When she was hired at Union in 2000, Judith Lewin worked in an office tucked in the basement of the Humanities building. It was dark and dreary, and a cranky heating system often drowned out students’ voices.
On the main floor, where most classrooms were located, chalkboards were the norm
and few rooms were electronic. An associate professor of English and chair of the department, Lewin recalls the offices abutting those rooms and the moments when some of her colleagues’ louder, more resonant lecture voices crashed through.
“I learned a lot through those walls,” she said.
Built in 1965, the three-story, 21,000-square-foot building was showing its age.
Today, one of the most heavily-used academic spaces on Union’s campus is enjoying a renaissance. After being closed for a year-long major renovation, the former Humanities building has reopened as Karp Hall. Supported by a lead gift from the Karp Family Foundation, the building, open for just a few weeks, is already getting high marks from students and professors.
“Students and faculty have been streaming in to peek at the building and the accolades have been unanimous,” Lewin said. “Karp is a coup.”
Nearly everything about the renovation speaks to the importance of humanities in a liberal education, from the architectural designs to the wall colors and shape of the furniture.
Boasting 37 offices, 10 classrooms, a lobby, a faculty lounge and a cluster of student alcoves, the design of Karp Hall emphasizes new spaces that allow formal and informal interactions and the discourse and exchange of ideas.
Though home to nearly 40 faculty and staff members in the departments of English and Modern Languages and Literatures, Karp Hall is also an interdisciplinary hub of higher learning for the entire campus.
“This is no longer the “Humanities” building,” said Christine Henseler, professor of Spanish and chair of the Modern Languages Department. “The spaces are meant to be welcoming and warm, interactive and globally connective, and most of all, conducive to the kind of teaching we are known for: hybrid, creative, expansive and intellectually stimulating.”
For example, the Super Seminar being offered this spring, “Humans vs. Zombies,” will touch numerous disciplines, including Political Science, Sociology, Computer Science, German, French and Spanish.
“As the building that used to house the Humanities, it will continue to serve as a point of contact with our colleagues in other spaces. This will allow Union to attract more students to a campus that fully support the Arts and Humanities in visionary ways,” she said.
Academic classrooms in Karp Hall are all equipped with robust technology and can be adapted to accommodate different pedagogical approaches.
The centerpiece is the performance classroom, a 57-seat amphitheater-style space that allows faculty to deliver enhanced lectures and multi-media presentations using the latest in technology.
The seating layout allows faculty to use front space for a variety of teaching formats, including literary readings, panel discussions and film screenings. With two HD cameras, a wireless microphone and ceiling-mounted microphones installed throughout the room, both video and audio can be captured and transmitted to remote locations through applications such as WebEx, Skype and Panopto.
All 10 of the classrooms are electronic, featuring high definition projection screens, Blu-ray players and multiple seating configurations. There is also a collaborative computing classroom, ideal for trans-media research and teaching projects in film studies and production, visual arts, and the digital humanities.
“We are hopeful that this room might serve a part of a larger, growing network of maker and builder spaces, such as the Collaborative Design Studio in Wold Center, now emerging across campus,” said Andrew Burkett, assistant professor of English.
Students already appreciate the new look.
“The renovations put the humanities on the same level as the sciences and social sciences,” said Dorothy Hazan ’16. “The building has a cleaner, more modern feel. The atmosphere is as enjoyable as the classes themselves.”
“I love Karp Hall,” says Jamaluddin Aram ’17. “The beautiful colors are very relaxing, and the seating areas create an intimate atmosphere. It’s an inspiring space for learning.”
The $7 million project also included environmentally friendly and energy efficient improvements to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.
“As departments that juggle the word and the image in ways that connect to so many fields, we hope that these new spaces lead to many more interdisciplinary connections and opportunities,” Henseler said. “We welcome our colleagues to share this space with us, and we thank the administration and the Karp Family Foundation for their generosity.”
The building will be formally dedicated during ReUnion weekend on Saturday, May 30.