What makes an institution great? Red bricks. Red bricks are a sure sign that an academic institution is committed to its students’ needs and can prepare them for the real world. Red bricks can singlehandedly turn an ugly campus into a beautiful one. Red bricks are what make a university great — look at the University of Pennsylvania.
It’s not the 300-year pedigree or the respected faculty or the enormous academic budget that makes the school great; it’s the red brick buildings! When the accreditation board comes to a university, they merely have to check off the box in their notebook next to “buildings are made of red brick,” and the university will almost assuredly pass with flying colors.
This is why I find no issue with Drexel’s latest campus beautification project: to paint all the orange bricks on campus red. Look at the General Services Building, which has already been completed. It’s hardly recognizable from what it once was! It is now a beautiful red-brick parking garage, which could look just as well at home in the streets of Prague or in pre-Haussmann Paris.
Through President John A. Fry’s vision, we’ve taken a boring, dowdy old orange-brick parking garage and turned it into a master work of architecture! Can you imagine the rest? Imagine Nesbitt Hall, Kelly Hall, Disque Hall or even One Drexel Plaza done up in wonderful red brick! I think I smell a Pritzker Architecture Prize in the making!
Worthwhile investments like painting bricks red and tearing out the outdated 32nd Street walk (at a whole decade old, it is clearly in need of replacement!) are what will really make Drexel a beautiful campus. While schools like the University of Pennsylvania invest in old, obsolete methods of campus beatification like narrowing streets, reducing surface parking on campus and adding trees, Drexel is confidently stepping forward into the modern aesthetic.
Drexel is not only painting old buildings red but also building new, enormous, monolithic concrete buildings on what was once dull and unproductive green space! These buildings, built in a style known as “brutalism,” will surely stand the test of time, as so many of their compatriots have. Fifty years from now, we will look back at Chestnut Square and the LeBow College of Business building with the same kind of reverence we have now for masterpieces like Boston City Hall and the Philadelphia Municipal Services Building.
I’d just like to take this moment to commend the school for taking these serious steps toward campus beautification. It is through all-encompassing and meaningful projects like painting all the bricks on campus red that our school will finally get past its “ugliest campus” reputation.
I’m glad that we live on a progressive campus that doesn’t waste money on expensive boondoggles that wouldn’t beautify campus at all, like putting a median on Market Street or destroying valuable surface parking lots near the center of campus for some more meaningless “green space.” Trees and grass only lead to dirt and pollen everywhere anyway, and they shouldn’t be encouraged. I look forward to a day when I can see a campus populated only by red brick or concrete buildings and where the scourge of the street tree has finally been eliminated.
The Chestnut Square development already took serious steps at reducing the amount of pervious surfaces on campus; with time we can fill in the lawn next to Nesbitt and the useless green space behind the Recreation Center, too! We can look forward to a beautiful campus reflective of Drexel’s real values, without a lawn or tree for blocks and blocks: only productive classroom and retail space! Painting bricks red is a step in that direction.
Justin Roczniak is the op-ed editor of The Triangle. He can be contacted at [email protected].