By Neil Gundavda
The Kennedy School is one of the most poorly-designed campuses I have seen. I made this remark rather vociferously one of the first times I attempted to navigate the narrow staircases of Littauer, replete with people who could not find a more inconvenient place for conversation. A student in front of me overheard and looked aghast.
“Poorly designed?” he asked incredulously, giving me the holier-than-thou look all too common around these parts.
This random student continued to enlighten me: “More like a genius design.” Perhaps I should view these impediments as a catalyst for conversation, he said. Being stuck on single-file staircases or tiny alcoves forces interaction, whether you want it or not. After all, a coerced exchange is the raison d’être of the Kennedy School. Apparently even the architects knew that networking was going to be our de facto motto. This tool had obviously been drinking a little too much HKS Kool-Aid.
This spurious view glosses over the major space problem facing our school. The entrance by the courtyard is particularly unwelcoming. The bathrooms and vending machines certainly do not portray the best HKS has to offer. The forum is puny, and the red drapes do not conceal the awkwardly placed cafeteria. I can almost imagine the laments of a dignitary; “This is Harvard? I came all the way to speak here?”
You can probably surmise that I was excited when Dean Ellwood recently announced a planned round of renovations. They are both welcome and necessary. There is simply not enough space for everything that goes on. Bottlenecks, long lines, and competition for study spaces and rooms are entirely too frustrating for a campus of this caliber (and the corresponding astronomical rates of tuition).
However, when this paper interviewed Dean Ellwood about his plans and goals for the future, he said that a “big focus” is on “active learning” and cited the economics class taught by Professor Pinar Doğan in Bell Hall as a model for new classroom space in the renovations. The room features “portable furniture that you can move around in different formations to see whether a different classroom shape would really matter.”
An increase in use of this classroom scenario would be a horrible mistake. As a student of that particular transmogrified class, I can attest to the fact that we do not need more “active learning space.” With 50-plus students, the close quarters in Bell Hall incites a helter-skelter competition for seats. A few weeks ago, I had to sit on the floor rather than squirm through human traffic and invade the personal space of others. So much for “active-learning space.”
Portable classrooms may be great for intimate discussions and topics that benefit from learning rooted in the Socratic method, not for a large economics class. A few rooms should have this capability, but what the Kennedy School really needs is larger classrooms that can accommodate all students. Capacious auditoriums and some semblance of normal study space would be added bonuses.