one else does.
  4. Why some history isn't worth preserving.
  5. Why the Mosse Humanities Building at UW-Madison must go now.

If all of that sounds interesting, read on. If not, well, you are here already, so might as well...

I am a gentleman of considerable carriage and a native Midwesterner. I have never even spent part of a winter in a place where the weather didn't have a regular dose of conditions that can kill you.

This means that I am never one to complain about the winter. Separates the sheep from the goats, climactically speaking.

A situation has developed, however, that has caused me to avoid a particular place because of the weather. You might be surprised to learn that this place is actually inside.

It is my office in the George L. Mosse Humanities Building on UW-Madison's campus.

The reason that I have had to avoid it is that the heat has been off, well, the whole time I have been here, really. It has never worked well. Now, though, it has been completely off since Monday and it is really no warmer inside than it is out.

The maintenance people have been doing, well, something for more than a week now. First, it involved tearing out the ceiling tiles, sawing holes in the ceiling and then pointing into those holes. Then, it involved disconnecting things inside the holes, taking them from the holes and then pointing at the things. Now, it involves banging and sawing other things in the holes, arguing about what to bang and saw next and then leaving for the day.

In that respect, it is a pretty typical union job. A lot of activity with very little achievement.

More broadly, however, as an almost three year inmate in the infamous "Inhumanities Building," I have always been with the pack that is baying to see it torn down. According to Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Planning and Management Al Fish, the building has cost more to maintain than it did to build in 1968. Fish also calls the building an "energy hog," points out that the concrete is cracking and chipping and relates the sad fact that the Music Department is housed largely underground where the temperature fluctuations destroy the instruments.

According to, well, damn near everyone I know who works/studies/maintains this building, it is always damp, it is cold in the winter, stifling in the summer, it lacks the rigging to clean the windows and it lacks natural light inside. In addition, to call the floor plan labyrinthine would pay it the undue comment of being intelligible at all and it lacks a central entrance and elevators and stairs are anything but intuitively placed.

From a maintenance standpoint, the heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical systems seem to be held together with duct tape and kind thoughts. Lastly, one must wonder about the use/wisdom of putting a five and a half storey breezway/courtyard in a building in Wisconsin.

I just know that you want to move in tomorrow. Bring gloves, a hat, some breadcrumbs (so that you can maybe find your way out), a stout pair of shoes and lots of patience.

Why, you ask, would anyone in their right mind want to save such a monstrosity? We will attack that subject in my next post.

Although I will tell you now that the people who do want to save it aren't in their right minds.

How could they be? They're art critics.


Lost A Sock said...

I laughed out loud with your description of the heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical systems being held together by duct tape and kind thoughts. Mostly, because up until a month ago, I was living in a place just like that. Hahaha

I hope you get heat (or a new office!) soon.

mjenks said...

Is the Minotaur hid within?