Shaw: Disinvestment in EPB architecture detrimental to creativity

The University of Iowa and donors alike should place a higher priority on renovating the English-Philosophy Building to make it more conducive to creativity.

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Shaw: Disinvestment in EPB architecture detrimental to creativity

Student paintings are shown inside the EPB on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015.

Student paintings are shown inside the EPB on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015.

Courtney Hawkins

Student paintings are shown inside the EPB on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015.

Courtney Hawkins

Courtney Hawkins

Student paintings are shown inside the EPB on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015.

Nichole Shaw, Opinion Columnist

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The English-Philosophy Building has hosted thousands of undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Iowa every year since it was built in 1966. With the number of students that are in EPB, people would think it would be a beautiful, well-equipped building.

Wrong.

Business Insider asked its readers to take a survey that identified the ugliest building in their state, and EPB took the prize in July for Iowa. This reinforced EPB’s bad reputation for its aesthetic appeal despite the beautiful energy of the students and writers who go there nearly every day.

“The beauty of the building is inversely proportional to the quality of the people who work there,” Professor and chair of English Claire Fox said.

Inversely proportional beauty rings true. The beautiful words that students spin into a web of stories is nothing short of exquisite. However, that creativity is not mirrored in the building design. The hallways are dark and dismal, with chairs awkwardly shoved along the brick walls. Classrooms are creepy with windows that don’t open, fluorescent flickers, and some doors that don’t lock. Faculty offices are cramped, small, and stuffy because of the lack of fresh air (the windows are sealed shut). The building is so wretched that when I went to meet with my rhetoric instructor at the time, a huge beetle fell from the ceiling into the hood of my jacket.

Fox said, “I used to bring my sons there, and they would say that this is the ideal place to shoot a zombie movie.”

That kind of perspective says a lot about the atmosphere that the building gives off and the amount of energy students and faculty put in their work to combat that feeling.

RELATED: 10 years later, the collective memory of the 2008 flood remains

English Department administrative services administrator Barbara Pooley said, “[EPB] does desperately need some upgrading — the windows aren’t airtight, the heating and cooling system is the original one and has a LOT of problems, the roof leaks pretty frequently — the list goes on and on, but it still is functional after 50 years of use and at least one instance of major flooding.”

A building that functions is respectable but not admirable. Compared with the other buildings at the UI, the EPB design is nothing. EPB is rumored to have been built this way to protect students and faculty from the rioting that was going on because of the Vietnam War. However, Iowa City is a UNESCO City of Literature, and it also houses the International Writing Program as well as the world-renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop. With all of these amazing programs, why has there been such disinvestment in the building that is home to students and faculty that specifically came to Iowa because of the amazing English programs?

RELATED: International Writing Program brings unique talent from around the globe

David Cunning, a Collegiate Scholar of Philosophy, said, “To make ourselves feel better, we think things like — we aren’t flashy, but we are serious, and we get it done.”

Work has been done on the EPB; the restrooms were renovated this past spring. However, most of the students and faculty were bittersweet about the change. Many students were sad because they had to say goodbye to the lyrical genius of the graffiti splattered across the stalls. Fox said she took pictures of the stalls on the fourth-floor restroom because they resonated with her deeply. The stickers that lined the stalls were about violence against women, one of which was dated 1993. Twenty years of a social issue that still remains prevalent. A sticker thousands of women have seen, a piece of everyday history to hold dear.

“There’s something lovable about a space that you have made your own regardless of how others perceive it,” Fox said. “The attachment that human beings form to space and places can be very different from what dominant perceptions of that place are.”

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