Architecture Rant: The Medical Sciences Building
Life Science students spend a lot of time in the Medical Sciences building. You know which one it is – that sprawling concrete menace at the southeast corner of King’s College Circle. It is a horrible place.
First, the exterior. What were they thinking back in the late 1960s? Since pre-fabricated concrete slabs were the newest and hottest constructional material, the architects went hoop-la with it. The material seems painful to look at and even more painful to touch. I feel that, if for some reason I fell and grazed the wall, it would cut into my skin. Lucky for me, Medical students would see my suffering and come help.
Or would they? Another problem with the Med Sci building is that it lacks windows. You know, those glass portals that allow sunlight in and make you happy? If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself on the upper floors where the research labs are, you will be bathed in artificial fluorescent light. The hallways are confusing with many twists and turns. With no windows, you have no idea which direction you’re headed. I guess in the 60s people didn’t have to get to class on time so they could afford to spend ten minutes lost in a painted white cinderblock labyrinth.
Back to the exterior – it’s awful. Since there’s plenty of wasted open space on the outside, Med Sci is a magnet for smokers. Does anyone else see the irony in this?
The interior is barren and feels like a high school (complete with orange lockers and a feeling of hopelessness). One day I was walking to an office on the fourth floor and a some professors were having a conversation in the hallway. There were four of them and they occupied the entire width of the corridor. Now, there’s nothing wrong with professors talking to each other and I’m not complaining about the width of the hallways. What I find deplorable is that they had to converse in the hallway. In Med Sci, there are no lounges, no casual conference rooms, and there’s no free space. Everything is locked behind a door, out of the public realm. Every space has a rigidly defined purpose and must be booked ahead of time to be used. This leaves nowhere for impromptu conversations or places to eat lunch. Life in Med Sci is lonely and oppressive – certainly not the environment to promote creative thinking or forge interdisciplinary projects.
Thankfully, there are alternatives. The Terrence Donnelley Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research is a perfect example of how a research institute should be designed (it’s the new tower which is attached to Med Sci and has a main entrance that faces College). There, the exterior walls are completely glass! There’s plenty of communal space with plant life to spur the creative juices. I bet the researchers in the Donnelley building would report that they have a higher quality of life than those in Med Sci.
Med Sci can be saved. To bring it into the twenty first century, tear down walls. Literally make open spaces for people to have lunch. Drill holes into the ceiling and allow sunlight to filter into its cavernous depths.
That, or tear the whole building down and start fresh. Perhaps a glass and steel phoenix will rise from the concrete and rebar mess.