Music Campus

The Garden District and the Master Plan Next Door

"No one wants a city frozen in time, a Williamsburg on the Hudson, but neither do we want a city with no sense of time it is essential to feel, as we walk through the streets, that some of what we see has been there before, and will be there for our children. Architecture becomes a vehicle of common experience, a way in which the generations talk to one another. It is a force of cultural continuity, a piece of our common ground as a culture."----Paul Goldberger

Whereas Lenna Hall (see "Physical Chautauqua" ) assaulted the music campus from the Palestine Avenue side, and the Garden District subdivision from the south, the Music Campus Master Plan turned this area of Chautauqua upside down with the new practice facilities. 

It is ironic. Here is a music campus within Chautauqua's uniquely charming natural setting.  For generations it has been distinguished by a Mozartian theme, cast in a harmony of simplicity and unpretentiousness.  Suddenly, it has become a Charles Ives mess of discordant and crowded melodies; notes clutter the page, and the listener to this bold adventure never gets a rest. 

Disregarding the value of the space remaining in the practice cabin area, the Board in 2005 sought to further the objective of being the best by designing "improvements" in the Music School facilities.  Specifically, new facilities have been boldly thrust into a neighborhood of modest practice cabins.  They muscle into this neighborhood next to McKnight Hall, and beyond it, and among them "Office Depot Hall."  These very dissimilar buildings, more appropriate for a college campus, have gobbled up open space.  Also, the practice cabins are being renovated, not merely to maintain them in their current state but to fit in with the emerging standard of world-class excellence that is a persistent theme on the Chautauqua website, and in its marketing literature and periodicals.  Some of the cabins needed makeovers - there is no question about that - but the degree of makeover is a question.

Dubious assumptions, by way of the Idea Campaign ballyhoo, are of little help. The Institution writes in trendy style of the "symbiotic relationship between faculty, financial aid, and facilities."  We are told that Chautauqua must be a "first-rate [world] summer music festival."  But this begs the question. 

Are such oversized facilities really as important as a quality faculty? And what reporting in the Chautauquan and the Idea Campaign marketing literature do we see of the faculty improvements?  Considering the money involved, is the Institution asserting that students will be drawn to Chautauqua for the facilities as much as the faculty?   Somewhere in the Idea Campaign is a finding that this is so, and surely there is an argument that this is nonsense. 

This turn of events sends disturbing messages:  1) money talks at Chautauqua like never before, 2) "verdant grove" is more a punch line that a reality, 3) Chautauqua likes to hear itself claim title to being a center of excellence, 4) corporate names can now be given to its facilities (unprecedented), and 5) the balance between nature, space, and facilities among the trees in the verdant grove is irrelevant.

Ask yourself: Is there any meaningful parallel between Office Depot Hall and any pre-Lenna structure on the Grounds, e.g., Alumni Hall?  Can anyone point with pride to the newer structures and with a straight face put them in the same category aesthetically with the Chapel of the Good Shepard, the Athenaeum, or the Hall of Missions?

Ask yourself:  Was the design of Office Depot Hall the only feasible physical form such a facility could take?

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