Architecture an Architectural Structure Term Paper

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[. . .] They also want a place that reminds them of home, and for many students the comforts of home are synonymous with checking their email and a food court reminiscent of the mall. The central location of the building that makes the structure an easy place to discuss one's economic assignment, to check for care packages from home, and to work on a research paper, is an additional comfort. One may meet anyone from campus, new or old, within the confines of the union.

The union encourages consumption, however, as well as communality. ATMs line the floors of the union, a wonderful convenience on a spread-out campus where not every student has a car and access to a bank in town. However, the presence of available money also encourages the purchase of not only needed books, but of the extra, unneeded slice of pizza. Change machines make it easier to have the correct denominations to do laundry -- and also to waste those coins on pinball games or arcade games.

There is a study lounge that similarly presents one with two temptations -- on one hand, it is nice to have a place to study communally, where one can be loud in going over the finer points of a particular difficult calculus function, rather than to hole up in silence in a library carrel. There is an encouragement of debate, of a more physical and bodily approach to communal learning in the student union, than can take place in a cubicle at the library. Even writing a paper in the computer room can become a communal experience, as one can ask questions of an individual one spots who is also in one's class, who has written the same paper. But this also opens one up to distractions, and again, it ties spending and consumption to the college experience. Rather than eating one's own food, in one's own room, with one's own friends, one is apt to take out money from the ATM, to 'get lost' in a study break in the Tap Room, or to become entranced by checking one's email from home with a friend, rather than typing up one's report.

The Michigan Union's other function is to serve as a social meeting place for the various extracurricular groups on the Michigan campus. Again, the presence of food and the necessities of checking paper and electronic mail make the central location of the structure also quite crucial to the lives of a student who is active in such clubs. Members of the Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Student Alliance, for instance, have offices located in the union and are available to talk. The student government offices are present within the union -- even political groups that disagree with one another are located in the same space.

The Michigan Student Union's comprehensiveness says a great deal about the undergraduate experience at Michigan as a whole -- it is large, it is diverse, and of a 'oneness' but it is kept together within the same, old formulized structure. There are many positive aspects to be observed by the Michigan student union. Where else can a student enter a structure that reminds him or herself of a cathedral, but is entertaining and cozy on the inside, during a cold winter night, yet wide and spacious on a warmer fall day? Where can so many functions of daily life be so easily performed, even while one is hurrying to class, such as checking one's mail and seeing one's friend, or having an extra jolt of java?

However, it is important to be reminded that these comforts come at a literal, financial price. The illusions of being in a bastion of old learning are paid for by the consumption of books, by the accumulation of debt. And because students, even poorer students, are so familiar with achieving commonality through consumption, the university draws them in and encourages the establishment of valuable extracurricular groups, studying, and doing papers with the lure of buying chain store food and buying more and more goods from the University book store. The student union acts as advertising space for the university teams, for university-crested shirts, even for the books written by Michigan professors.

Because it is such a seminal part of the Michigan experience, it is difficult not to like the student union. However, it says certain troubling things about the nature of university life today, including the conspicuous consumption of its students, the presence of commercialism even when vending academic books, the fact that a building must 'sell' the university to prospective students as well as show that the university is a part of history. It must accommodate current students by bowing to and even encouraging the dominance of mall culture amongst current students today. Why does chain store food and buying things provide such a draw, a locus of comfort, even when a student counting pennies? How many of those ATM cards one can use in the union, on every floor, are attached to overdrawn accounts? What does Mrs. Field's cookies have to do with the high spires of the outer building that point, like a cathedral to heaven, and why do students consume those cookies, which are the same cookies consumed in either California or New Jersey as well as Ann Arbor, to feel connected to one another? The Union's structure and style is intrinsic to Michigan, yet from within the homogenizing effects of daily life are impossible to ignore.

Works Referenced

Ching, Francis. Architecture: Form, Space, and Order, Second Edition, New York: Van

Nostrand Reinhold, 1996.

Clark, Roger H. And Michael Pause. Precedents in Architecture. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1985.

Doczi, Gyorgy. The Power of Limits: Proportional Harmonies in Nature, Art and Architecture. Boulder, CO:… [END OF PREVIEW]

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