Between the Lines: September-October 2002

October 1, 2002


Our built environments aren't just our living and working spaces. They're also symbolic statements of what we value.

This issue delves into two very different buildings that speak to very different values. The first to be checked out is Duke's Perkins Library. A library, as a Perkins self-study puts it, is meant to "enrich the research, teaching, study, and conversation of a great university." Perkins is really a series of buildings constructed over decades. As the self-study puts it, the result "is complex in layout, difficult to navigate and use, outdated in terms of technological infrastructure, and inadequate with respect to study and training spaces."

Beyond that, the building is "aesthetically unappealing and uninviting." Survey respondents generally characterized it as "dingy, musty, grim, and depressing." Some said they avoided using it in favor of Chapel Hill's Davis Library.

Perkins, then, is scheduled for a major face-lift. The plans reveal an enduring faith in the future of the book--a cultural artifact that still seems remarkably user-friendly. They also acknowledge that research hinges to no small extent on access to technology and ease of collaboration.

The other building is The Streets at Southpoint, a mega-mall in Durham. During its conception stage, the mall drew protests from citizens' groups concerned about over-development, and wary reactions from some concerned about an often-overlooked downtown. Others saw it as an economic engine--and as an indication of Durham's standing in the New South (even as the mall self-consciously replicates the aesthetics of the Old South). In any case, it's proving to be a popular destination.

Southpoint may not be a lure for prospective students. But the mall is a bricks-and-mortar representation (the bricks feeding off the history of downtown Durham) of values awfully familiar to students--consumption and entertainment.

A library and a mall: both good places to spend some reading time.