Opinion | Staff Editorials

Lerner is fixable with ingenuity

On Thursday, Lerner’s ramps will play host to dance groups and student organizations as part of Glass House Rocks. In 2005, Glass House Rocks was organized as a response to the lack of sufficient space in Lerner—particularly for student events. Since then, little has changed, and this annual attempt at reclaiming Lerner as a usable space for students has become a steady tradition.

Lerner was meant to be a student center with expanded space and an innovative design, but its struggles with space have persisted since its creation. The ramps have been widely maligned, as they are neither space-efficient—they take up space that could be used for lounges—nor time-efficient, due to their length. 

While the ramps are the most infamous, other problems also exist. Sound traveling from the open piano lounge makes it difficult for students to meet in small, quiet groups throughout the building. Lerner’s larger spaces—including Roone Arledge Auditorium—are primarily used for sizable functions, and are not accessible to student groups for regular meetings.

Both Columbia College Student Council and the Engineering Student Council have started working with Lerner Hall administrators to find ways to alleviate students’ general frustrations with the building. As The Lion reported, the mailboxes, which have been underused, will be removed approximately one year from now to make room for a unified package center and a coffee bar. Other initiatives to create more student space include the conversion of storage rooms into student lounges. Additionally, meeting spaces will have individual study booths during finals.

We applaud these proposals and think they can go further. In the months leading up to the completion of these planned renovations, the student councils and collaborating administrators should continue to find more creative ways to use Lerner’s space. While some of these solutions involve dramatic restructuring, others are simple fixes that can be implemented sooner. For example, more seating could be added to the upper floor ramps without impeding traffic. These less-crowded areas would offer students more casual space to sit and talk, fulfilling architect Bernard Tschumi’s vision of the ramps as a social hub.

Tschumi’s design may have its problems, but through events like Glass House Rocks, students have made it clear that they are innovative enough to make Lerner a working space. We should continue to apply that creativity both in and beyond Lerner. Renovation takes time, but simple suggestions about space usage can effect meaningful change quickly. 

Serious improvement, on the other hand, is more difficult. The city has always imposed obvious space constraints, and it will continue to do so. Even the Manhattanville expansion, which is several years away, will not solve all of our problems. But we can begin to work toward solutions. The Morningside Student Space Initiative, a subcommittee of the University Senate’s Student Affairs Committee, was founded with the intention of analyzing student space needs and working with committees consisting of faculty and administrators that are responsible for campus planning. During its tenure, it even worked with renowned urban planner Kristina Ford to simplify space booking, among other goals. However, it has been all but defunct this year.

We need to recommit ourselves to a better use of space, and the best way to do this is through the formation of a new committee to analyze space use, particularly in Lerner. This committee, which should include students, faculty, and administrators, would play a formal role in future campus space initiatives by proposing both short- and long-term changes for space allocation.

In the meantime, we’ll be at Glass House Rocks, admiring clever use of space and talented student groups. We hope you’ll stop by and marvel, too.

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To respond to this staff editorial, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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