The Changing Face of Carleton University Campus

I first came to Carleton University in 2005, as a Writer-in-Residence. The most remarkable architectural presence on campus was, for me then, Dunton Tower (DT), which houses the English Department, my host. My office was on the 18th floor, at an angle that immediately looks down upon the Rideau Canal and into the distance towards the Central Experimental Farm. And, of course, DT’s ramrod domination can be viewed from many vantage points in the skyline, around the university environs and far away from the campus itself. The tower, made of ivory or not, draws the eyes to itself and reigns supreme in academic hauteur. This postcard-perfect edifice easily dwarfs any other building on the university grounds, which becomes drab and dull as a result. But with the inception of a new president since the past five years, DT has some serious architectural competition – even if not as tall – and the campus has taken on a much more welcoming shine.

The advent of Dr. Roseann O’Reilly Runte as president has a programmatic architectural and cartographic restructuring of the campus as an impetus, it appears. And it is a good thing. There has been a major realignment of how one mentally relates to the campus because of the several building projects, and a major road construction, that has been carried out since she arrived at Carleton in June 2008. From that new thoroughfare, which passes under an equally new and elegant ‘green’ River Building, to the Canal Building, and the new and modern residence, the face of the old campus has now become that of a new and energetic teenager wearing lipstick and powder.

The word ‘face’ is significant because these ultra-modern structures with glass facades, emphasized by the shiny new road, which cleverly goes under a building in a brilliant conservation and use of space, are all lined on the outer perimeters of the campus. Thus the ‘face’, which a visitor or student sees daily, is fresh, radically different, enlivening and relaxing all at once. This is why I earlier referred to a cartographic restructuring of the campus. The way the viewer experiences the university as geographical space changes his or her mental map of that environment, which becomes that of an architecturally sophisticated, aesthetically pleasing, compact and welcoming campus. These feelings are consolidated by the overhaul of the MacOdrum Library building. The façade of that structure is slowly becoming a smart and modern Plexiglas attraction. Juxtaposed with an adjacent DT, the library – as archive – is beginning to reassert its natural position as the most important building and destination in a research university. When completed, that structure is surely going to be the king of the inner perimeters married to the bejewelled queen that is the outer perimeters. DT is simply a shuffling old giant beside both.

In all of this dramatic transformation, what is most surprising is the speed of the cosmetic surgery. I have never seen the like of that single-minded swiftness on any campus during my entire academic career across three continents from Africa to Europe and, finally, Canada. Carleton’s campus was decaying rooftop when I arrived here in the fall of 2005 as visiting writer; it is now a windswept and smart, 21st century campus as I prepare to leave with a doctorate in English in the spring of 2013. The mindscape I will be going away with is that of a campus like a newly furnished room – homey and inviting.

Amatoritsero Ede is a poet, and the publisher of the Maple Tree Literary Supplement (www.mtls.ca), and a doctoral candidate in Carleton’s English Department.

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