Learning in layers in the Emerald City
Driving around the campus of the University of Washington, located in Seattle, WA, I am struck by its layers: its juxtapositions of seemingly opposing elements. Seattle maintains a reputation for being a rain-soaked, dark and cloudy city, but this is not always the case, and one might argue that the precipitation in the region is to thank for the glorious lush vegetation that cradles the UW campus.
In addition, having been founded—originally in downtown Seattle—in 1861 (one of the oldest universities on the west coast), the university has both paid homage to its original architecture while continuing to grow and modernize, providing a very interesting and layered scenic environment.
There are both old and new buildings, and the original school building on the current campus (established in 1895) has recently had a restoration and upgrade: they have restored the exterior in honor of the university’s origins, but updated and modernized the interior with an eye on the future.
The UW shows both its dedication to progress and commitment to its past by placing both old and new structures side-by-side. In this environment, one feels a strong sense of “belonging”—both to what has built and grown the school from its earliest days of education as well as to a commitment to the future that is nurtured by experimentation in the present. Nowhere is this more obvious than in “Red Square” where the architecture is wonderfully eclectic. Surrounding a massive red brick paver square, Suzzallo Library ostentatiously shines on one side of the Central Plaza with its Collegiate Gothic architecture (construction started in 1926); behind three modern-looking, monolithic pillars (apparently, one serves a purpose to ventilate the garage underneath the square, and the other two are aesthetic “banner holders”) stands the 1970s-built Odegaard Library and nearby is Kane Hall (another building that highlight’s the UW’s expansion in the early 1970s) as well as a 1967 Expressionist sculpture “Broken Obelisk” by Barnett Newman that was likely created to show the impossibility yet hope created by the Civil Rights Movement. In this space, the viewer cannot help but be drawn in to the values, history, and promise of this place of higher education. While seems random at first glance becomes sobering when analyzed: this place is committed to honoring the past while peering with curiosity into the future.
Even the assignment of the buildings provides a weaving of old and new: some of the oldest, quaintest buildings house the STEM classes and are surrounded by beautiful rose gardens, adding a softness to what might be considered the more concrete majors.
The University of Washington is set smack-dab in the middle of a thriving, urban area. It is a huge school, but it’s striking how personal the campus seems— the 800+ clubs offered on campus and the HUB (the student center that provides everything from food to video games to a bike-repair shop) are bound to make a large campus seem smaller for anyone worried about a large feel, but wanting the amenities available in a top-notch area. Arts, sports, medicine—it can all be found at UW, and the diversity in programming is mirrored by their efforts to expose students to courses pertaining to diversity itself. The Greek system is solid (and its houses are large and charming), but students emphasize that Greek life is just one of the many ways to find a niche. This outstanding research university has much to offer academically—for anyone who likes seasonal weather and accessibility to lakes, mountains, hiking, biking, shopping (the beautiful University Village is literally across the street), restaurants, and all that the beautiful Puget Sound area has to offer.
The University of Washington is proud of its heritage and reputation. It asks students to find a sense of purpose and community while studying there. During freshman orientation, students are asked to participate in a commitment to themselves and the education provided at the school by entering Slyvan Grove and touching one of the four columns (part of a portico from the university’s original campus). Students bookend their time at UW in this same grove at commencement. Rich in layered tradition and openness, this is a gem of a school for the right student.
“The four columns speak eloquently of our beginnings and early history as a University and of the dedication of a small group of settlers to the values of higher education. They remind us that it is our duty to preserve the priceless legacy of all those who have come before us for future generations.”
“Audio Tour 1.” Audio Tour 1 | Capital Planning and Development. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2017.
PCAD – Link: HISTORY OF THE UW BUILDINGS (Last Updated 1998). N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2017.
“The Four Columns.” Office of Ceremonies. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2017.
“Tour: University of Washington.” Campus Tour. University of Washington, Seattle. 20 July 2017. Lecture.