When Dartmouth Builds

The McLaughlin Cluster, an ideal but pricey model for Dartmouth's coming residential housing system

The McLaughlin Cluster, an ideal but pricey model for Dartmouth’s coming residential housing system

Perhaps the most sweeping change announced under the banner of President Hanlon’s Moving Dartmouth Forward policies was the introduction of a new residential college system, which would group students of each class year into residential communities to foster diversity, inclusiveness, and intellectualism (among others). This well-meaning plan, however, has been met with a certain degree of controversy, particularly due to the fact that Dartmouth lacks sufficient residential space to support such a system. Significant building and development projects are essential to the successful integration of such a program. Currently, the College has not released any specific plans related to the introduction of the residential house system, and thus speculation has run rampant. With an eye towards recently completed construction projects in addition to undergoing development plans, insight can be gained with regards to potential streets Dartmouth might take to fully realize the vision of residential colleges.

Perhaps the most applicable development project in recent years was the planning, building, and construction of the McLaughlin Cluster, starting in 2004 and concluding in 2006. Often referred to as “Hotel McLaughlin” by students, the cluster of dormitories predominantly houses freshmen and the Global Village LLC, and is commonly held to be the most luxurious and desired residence on campus. This is in direct contrast to the infamous Choates cluster, another first-year dormitory, which is widely considered to be the worst option when it comes to living conditions; Dartmouth’s disparity when it comes to dormitory quality has significant disparities. Undoubtedly, the McLaughlin serves as an ideal facility for what might house a residential college, as it is complete with adequate lounge and kitchen facilities, academic resources and technology, and a large meeting/social area in Occom Commons. At a price tag topping $40 million, however, the practicality of construction of new residential spaces (or renovation of other dormitories) to the level of the McLaughlin Cluster’s can certainly be called into question.

In addition to residential, housing, the College has seen mixed results in recent construction projects of academic spaces. The Class of 1978 Life Sciences Center, completed in 2011, has generally been considered a valuable addition to Dartmouth’s campus (though, at the cost of nearly $100 million, is a significant loss from the College’s coffers). Though the construction of both McLaughlin and the Life Sciences Center have received little criticism and resulted in few post-opening issues, the same cannot be said for all of the College’s most recent building practices. Many still shudder at the thought of the disastrous renovation of the Hanover Inn a few years ago, which The Dartmouth Review previously explored. More recently, however, the Black Visual Arts Center, completed in 2012, has drawn considerable controversy since its grand opening. The $50 million project was opened in 2012; a year later, Dartblog spoke out against its “trying-too-hard post-modernism and its rust-stained exterior” in addition to its “off-and-on leaky roof, with drops spattering down on a lobby cork floor.” The hailed “open-grid rain screen of autumnal-hued Norwegian slate” in fact has led to trickling rust which has stained the exterior of the structure. In fact, Cornell University faced a similar scandal after their construction of Uris Hall; blogger Brian Crandal, in an article for The Ithaca Voice wrote that “Some buildings do such a bad job at accomplishing form or function that they force the university to do an overhaul of its planning process.” Dartmouth’s Black Visual Arts Center has essentially embarked on the same path as Uris Hall, which potentially costs over $600,000 to maintain annually. This begs the question: can the College really be trusted when it comes to the development of the necessary physical plants for its proposed residential house system?

In addition to the looming goliath that is the development of the new residential system, the Office of Planning and Design and Project Management has several other projects on the horizon. Perhaps most notable is the Dartmouth Row Modernization Plan, which was first introduced in 2011. The plan consists of “a set of goals, planning principles, and space and functional requirements to guide renovation and modernization of the Row” (which is made up of some of the campus’ most iconic buildings: Dartmouth Hall, Reed Hall, Thornton Hall, Wentworth Hall, and Bartlett Hall). The plan currently lists a set of five goals that the plan hopes to achieve, as follows: highlight and clearly communicate the essential role of humanities, international, and interdisciplinary studies at Dartmouth and in a liberal arts education; highlight and illustrate how engagement in these studies inculcates Dartmouth students with skills in critical thinking that prepares them for participation and leadership in a global and diverse 21st century world; use the opportunity of renovation to bind Dartmouth Row buildings, functions and activities into a true intellectual community centered around the humanities, international and interdisciplinary studies disciplines; create leading edge space to support humanities and related research and education; and address significant physical deficiencies in the buildings – including correcting substantial deferred maintenance; making buildings accessible and compliant with ADA requirements; modernizing spaces that have not been renovated, in some cases, for decades; and creating a professional and welcoming work environment befitting the nature and quality of research and teaching that occurs on Dartmouth Row. While perhaps falling in line fairly reasonably with Hanlon’s desires to increase academic quality, a massive project like this further complicates the matter of updating facilities to support residential communities.

A residential community building plan might be formatted in a similar way. The Moving Dartmouth Forward plan states that students will, upon coming to Dartmouth, be placed in one of six residential communities, each of which will possess “a cluster of residence halls as a home base, be responsible for organizing and hosting social and academic programs, and eventually, have a dedicated space for study and social interaction.” In addition, each house will be supervised by a house professor and include graduate student residences. Currently, the model residential community for this would be the East Wheelock Cluster. A prototypical livinglearning community founded in 1996, East Wheelock looks “to stimulate the intellectual curiosity of residents and others through community events, and formal and informal programs with faculty and administrators”. It also features “enhanced interaction among students, faculty, staff, and a wide range of visiting scholars, artists, performers, and public figures, [to] prepare students for life-long learning and responsible global citizenship.” Based off the descriptions offered by President Hanlon, it is likely that a residential house would function in a similar manner.

When it comes down to it, it is likely that the development of residential communities will follow a similar pattern. The administration has already begun organizing committees that will help to develop and implement new programs (including the residential house system, among others). Perhaps a similar set of goals will be developed, though exactly how the system will be structured is currently unknown. The relatively recent construction of McLaughlin or East Wheelock Clusters might stand as a model for similar physical plants for such organizations, however, the efficiency of this can be called into question for in terms of sheer cost. There is no doubt that such a system is, in essence, well-intentioned. The practicality, however, is a different issue. In a perfect world, the College would be able to implement such a system without having to spend an exorbitant amount of money on its development. Though this does not seem to be the likely course of action here, we at The Dartmouth Review hope that the College can enact an effective plan to see this vision become reality.

  • Michael

    The McLaughlin Cluster is, without a doubt, the ugliest set of buildings on the campus. The College has no sense of architectural taste or history. Shame.