The Story of Place

So, what's the story?

Each place has its own story... the thing is that we don't really think about it because we rarely communicate with the place. We enter and leave places, but we don't worry about the origins of the object that is occupying the space. Let's be honest: we just take the place for granted. Indeed, not all places have a exciting story to tell... then, the exciting part of the place is us.

This University Campus has an interesting story... and these maps will help to tell parts of it:

A terrain of madness in a lovely section of rolling countryside

Every person at UMBC might have different ways of understanding her/his movements across campus. I imagine that senior students, professors, service and administrative employees have in their minds a mental map of the campus. And this does not happen by chance. It is a fact that the more time you spend at a place, the more you know about the location of buildings, classrooms, administrative offices, parking lots, and so on.

It is clear that we move from one place to the other since we have a notion of direction and orientation, of knowing where we are going (although we could say the opposite). However, knowing how to move around campus is different from knowing why the buildings are located at X place or what the story of the place is. 

UMBC is built on a terrain of madness... a terrain that used to be "a lovely section of rolling countryside"

Hillcrest... Hillcrest

Hillcrest is a building located where most of the UMBC campus could be seen. It is, indeed, a strange building which has little to do with the recently built structures on campus. Hillcrest was designed by architect Henry Powell Hopkins who had already provided his architectural  services to the University of Maryland at College Park, the Washington University in Chestertown, and other governmental buildings in Annapolis (Blank, 2009). Hopkins’ designs were mainly characterized by their Georgian style. This means that the buildings had a symmetrical, rectangular characteristics, and “central or end chimneys. The central front door is flanked with an equal number of multi-paned, pediment windows on either side” (about.com, n.d). Perhaps not many people understand the language that architects and structural designers use. Not many visitors on campus understand or define the style that characterizes each building. We only understand buildings by the different services they provide: the buildings where we eat, sleep, study, complain, play, exercise, smoke, meet... Do we care about the style that buildings have? Perhaps. But we mostly put them in categories of “nice” and and “ugly” buildings.

[Let's go back to Hillcrest]

In 1970, some students at UMBC decided not to attend classes and walked together to the top of the hill (Hilltop) where the university administrative offices were located.The student newspaper, The Retriever reported the situation in the following way:

“To protest the University's failure to reinstate two professors and possible failure to reinstate two others, between 50 and 150 students occupied campus hallways from Tuesday afternoon until Friday morning […] The group marched to Hillcrest, soliciting student support on the way, and demanded a meeting with (vice-chancellor Homer) Schamp. Approximately 60-80 people occupied Schamp's office for three hours.” (The Retriever, April 28, 1970, p. 1).

UMBC students held a week-long sit-in in front of the Hillcrest Building on April, 1970. Some think of it as a peaceful gathering to commmorate Earth day. However, the demonstration had a different purpose (Images courtesy of Trevor J. Blank)

...and where is Hillcrest?

Here it is, the Hillcrest building working as the beacon of UMBC. It quietly observes how new buildings start to shape the university. It is the place where decisions about the use of space and the constructions of new places are made. We do not really know how the administrative employees felt in that building. The stories about how they connected with that space are yet to be revealed.

Time passed by. Once the new administrative building was completed, Hillcrest became a center of recreational activities for students. Sororities, Fraternities, and game clubs turned Hillcrest into the good fella where social life could take place. Hillcrest hosted “The Rathskeller” a small university club for dancing, drinking, and enjoying.


...and where is Hillcrest?

In 2005, Douglas Miller, a contributor of the Retriever newspaper wrote a piece referring to the building:

News 05-02-05
“Hillcrest’s current appearance is strangely anachronistic. The front entrance has been retrofitted with doors that feature the same modern rounded aluminum handles as The Commons and the library. The bicycle covers outside the concrete entrance walkway are also the same ad-laden plastic shells found on Academic Row. Yet, the yellowed and peeling white paint on the trim, superstructure, and ornamental tower betray the building’s true age and condition […] the future of Hillcrest in its current form looks bleak.” (p. 1 & 5)

This is the answer: this building does not exist anymore. It is not included in the main campus map. It is not included in the Master Plan for the future structural development of campus. It is a history that has been forgotten. The stories of faculty members having their interviews in the old administration building or the stories of students who spent some of their leisure time in the building have become an old anecdote.

Mourning and Memory.... and a map

The difficult past of the campus reminds me of those memories we have decided to bury in the darkest part of our consciousness. Those memories, which at times are characterized by a trauma, leave a trace (a scar) that it is not always easy to cover. Mourning those difficult memories, however, help us understand how our identities have evolved. Mourning is a necessary stage in the process of accepting, processing, and internalizing our loss. The institution, the University, has been able to advance towards a promising future, but it has also erased any connection with its own past. Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente is my personal motto to the lost connection with a world that has been stigmatized: the world of madness. In English, such motto  makes sense of the situation Out of sight, out of mind.

I have created a MEmorial on the internet to allow myself, to allow the institution to mourn the loss of Hillcrest and the legacy of such stigmatized past:

This is how I finish the Story of this place... It's your turn to initiate your own tour with a new map.

2014-2015 Map_General_MASTER.ai