Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pedestrian Perspective: University at Albany - Uptown Campus

Welcome to the Albany main campus of SUNY, which in this case stands for the Soviet University of New York.

The walk from the bus stop.  Very inviting.  It wasn't actually cloudy that day; a perpetual fog hangs over the institution.  (Just kidding!)  (Kinda)
The University at Albany was designed during the height of the Crappy Inhuman Modernist Building Movement, by architect Edward Durrell Stone.  Built over a two-year period from 1956-1958, it has now tortured and demeaned students for over fifty years. 

Entering SUNY.  A grandiose mixture of concrete and intimidation built for a warm climate.  However, this isn't one.  It's New York.  Enter wind.

Someone was compensating...

This is the plaza where people hang out.  At least, people were probably present here in the renderings in 1956.  In reality, it repels all but the squirrels, who have the generosity of heart to make any place their home.

The fountain.  One of the few part of campus that students love.  Mostly for Fountain Day, an excuse to get wasted at noon on campus.  This past year was the last opportunity for the next few years, due to construction, for Fountain Day to be held.  It was canceled, however, for reasons outlined below.
On Saint Patrick's Day weekend 2011, a group of hundreds of UAlbany students rioted in the streets of the "Student Ghetto", bordered roughly by Lake Ave on the east, Partridge Street on the west, Morris Street on the south and Washington Ave on the north.  Most of the rioting occurred around Hudson Ave and Quail St, and made national news.  Over 40 students were arrested, many from the numerous videos that were taken of the event, which included students tipping over cars and countless other acts of property damage.  Finding the videos and news coverage is easy, just Google "Kegs and Eggs Albany".

After the riots, UAlbany canceled Fountain Day, sparking further protests and property damage on the uptown campus itself.  Some students spray painted some columns, while a non-traditional (meaning older) student got stoned and chained himself to the fountain for a couple of days.

No word yet on how much our degrees will be worth after all this ridiculousness.

In this shot, you can see the sheer size of the erect penis sculpture obelisk, as well as the lower level of the podium.  The lecture center can be found here.

This landscaping isn't really helping.
Overall, the University at Albany Uptown Campus is a suburban piece of inhospitable garbage plopped ungracefully into the City of Albany.  It adjoins the Harriman State Office Campus, which is arguably worse, though slated for renewal.  That's a topic for another post.

Students!! OMG!!! Of course, they are avoiding their designated hang out area.

This trash can looks like it just wants to swallow the campus whole.

This is the standard size of the windows on campus, including, I believe, in the dorms, which consist of four towers surrounding the main podium, each contained within their own mini-podium.  It's arguable that the windows are this narrow to prevent suicides.  College students occasionally do that anyway - college can be a very turbulent time - and a campus like this certainly doesn't help.

Every disgusting and demeaning suburban campus must have oceans of parking.  Even urban campuses have too much, but you could fit the entire Saint Rose campus into one of UAlbany's parking lots.

You can see one of the residential towers in the background.

Who doesn't want to cross a hamster-cage-bedding moat to get to the sitting area?  Sign me up!

Turns out that chain they put up to keep people out of here is super easy to step over.

The stairs to underneath the podium.

Another view of the stairs.

This is...interesting.  Clearly they didn't want this art project to be seen by anyone, so they hid it under a stairway.
Things are about to get ugly.  I know it's a shock that they weren't already.

Okay, listen.  This isn't a pedestrian perspective complaint.  But if a door needs to be pulled, give it a damn handle, not a push bar.  These deceptive doors just piss me off.

At this point in my travels through the campus, I decided to go inside the Lecture Center, underneath the podium.

I've been visiting this campus since before I moved to Albany three years ago, I performed and rehearsed here after moving and this is my second semester as a student at this college.  Last semester I even took a transportation planning class on the uptown campus (the classes for my major are downtown), as well as doing almost all of my essay writing here.  It can be objectively stated that I've spent quite a bit of time on this campus.

And yet, I got lost trying to find the main hallway.  Horribly, horribly lost.  There are no pictures of that part, because I was concentrating on finding where I was going.

I was looking for the way into the tunnel.  Finally, I found it:

I barely even found it in the end.  This tiny little sign is the only direction I found, after going through a maze of hallways.
That is not a typo.  We are actually talking about the maintenance tunnel here.  It is a primary route for students to get across campus, especially in winter, on a campus designed for the Mediterranean.

Let's go take a look a this route, and the charm it exudes.  Remember, while we are here, the impressionable and still maturing minds of the young people that this campus is intended to shape.

.....are you serious?

Yes, serious as can be...
You can get lost very easily down here.  The university has kindly put out chairs for those students.  We'll see vending machines later for those students making a day trip out of navigating the tunnel.

They've even included hills!  Why, it's just like San Fransisco.  If San Fransisco was a Soviet bunker.

The descent.

Going to the Lecture Center.

This is no joke.  We're still in the maintenance tunnel here.  And there is directional signage, of the same sort that you find inside the buildings.
A full underground campus map even!
Whenever I walk through here I'm reminded of playing the Goldeneye James Bond game for Nintendo64 as a teenager.  Only the video game was more fun.

Although, I suppose, with the right group of people, and some props, we could recreate that pretty adequately.  But that's my point.  A properly built environment does not need props or an overactive imagination to be bearable.

At the very least, students should not be expected to traverse a university campus via the maintenance tunnels with signs cautioning against moving vehicles.


Ventilation ducts for ambiance.

This is disconcerting.

Is this where they keep the missiles?

I'm sure quite a bit of fine art was inspired here.

These tubes are for the nerve gas.  In the 60s, students sometimes got out of line.
That last joke wasn't too far from the truth.  One theory on the construction of this campus, especially at the time during which it was constructed, holds that it was partially intended to not provide any central public meeting spaces for students to gather.  This was a time of great civil unrest, with much of it occurring on college campuses.

This Google Map shows an aerial view of the campus.  As you can see, there are some large areas that students can gather in, but none that are in the center of the campus.  All are peripheral.  Even the fountain, in which hundreds of students gather during years that Fountain Day is not canceled due to riots, is not a sufficient place to hold a protest.

The large green spaces that you see are all far removed from academic areas and dorm areas.  Most are athletic fields.  The large circle at the top, Collins Circle, is the closest thing that could serve this purpose.  But it is still peripheral, wedged between an access road (far from the academic podium; any buildings near it are newer than the original campus by at least thirty years) and Washington Avenue, a six-laner that is effectively a highway.
Compare the above map to another Albany campus at The College of Saint Rose.  Notice the central quad at Saint Rose, surrounded by college buildings.  (The two maps are are not at the same scale.)

Maybe these are where they keep the missiles.  I bet the get them out with giant magnets.

Even the maintenance areas use bro language.

Anyone care for a snack?

I think it would be fun to find some nook in one of these tunnels and live there, just to see how long I could get away with it for.
Chain link ornamentation.

Can anyone direct me to Biology?

The sidewalk.  No, really, this is where we're supposed to walk.  No one ever does, of course. 
Not that it makes much difference if we walk in the appropriate lane or not, when these things are parked there.

Oh my god they even have a Red Phone.
While I did intend to take a full walk through the tunnels for this blog post, instead of just the route I normally take to the Campus Center, it should be mentioned that I actually was lost at this point.  It had happened to me once before, so I knew that it was essentially a large circle and I would eventually come to my destination, but until I finally saw a sign for it, I had no idea when this might happen.  The problem arose when I entered the tunnel from an unfamiliar direction (and after getting lost trying to find my way to it). 

I considered stopping for a snack at this point, but I felt that the object of my quest, my very destiny, the Campus Center, was nearing.  I pressed on.

Oh, crap.

Well, this looked scary.  This is the chipper through which they feed the protesters.
Any extreme statements about missiles, execution of protesters and chemical warfare are made in jest.  The University at Albany isn't actually involved in anything like that, to the extent of my knowledge.

Another disconcerting spot in the tunnel.

It just keeps going...

Finally, some damn street art!

Finally, the light at the end of the ........ tunnel ... I really didn't see that pun coming.

There is one final obstacle in our quest:

If I could record smells with my iPhone, I still wouldn't.  It would be cruel to do that to you.

This was another smelly area.  This is identical to the back docks of many restaurants I've worked in, especially those that were part of much larger operations similar to UAlbany, such as the Grand Summit Hotel at Mount Snow. The difference between UAlbany and those restaurants is that these areas were not open to the public.  And this one was smellier.

The first glimpse of a finished building.

This is  .... ultimately disappointing.  Hmmph.
And thus concludes our trip through the main campus of the University at Albany.  It was quite the shock to me when I first learned that this was the preferred route through campus throughout the majority of the academic year.  The outside of the campus itself is a barren, visually unappealing desert all winter (its appeal is dubious at best the rest of the time), populated by the occasional evergreen tree in one of the planters, whose primary inhabitant is squirrels and crows. (I will admit that the squirrels do brighten up the season.)  Moreover, the design of the campus itself, with large, straight corridors lined by blank walls, creates an amplified effect for the wind, which in Albany is already at an almost unbearable level during the coldest season.

Fortunately, any time I spend on this campus is optional, and I use it mostly to work on assignments, as there is nothing visually appealing to distract me.

Later on, we'll take a walk throughout and home from the downtown campus, which is completely the opposite of this one.  Graceful and stoic, it seeks to reaffirm students that they are in an academic institution worth of their hard work.  It is no wonder, then, that the campus we've just seen is what produced those who destroyed a neighborhood both slowly over many years and all at once on St. Patrick's Day last year.

In the end, it comes down to this:  Albany is too cold for this crap, and students deserve better no matter where they are.


  1. "Built over a two-year period from 1956-1958,"

    hum, I really don't remember protests from before the 60's.

    Could it have been better designed aesthetically? Yes, but it was designed and approved well over 50 years ago.

    If you want a beautiful campus, pony up the $$$ to go to a private school, like CSR.

    Be glad you're getting a subsidized education.

  2. Good point. I certainly was not relating the protest point as historical fact. It was only a rumor, but I guess it still (eventually) served a function. I also wonder the effect that not having a central gathering area has on everyday student life. At CSR, the quad is full on nice days. At SUNY, the grounds are still pretty empty. Even the downtown campus is pretty empty. (There are, of course, other factors than campus design, but it has some effect.)

    Regarding the public campus and subsidized education point, there are many examples of public college campuses that still manage to retain humanity. Likewise, there are private (and often expensive) campuses that are rather dehumanizing. SUNY may be ugly, cold and stark but I don't think we can really state that it was done on the cheap. I submit that the infrastructure required to maintain this is vastly more expensive than a beautiful, private, urban campus on a smaller scale such as CSR (which, by the way, I would gladly attend if my major was offered) or Sage in Troy. If nothing else, taxpayers should be upset at the inherent colossal waste.

    Furthermore, why the attitude that if education is subsidized, setting no longer matters?

  3. As an alum (Class of 2004) I agree with almost everything here, except for two points.

    1. Technically it's not a suburban piece of inhospitable garbage plopped ungracefully into the City of Albany. It's actually a suburban piece of inhospitable garbage plopped ungracefully onto the border between the City of Albany and the Town of Guilderland.

    2. Students aren't actually supposed to use the tunnels. That's why they're not marked nor designed for pedestrian use. Yes, they let students use them now because forcing them onto the podium in February is cruel, but really students aren't supposed to be down there.

    Otherwise, fantastic tour. In case I ever start to feel nostalgic I can stop back here and fix that.

  4. It's wonderful to hear from an alum, J-Doug! Thank you very much for commenting and for your compliments.

    You're absolutely correct in that it sits on the border between Guilderland and Albany. The perspective from the ground in that nebulous area between UAlbany and the Harriman State Office Campus makes it difficult to determine where the borders are (especially on the campus itself; it's much easier of course on, say, Rt. 20). It looks as if the SEFCU Arena and the athletic fields are in Guilderland while most of the residential towers and the academic podium are in Albany. Thank you for illustrating yet another layer of confusion!

    Regarding whether students should be in the maintenance tunnels or not, there is actually directional signage throughout the podium directing students there. I'm not sure if this was the case while you were at SUNY (I never saw the campus before 2007, and did not see the tunnel before January of this year). When I first tried to find the Campus Center from the Lecture Center, because of signs indicating that I could get there without going outside, I struggled through navigating the tunnels and had to do so based on signage installed by the school. Could this be an indication that the school has changed their policy on the use of the tunnels? Or did I mis-read the intent? In any case, it must be noted that my personal history with the school is relatively short, which undoubtedly has created some gaps.

  5. I think Indian Quad is technically in Guilderland. When I lived there, and registered to vote there, my voter ID card said Guilderland and they held Guilderland polls upstairs from the Indian Quad cafeteria.

    That's interesting that there's signage now for the tunnels. I don't remember any at all, but yeah policy might have changed.

  6. J-Doug, I believe that's true; much of the campus is in Guilderland. How interesting, though, that your voter registration was actually tied to the piece of the campus you lived on. Thanks for that tidbit!!

  7. Wow, signage in the tunnels, they definitely didn't have that in the 80s. Not many people used the tunnels back then, they just went through the buildings. As an art major who lived on Dutch for 3 years I had a choice to be blown across campus with my portfolio case as a sail or be a tunnel rat.
    There was a TV studio under the library back then. I don't know whether it broadcast to the outside world or if it was part of the Communications Department.
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I had forgotten how ugly the tunnels were. I am smiling though at the memories!

  8. I am just finishing up here and I am in stitches from laughing so hard, well done!

  9. Oh, lord, I work down in the tunnels (sub-basement). Great post, thanks for the laughs!

  10. The time it took you to write this blog would have been better spent on transfer applications to another school. You would have done all of us a favor. Why did you even attend? I assume you visited the school at some point. Stop bitching.

  11. Robyn, glad to hear they've impvroved things since your time! I think there's still a TV studio or something there, though. Someone in another class visited for a project. I just can't remember where.

    Al and Bill, I'm glad you enjoyed! :)

    jim, at the top of the page, you'll see an address bar. There, you can type in other webpages to visit instead. Had you done so before commenting, you would've done all of us a favor, because now I'll answer you: I attended because, regardless of my opinion on the aesthetics, there is more that goes into picking a graduate school than the look of the campus -- I do realize you are likely unfamiliar with this concept. For my major, there are only about 50 programs in the country and I was fortunate to find one on the Downtown Campus, which is both lovely and on my way home from work! (This is the Uptown Campus, or Main Campus.) I live in a great apartment in a beautiful city, have a full-time job in the field I'm studying, am involved in the community, have a great social life and am happy here. I'm not giving that up because you don't like my review of the aesthetics of one part of campus. Sorry to disappoint.

    I'm sure the ever-lowercase jim horn is long gone back to his cave, but for others reading, if I do return to posting here eventually, I will be posting a tour of the Downtown Campus as well. It's lovely.

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  13. Oh, so you mean to say that UAlbany actually has some redeeming qualities? Am I to understand that you actually *wanted* to attend here because...WAIT FOR's actually a great school? Good, I am glad to hear.

    I'm sorry, but I am sick of students always being down on this place. I think UA is an amazing school and I will defend it always. Yeah, so it's not a traditional campus...and I agree, they could (and should) do more to make it more welcoming...but trashing it on a wide open blog does none of us any good. Talented kids look up colleges to attend and they information like this, and may not even give it a second thought... and that doesn't help raise the quality of our degree much and recover from an unfortunate event a couple of years ago that was spurred by only a few drunk kids on St. Patrick's Day.

    Just saying.

    1. Being a current student, your demonstrated lack of reading comprehension will do the school far more damage than anything I write on this blog. (Which, by the way, is mine, not connected to the school, not connected to any other entity, and not something I'm going to censor in response to any of your whining.)

      It's not a great school. I'm not getting a very practical education. I'd say at best 25% of my classes will give me anything that I will take with me through my career. Most of my knowledge of my field comes from my job, which was the big reason I picked UAlbany: It's close, and literally on the way home from work. I didn't have to move and I could keep making up for the lack of education I received in grad school.

      If talented kids choose other colleges over this one, I've done them a favor. If those with a sense of humor (read: not Jim Horn) choose this school, I've done UAlbany a favor.

  14. I graduated in the late 90's and this brings back old memories! Very funny. A few things I would like to add:

    Contrary to popular belief, the campus was indeed designed for Albany, not some hot climate like Arizona. The idea was to keep all of the buildings together in close proximity so that students and faculty wouldn't have to trudge through 3 feet of snow in the winter. The podium canopy is there to protect from the elements (although they clearly didn't account for wind!)

    It's not the prettiest campus, but keep in mind that it was designed in the late 50's by a well known architect, so back then this campus was a big deal. It was the definition of modernist architecture of the time, and like most things of this didn't age all that well. Being owned by the State of New York didn't help either as SUNY was always handicapped by the budget process. At least now they seem to be taking steps to make it nicer with all of the construction going on. I really liked the Podium to be honest, especially in the Fall and Spring when the fountains were on. Did you take those pics on a weekend? I don't remember it ever being that deserted during the week. Quite the opposite actually.

    Those tunnels are for maintenance purposes, and weren't specifically designed for student highlighting them here isn't exactly fair. Personally I avoided them at all costs!

    Also I don't think it's fair to imply that the campus is somehow related to the student ghetto in downtown Albany. If you understand the area, the city itself is mostly to blame for the blight. Don't forget that CSR is in the heart of Pine Hills...and across the river the same blight exists in and around RPI. The Kegs and Eggs incident was unfortunate, but it was started by only a few students.

    Anyway, enjoyed ready this and look forward to your review of the downtown campus, which I very nice!

    1. "Contrary to popular belief, the campus was indeed designed for Albany, not some hot climate like Arizona. The idea was to keep all of the buildings together in close proximity so that students and faculty wouldn't have to trudge through 3 feet of snow in the winter. The podium canopy is there to protect from the elements (although they clearly didn't account for wind!)"

      I know. It's still super cold and works better in a hot climate. The design itself is based on traditional Middle Eastern architecture, so obviously the architect still missed the mark.

      "Those tunnels are for maintenance purposes, and weren't specifically designed for student highlighting them here isn't exactly fair. Personally I avoided them at all costs!"

      There is directional signage in them. They aren't DESIGNED for student use (not that it would make a difference, as I've already said the design itself is misguided and wrong) but they ARE for student use, now.

      "Also I don't think it's fair to imply that the campus is somehow related to the student ghetto in downtown Albany. If you understand the area, the city itself is mostly to blame for the blight. Don't forget that CSR is in the heart of Pine Hills...and across the river the same blight exists in and around RPI. The Kegs and Eggs incident was unfortunate, but it was started by only a few students."

      I went to CSR for undergrad, actually. Many of its students live in the student ghetto (I lived on the edges when I was a CSR student). The city, however, is not to blame. There's quite a bit you can blame them for, but not that. UAlbany accounts for the vast majority of the students in the student ghetto, and nearly all of those involved in Kegs and Eggs. CSR absolutely makes up the rest. Absentee landlords take advantage of the situation, the city allows it, all of which sucks. But UAlbany students make up the population of this neighborhood, for better or worse. I don't think there really is any blame for it, beyond the absentee landlords. Those people are urban predators.

      All that said, I'm glad you found the humor in the post and hopefully I can figure out my blog situation and assuage some of the whining of other commenters. ;)

    2. Actually, I'm going to add a bit more about the tunnels, since I think you actually nailed it. You mentioned that they forgot about the wind issue on campus (or didn't anticipate it). I think the tunnels are now for student use because of that mistake. It's so cold on the podium that the university likely had no choice but to open the tunnels. Hence the maps. The tunnel maintenance worker who commented above may be able to shed more light, but I believe the yellow and black signs on the ceiling would suffice for them. The additional signage is for students.

      Also, for an update on the reasons there is no Downtown Campus Pedestrian Perspective, and what the future may hold for this, visit

      Again, thanks for your comment and glad you enjoyed!!

  15. Everyone, this blog is for fun. It's for laughs. It's mine. It's my opinion. And in the future, I may need to pay for data allowance just to post more pics. So...go away. Start your own, whine on Facebook, do whatever; but stop badgering me.

    I'm perfectly fine with the fact that some of you have no sense of humor and an incredibly rigid view of the world, but take it somewhere else.

    I stand by what I post here: UAlbany is a shitty school with a shitty main campus (and East Campus, and Nano Campus) and a shitty student population that intentionally and unintentionally destroys the city. If the idea is to change the minds of others about this, there are much better ways: Flaunting your lack of humor isn't attractive. To anyone.

    Thanks. :)

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