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Mudd Library, the First Brutalist Building I've Ever Loved

November 14, 2015

Jules Greene ’19

Every time I go into Mudd Library to do work, it's an eye-opening experience. I'm not being hyperbolic, the reason why I find its interior so exciting most likely has to do with me being a daughter of two architects who fostered a sense of appreciation for spaces when they raised me. But Mudd is still the best place I've ever gone to do work because I've managed to enjoy myself while also getting stuff done.

I am actually surprised at how much I love Mudd, because I pretty much hate all buildings that share its architectural style called brutalism. Brutalism proliferated from the 1950s up until the mid-1970s, and in my mind, it is the armpit in the history of architecture. I'm not going to say the name of the school, but I refused to apply to a certain liberal arts college because as much as I liked the school's academic approach, I was turned off by the amount of brutalist buildings on its campus (luckily, my parents understood my rationale). Personally, I look to buildings for inspiration, uplift, and encouragement, which might sound a bit strange, but I ask that you at least hear me out. As a high schooler, I frequented Columbia University's quad to gaze at the neoclassical Butler Library while I fed on a Chipotle burrito, thinking about all the things I had to do, but with the help of the view of the library, I'd sort them out. That is not possible for me to do when viewing a brutalist building because I get a little nauseous or upset.

But Mudd is a brutalist building, and I love the way it looks. At least to me, it seems like the architect struck a perfect balance in neither trying too hard nor trying too little with its design. Though I wouldn't say I have the same relationship with it that I do with Columbia's Butler Library, Mudd isn't Butler, Oberlin isn't Manhattan, I'm not eating a burrito, so it doesn't matter. The sight of Mudd's exterior comes off to me as a friend and ally in my Oberlin education, if that makes any sense. It's there to help me out, especially when people are screaming (?) in front of Langston dorm (which is located behind my dorm, Burton) and I need some place quiet and soothing to go.

The inside of Mudd is what gets me the most. On the second, third, and fourth floors, I feel like I'm walking through the set of a Stanley Kubrick film (particularly 2001: A Space Odyssey). Its symmetrical design yields to even more symmetry with the sharp lines and angles of the book shelves, and the startling midcentury modern furniture is an unworldly sight to my eyes. Even the elevators are a part of this fantastic wonderland (they are yellow on the inside and their handrails are oval pieces of dark brown wood). The furniture pieces are all bright colors which serve to combat the grey of the ceiling tiles and the concrete columns. Due to its square design, it is quite easy to get lost or disoriented in Mudd, but I always end up discovering something else exciting when that happens.

To me, the inside of Mudd feels like an ode to the joys (and maybe pains, but I'm not going to focus on that) of education and the process of forming one's own ideas. This is why I use such enthusiastic, child-like language to describe it, because each time I work there I feel like I'm returning to the early part of my life where my imagination was most encouraged to flourish. It's not that mine has been discouraged all these years, it certainly hasn't been, but I just haven't been in a space that felt so intensely welcoming and supportive of that. For instance, the beauty and splendor of New York Library is too much for me to do work in, because I can't take in all of it while also trying to complete the list of things I came there to accomplish. I can't tell if there are many other Obies who also feel this way about Mudd. This could just be me being someone who loves learning very much and views college as a serious intellectual playground.

Responses to this Entry

Next time you're poking around the Carnegie building, keep in mind that that was the library before Mudd. The vast Root Room was the reading room, and the stacks are now behind locked doors that take up most of the remainder of the building (that whole wall of windows between Carnegie and Asia House are the old stacks).

P.S. A brutalist architecture and film: next time you watch The Breakfast Club, pay close attention to the outside of Shermer High School. It'll look very familiar.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on November 16, 2015 3:53 PM

Yo I feel this, I too enjoy the Mudd aesthetic. I don't know much about architecture but I do know that womb chairs are hella comfy.

Posted by: Emma on November 17, 2015 5:08 PM

Yay Mudd! It seems like all Obies have to reckon with their feelings for Mudd at some point, and I think it's great you decided to love it early on (I did too). There are so many bizarre nooks and crannies (The roof patio on the top floor! The outcropping of green cubic couch things on the third floor!), everyone has their favorite spot.

Posted by: Rory on November 23, 2015 9:19 PM

Thanks for your Mudd appreciation. As freshman/sophomore, 1972-74, I watched its construction. As junior, I was there on day it opened. Sat in egg chairs. Decided they were impractical for serious study. Enjoyed finding my own favorite place, a two seat yellow carrel, middle of stacks, south side of 3rd floor. Then and now felt privileged to have Oberlin in my life.

Posted by: James Bauerle on May 2, 2018 5:35 PM

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