At the intersection of 119th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, there is a nondescript black door that resembles the entrance to a parking garage. This doorway leads to an expanse of dumpsters and a series of signs that directs pedestrians along a pathway to Columbia’s campus.
“It’s hard to believe that this is the entrance of a prestigious university,” Ethan Fudge, CC ’15, said, as he walked by this week.
The University Senate’s Committee on Campus Planning and Physical Development took note of the unsightly entrance and is exploring plans to redesign it through collaboration with the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.
Ronald Breslow, a professor of chemistry and the co-chair of the senate’s committee, said that the entrance is used on a daily basis by “a lot of people on the East Side—you know, faculty and students who live over there and often enter that way, and people who want to drive into the garage.”
“This space is used by members of the Columbia community, and it’s unpleasant-looking,” Breslow said.
The committee has proposed a contest that would allow architecture students to submit plans to redesign the entrance. Breslow said that the committee has been in contact with Mark Wigley, dean of the School of Architecture, and David King, an assistant professor of architecture, planning, and preservation and a member of the senate’s campus planning committee, but they have yet to reach a consensus about how to proceed.
“I think it would be a great way for students to get hands-on experience in their field while also improving campus life,” Breslow said. “It’s mutually beneficial.”
He said that the committee is waiting to hammer out the details of the contest with the architecture school before proceeding with students, faculty, and facilities.
According to Breslow, the entryway has historically been used as a way for opposing athletic teams to get to the Dodge Fitness Center.
“That was even worse,” Breslow said. “Columbia has to pay attention to its public presentation.”
Now, it is mostly used as a service entrance and as a center for bulk waste removal from campus.
“I wouldn’t consider that an entrance to campus,” Joseph Ienuso, executive vice president of facilities, said. “That’s an overstatement. It’s an entrance to the Mudd parking lot.”
Ienuso said that he wouldn’t be opposed to any aesthetic changes, so long as the plans maintain the space’s intended function.
“We can try to make it as beautiful as we want, but the reality is, it’s a service entrance,” Ienuso said. “It will never have the grandeur of College Walk.”
“I’m looking forward to hearing more ideas,” Ienuso said. “But we all need to respect what it is and be clear about what I think it probably cannot become, and that is a grand entry portal to the University.”
Breslow said that the committee recognizes the functional challenges associated with the project but feels that it is one worth undertaking.
“We’re really just trying to get some motion on this, because if we don’t do anything, no one will,” Breslow said. “This is definitely a problem that needs to be dealt with.”
Students felt that change could be good for this space.
“This entrance stinks,” Christine Liu, SEAS ’15, said. “No, literally, it smells awful here.”
“It’s about time they fixed this place up,” Fudge said. “Columbia needs to pay attention to the image they project.”
Some students, however, were skeptical.
“I think it would be a good idea, but I can’t really envision a way to practically improve the aesthetics of the space,” Diana Richter, Business ’15, said.
While Richter said that she’d support clarifying the signs that direct pedestrians to campus, she felt it wouldn’t be practical to completely redesign the space.
“I think the school can focus its resources elsewhere,” she said. “I don’t think many people know about or use this entrance. I actually kind of like that fact.”
“Yeah, it’s not that pretty, but it’s not like that affects my Columbia experience in any real way,” she said.