Beautiful Education

Beautiful Education

"Institutions of higher learning are supposed to be beautiful, right?"

From his statement, we could only assume Professor Kramp walked by something not-beautiful at some point this morning.

He went on:

"That's why the Greeks walked around as they learned, isn't it?"


His office was two buildings over from where we had gathered for the lecture, where he likely had to walk past any number of buildings leftover from a post-Cold War construction boom. Brutalist, but with a bit of texture. Just enough to make it *seem* nicer. Every edge softened with a promenade of young trees and lawns, lush against the heat of the high chapparal, crisscrossed with arbitrary concrete pathways - like what the Greeks had.

As he walked under these giant, monolithic concrete structures, he likely wondered why one of the Ivies hadn't gotten back to him yet.

He isn't wrong, probably. The motifs of higher learning feature brick buildings with ornate ironwork and old, drafty windows. Every room rich with mahogany wood and leather-bound yet utilitarian chairs. Paper in every variety stacks to the ceiling, libraries so big you may as well just move into them. An army of groundskeepers make sure the lawn is at a precise height, the leaves fall on time, and every walk is perfectly cleared of snow.

Maybe it's what you think of when you want to relax: Comforting, dark, a chance to unwind and let your mind wander. Within the wandering mind, new thoughts blossom, form themselves, and take root deep in your head.

I signed up for a new library card (new home, new county, new system) taking me to the far end of a strip mall. Three storefronts had been gutted, walls removed, doors arranged to house a branch of books. Every public library shelf looks the same - the beige painted aluminum, seven feet high, durable enough to hold three hundred or so books. The checkout counter a collection of laminate wood. The windows the sealed, stormproof kind tinted to let in a hazy sort of light.

The public library, all of them, are evidence of the public-space design mantra: "design for the eight-year-old and the 80-year-old, and everyone else is covered." While some are well-funded and designed through philanthropic and photographable efforts, most of our libraries are fluorescently-lit, dismal affairs. Find books, check them out, and leave before your meter expires.

A public utility on a continuously-threatened taxpayer budget. Are we really so surprised?

Libraries are for the 8 and the 80, everyone in between has whatever they need to be streamed to their nearest device, by the window of a coffee shop with free wifi.

8, 80, and me.

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