Dorm decision: Cozy quarters or Spaceship prison?

by Beacon Staff • September 9, 2009

The Little Building was designed by Clarence Blackall, architect of the Wang Center and Colonial Building.

Blackall is a well-known Boston architect, but apparently none of his work at Emerson merited bearing his name. The Little Building, which was featured in American Architect and Building News, is named after businessman John Mason Little, because everyone knows who he is.,The Not-so Little Building

The Little Building was designed by Clarence Blackall, architect of the Wang Center and Colonial Building.

Blackall is a well-known Boston architect, but apparently none of his work at Emerson merited bearing his name. The Little Building, which was featured in American Architect and Building News, is named after businessman John Mason Little, because everyone knows who he is.

Fortunately, Blackall had the flamboyant foresight to construct a tunnel connecting the Little Building with the Boylston Street subway station and the Majestic Theatre, so he could live forever underground in the shadow of his masterpiece. That is, until Emerson filled in the tunnel during construction of the Tufte Performance and Production Center. Sorry, students-you'll have to walk the 20 feet outside, aboveground.

Unfortunately, that means no place to hide from your one-night stand or most recent ex-BFF roommate who may or may not have totally used all of your toothpaste. If you live in the Little Building, you will run into the Hookup From Hell--in the dining hall, C-store, fitness center, etc.

Touted as "A City under one roof" when it was built, the Little Building really hasn't, in a sense, changed since 1917. Sure, it no longer houses a barber or laundromat, but it does contain some Emerson necessities.

On the other hand, you will always have an excuse to follow that hot kid from Research Writing into the building: "Oh, you're going to the dining hall? Cool, I live here."

Although the Little Building was formerly office space, it is apparent that this dorm is more lived-in than Piano Row, which looks and feels like a hospital-spaceship. The majority of "LB" rooms are doubles, which means you will wander into your floormates as you wander away from your roommate: "I mean, we're friends, but we're not married or anything."

To meet new people, venture no further than your floor's common room, where you will be sure to meet all of your future friends.

Oh, and one last thing: respect the homeless dude outside. He lives there. You're just visiting.

The New Kid on the Block

With two distinct living spaces on either end of the street, the Colonial Building at 100 Boylston St. is the new kid on the block and has everything to prove. Like any initiation process, it might hurt a little.

Newly renovated, this 10-story building will house up to 372 students in suites of three, four, five and six persons.

And while the suites, like everything else in the building, are so fresh and so clean, the coolest part of the Colonial might be the state-of-the-art common lounges on each floor, complete with fancy kitchenettes and two stovetops. Ready thine Ramen.

Yet, this suite-style facility may be saddled with the same socially-constricting lack of character felt by many living in Piano Row; it may be hard to open up doorways for new friendships, figuratively and literally.

Instead of being forced out of a cramped, musty room in the Little Building, suites can feel like caverns in which to hide. It's basic human nature: more doors and walls separating folks means more layers of social insulation, creating psychological barriers to getting out there and meeting your neighbors, or that cute girl on the floor above you. Sure, the eerie quiet can be great for late-night paper writing, but can also be the wettest of blankets when it comes to creating community, which the Little Building has in spades.

Hopefully the powers in the Emerson hive employed designers and architects who kept some old-school touches in this new-school building. There is a great chance for the Colonial Building to become the Little Building's little sibling, straddling both styles of dorm life while keeping its heart and soul. It could be a coup for the mostly upperclassmen who live there, people who may be fleeing neighborhoods and off-campus apartments to save money or streamline their life during their last year at Emerson.

The right balance between living cheek to cheek or solely in the company of your thoughts must be struck carefully by good designers who know their audience, and the pitfall of even the slightest "Libyan prison" or "spaceship hospital dorm" motif.

One thing is for sure, though.

Three-hundred seventy-two student-experts are about to make their evaluation.

Entering: Spaceship Earth

For a building named "Piano Row," there are surprisingly few pianos-three to be exact. While this 14-story edifice offers practice rooms for the musically-inclined and offices for the majority of student organizations, most of its spaceship-

like space is dedicated to the 554 students who occupy floors three through 14.

It is the first residence hall built from the ground up in Emerson's continuing downtown conquest. In 1994, college

President Jacqueline Liebergott made an ambitious plan with the Boston Redevelopment Authority: to house 75 percent of Emerson students on-campus by 2010.

When Piano Row opened in the fall of 2006, its brand-spanking new interior screamed modern dorm life-a major step forward from the more traditional, narrow halls and communal bathrooms of the stodgier Little Building.

"P-Row," as it's known, offers four-and six-person suites, something most sardine-packed freshmen can only dream of.

The suite life of Piano Row is, well, pretty sweet. Embrace the private showers and eco-friendly toilets, complete with two flush options-one for less waterflow and one for, er...more. Feel good about residing in a certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building (check the plaque in the lobby) every time you flush.

And let's not forget Laundryview.com-quite possibly the most convenient perk of living at 150 Boylston. The Web site allows students to take a 360-degree virtual tour of Piano Row's laundry room and scope out the open washing and drying machines before they lug hampers down to the first floor.

The machines on the screen subtly shake to notify laundryviewers when they are in use and turn varying shades of red to represent how much time is left in the cycle. The site is not only a practical tool for busy bees on campus-it also makes laundry machines cute. Impressive, no?

Yet, as you walk past the artsy light fixtures, textured tiling and Jumbotron-esque lobby TVs on the way to the elevators, you can't help but question the livability of this sterile place.

Even if you make a doorstop with your Resident Assistant at an ice cream social meet and greet, propping your door open will not break down the barriers of living in sectioned-off, cookie-cutter suites. Your suitemates will become your new best friends, or your worst nightmares-sort of like The Real World but with, hopefully, less drinking. A little leg work and a few dry-erase board notes may help the less socially-savvy student branch out before classes start. And, lest we forget: Facebook, Facebook, Faceb

ook.