by Jacqueline A. Falla
The worn marble treads of the stairs in the Campus Academic building, situated on the quad, central to every freshman’s initiation into higher learning. The red door and Corinthian columns that can be spied through the wrought iron gates and the trees that line the drive. Are they oak, maple, magnolia? You would remember. The smell of the changing seasons, the books in the library stacks, the caw of the crow that perches outside your dormitory window, just as the tower bells begin ringing, signaling it’s time to rise and shine. You’ll miss that wake-up call, and all the other sensory cues that compelled you to explore, discover, engage, and learn.
This is the power of place. It’s somatic – we feel it in our body. It is cerebral – our synapses are firing, building, memorizing. Together, body and mind, thoughts and experiences, the heightened awareness of one’s senses contribute to our cognition.
The cost of a college education by most standards is extraordinarily high. Financial considerations aside, the buildings and grounds, while costly to maintain, are not what drives tuition. The question at hand is can society afford the loss of another “place” that fosters a sense of community? A place that supports learning, calls to you to touch the cool limestone walls, and run your fingers over the faces of the mascaron ornaments, and ask who are you? What is your purpose? What is mine? It is through this discovery that we attach, feel a sense of belonging, and ultimately a desire to care for the place; to watch over it like it was a family member, an essential component of community.
Whether you call it genius loci – the spirit of place, feng shui, or believe as the Native Americans that the material and the spiritual were a unified realm, sprit of place is all around us. It is embedded in the walls of our institutions and appears in our bodies as intuition.
Under that sky, on that hallowed ground, surrounded by buildings layered in history go the curious minds and bodies as they gather the most important skills for learning: agency, collaboration, and an entrepreneurial mindset. Who among us could argue that seeking meaning, and acting with purpose, doesn’t have value?
As I stroll the city streets of Boston and make my way into Wentworth’s Beatty Hall to observe last year’s renovation, or the astounding transformation of the MIT Student Center; the Severance Hall Residential Complex at Wellesley College, home to the “Crows Nest;” the LGBTQ Center at Northeastern; Connell House at Harvard Business School; and the labs at Tufts University which make me think of Jumbo the elephant and P. T. Barnum, I feel a sense of connection and stewardship to these buildings and places. I feel the collective energy, passion, desire, and hope that past and future generations will bring. It’s a powerful feeling indeed.
Jacqueline A. Falla serves as a member of Elaine Construction’s Leadership Team as director of client services.