9/20/2004

My plan for Butler College

I spent the first two years of Princeton in an area that they never showed me on the tour that I hitched on to when I accidentally visited campus 5 years ago. Butler College, known to many as "the butt", is one of the five residential colleges at Princeton (where freshman and sophomores live and eat). While many people's first impression of Butler is related to the ugliness of the buildings. While this is certainly true, and the dreary brown colors can be depressing to stare at for months at a time, this is not the worst problem with Butler by any means. Even the waffle ceilings aren't so bad.


The biggest fault of Butler College is the anti-social design of the rooms and hallways, separating students from each other. The majority of rooms in Butler are singles and doubles, with a handful of large suites for 6-8 people at the end of hallways (which are essentially hallways of rooms with a door on the end). This is not the only problem. To add further segregation and depression to the mix, hallways are very short, containing at most only six rooms. This is because the geniuses behind the Butler architecture decided to put bathrooms in the middle of hallways, essentially diving each hallway into two. In order to get to the next hallway you must walk through the bathroom, which is not pleasant. The bathrooms are all paired (male and female) so if a couple were to walk through a hallway they would need to separate to walk between different bathrooms if they wanted to avoid walking in on anyone of the opposite sex. The final problem of Butler is that the dorm buildings are relatively small in comparison to the older dorms, meaning even further isolation from fellow students. These small buildings are separated by a courtyard that is mostly concrete, with only small patches of grass, to add to the dreary feeling.


It was announced back in January that Butler will be knocked down and replaced with a new residential college upon the completion of Whitman college in 2006. While many people feel this is a fitting end to the colossal waste of space that is Butler, I feel this ending is inappropriate. First of all, if Princeton were to knock down Butler, the university would be admitting that Butler is an inadequate residential college, and does not live up to the promise and mission of Princeton's residential college system. The university may have already admitted this actually. When I was a freshman, I noticed that a number of Butler residents had an AIM away message that went something like this:

"In the fullness of time Butler College will cease to exist as dormitory space. We must all realize that we make mistakes and we must take measures to correct those mistakes." -Harold Shapiro

Shapiro was the University president for my freshman year. Now I don't know if he actually said this, as I can't seem to find the quote on the internet, I did manage to find another quote which is similar in effect,

“It’s as much a matter of the way the buildings are arranged, in terms of planning, as it is their architecture or design that is the problem,” Wright said. “The buildings do not create Princeton-like courtyards and Princeton-like vistas.” - former Vice President and Secretary Thomas H. Wright ’62 (retired January 1, 2004)

So they're going to knock down Butler and replace it with a nice new, modern, old-looking dorm, that matches Rocky, Mathey and Whitman colleges. I do not agree with this move. First of all, if they go ahead with this plan then I want a partial refund of my housing fees for the first two years of Princeton. I was randomly assigned to Butler (so they claim, yet all famous people's children always manage to end up in Rocky or Mathey, not so sure how that works...). The school is admitting to us former Butler residents that they screwed us, so I want compensation.

Well the likeliness of this happening is very slim, since the university does nothing for alumni, and instead expects us to do everything for them (according to Tighlman we have 24 hour access to the university's endowment, deposit only). So instead I will now outline my plan for improvement to Butler college. The majority of these improvements are not meant to address the ugliness of the buildings but instead to remedy the anti-social layout of the structures.

First off, the walk-through bathroom thing needs to end. Instead of two bathrooms in the middle of each hallway, there should be one larger bathroom, male or female, since the bathrooms are so close this is not an issue. And instead of walking through the bathroom, there should be a nice walkway to walk AROUND the bathroom, preferably with a large out cove window that has a nice view of the courtyard. This would solve the problem of the small hallways as now the hallways on each side of the bathroom would essentially be connected.

Second, to address the problem of the small buildings, connections should be made BETWEEN buildings to allow students to enter the Butler quad through one door and access any room in any building without needing to go outside. This would help foster greater social interaction between students. There are several ways in which this could be done, but I vote for underground tunnels. Yes, you read correctly, underground tunnels. Here's how it would work:

The Butler courtyard is not one flat surface but two. The western half of the courtyard is about 10 feet higher than the eastern side and is separated by steps. There should be one large underground level, with ground level underneath the eastern side, hence the ceiling will be dramatically higher in the western half, which is ideal. A number of skylights would be installed so that students who are underground have a very good perception of the outdoor environment (time and weather). This common space, filled with couches, kitchens, computers, study spaces, televisions and the like, would be connected to each building through one or more large tunnels connected to each building's basement. I'm not talking about the strange small tunnel in the basement of McCosh that has pipes running through it and is dark and scary. I'm talking about large tunnels, 15 feet wide, with 10 foot ceilings, and skylights above them. Ideally, every entrance to each building will have a tunnel just below it, making it easy to find your way to the center common spaces. If security is an issue it is certainly possible to require a prox in order to move between buildings underground. And as a final touch, this entire underground system would be connected to the basement of Wu hall (where the Wild Wu Cafe is currently), so that students can get to the dining hall, college office, mailboxes, and other resources more easily. Other perks may include a large window, fishbowl-like room looking south from the hill under 1942 hall. It would have been a nicer view before the ellipse dorm was constructed.

Of course, it would also be nice to improve the look of the buildings. Removal of the strange barbed-wire shaped structures off the top of the buildings would be good, and would eliminate the concentration camp comparisons (yes, people do compare Butler with a concentration camp). Instead those metal structures could be replaced with railings and maybe even finished roofs. Imagine roof access from any Butler building. That would be awesome, but not likely on a college campus.

More of the courtyard should be grass and not concrete. Those raised grass patches look very artificial and are used for not-so-great purposes. When I was in Butler we used those patches as fight club rings and as dividing patches for taking the "gallon challenge" (if you don't know, don't ask).

So that's most of my plan. I used to talk about this plan with my friends, but I would jokingly also mention that there should be an underground pool in the middle of the courtyard. I admit a pool is too extreme. A hot tub would probably be more appropriate.

On one final note, Butler should be a 2-year residential college, not four. But that's a topic for another blog entry.