Columns / Discourse / October 7, 2010

Progress: Seymour Hall

What a bizarre experience it is to meander around our Student Union. It was built in 1920 and subjected to an extreme renovation in 1960 at a cost of $880,000. It has been added and subtracted to ever since. It represents the sum of decisions made keeping in mind the practicalities of running a small liberal arts school that is constantly evolving, so it’s really no wonder why the place feels slightly disjointed. The overhead lights are strung in lines in the hallways, occasionally shifting half a foot here and there. The spiral staircase that gestures towards elegance leads up to ghetto-like dorms wrought with particleboard and shatterproof glass. The initial (and by far the largest) renovation took place well before post-modern architecture was in vogue, so there was absolutely no sensitivity in dealing with the original collegiate Gothic structure. To explore the radically different chapters in the history and usage of Lyman K. Seymour Hall, let’s examine just one room.

The more enterprising of the first years will no doubt recognize this as the original incarnation of Founders Lab — although at this time, it was the men’s lounge. Wood paneling, wing chairs and a hearth complete with an elk’s head give us an almost hysterically stereotypical idea of what went on inside.

We find that after the renovation in 1960, however radical the aesthetic change seems, Founders was certainly still a lounge. No longer gender specific, one could approximate it with a retirement home suffering from illusions of grandiosity or a set from “Mad Men.” Either way, it looks rather inviting, doesn’t it? The most remarkable thing about this space was that it essentially wasn’t repurposed, even though it was a product of the same revamp that produced the Gizmo, an assumedly equivalent space. Ferris ‘Lounge’ down the hallway served as additional space for socialization, adorned with cosmic abstract art that possessed a self-satisfied sort of charm.

For the past few years the Gizmo has been the only truly public lounge space we’ve had to enjoy on Campus. The new Seymour Union Student Lounge (formerly Wallace Lounge) underneath the Gizmo ushers in a sentiment oddly reminiscent of how we used to prioritize our most central spaces, although one has to wonder if that particular space’s photogenic qualities (or lack thereof) will inspire the same sort of envy one might feel looking at Founders of yore. As far as Founders goes today, as essential and useful as it is to student life, the place has embraced a tragic, soulless homogeneity. At the very least it keeps us from wasting time inside of it. Although, every once and again you’d think that the shades inside could come up to reveal the lovely part of the campus Founders enjoys, as framed through the original oversized gothic windows.

To see Special Archives photos of Seymour Union’s past, please refer to the print edition of The Knox Student.

James Abram Zumwalt

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