As the decade comes to a close, we reflect on how much has changed in the past 10 years. Culture shifts, leaders change and people die. Oh, and buildings get built. A lot of buildings get built.
At the University of Connecticut alone, the 2010s saw the completion of the Next Generation buildings, the Innovation Partnership Building, the new recreation center and a plethora of others. Storrs Center was a work in progress throughout the decade, as well. But all of these projects bring up a question: Why do we build so many new buildings?
It’s not something limited to UConn; it’s a definite and observable trend in development. Especially as concerns about climate change and social injustice rise, it’s important to consider all aspects of how we live, even the foundation itself.
And so, we consider three cases in which the development of new buildings was preferred over the renovation of old ones.
First, I recount a time last week when I had to go to Rowe. Serving as the workplace of a variety of administrators, Rowe is a very old building, and it shows. I had to go to the fourth floor, and the elevator ride up there felt as though it took an eternity. I had to stand there, twiddle my thumbs and look at the grimy corners and worn information plate.
It was a little weird to think about the disparity between this and the ritzy accommodations of the Innovation Partnership Building. Out near Charter Oak Apartments, the $130-million research center is very beautiful, albeit a bit barren at times due to its distance from the main campus. I thought about the grandness of this building while I stood in the dim Rowe elevator lighting and wondered why there was such a disparity.
I’ve also heard much grumbling in the past few months about the difference in UConn housing. Werth Tower is a beautiful, imposing, well-air-conditioned building, fitting for the loads of money the state poured into the Next Generation project. But why should Next Gen exist as is while UConn dorms have trouble filling up? Why was Werth Tower built while buildings like those in North campus wither as they do?
The straw that broke the camel’s back on this was the washing machine disparity. Most people living at UConn know the laundry struggle. There are never enough washers and dryers, and among the few there are, two are broken without fail. Meanwhile, Next Gen reportedly has enough to go around, certainly more than enough for the complex. This isn’t directly related to the issue of the buildings themselves, but it’s the same logic. Why do we make so much new stuff when we could work to fix old stuff?
Finally, we move a town over to Willimantic. The town is in a state of rebirth right now, but it is still a far cry from its heyday. Nowhere is this more evident than on Main Street. There are plenty of businesses up and down the street now, but there are almost as many abandoned buildings interspersed. Walking there, you feel a melancholy sense of the long-gone history there, memories of a time before the mills went out of operation.
Similarly, East Brook Mall is still in an awkward place following the financial crash of 2008. It is also a far cry from its peak, with many spaces left unused currently. Meanwhile, new projects are still being constructed out there. But they are in new spaces, in new buildings. Doesn’t this feel just a bit wasteful?
There are many possible reasons for building instead of renovating, with varying degrees of validity. Oftentimes, grants come with stipulations requiring new construction. New buildings are flashier, which is legitimately important to branding. Old buildings can not be up to modern codes and must be left as is. It can be more expensive to renovate, or perhaps too disruptive to operation.
But, I can’t help but walk by so many old run-down buildings and be disappointed. Yeah, building new stuff is cool and exciting, but maybe we should appreciate and get the most use out of what we have first. We do not need to disrupt more of the natural landscape every time we want a new center, dorm or business.
We look back to the old environmentalism mantra: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Maybe we should think back to this in new contexts. Just as individual consumerism can be wasteful, so too can construction consumerism. Instead of building anew, we should try as best we can to use a fourth R for the slogan: Repurpose.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.
Peter Fenteany is the associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.