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To get inside, you walk through a portal in the arcade and find yourself in an outdoor courtyard that performs the difficult task of wedding the old and new buildings. For about half the year, you won't find yourself in this courtyard for long; there's practically no shade. Dennis says the university, again, vetoed the vines he wanted to drape over the steel trellises attached to the new building, but this still wouldn't have helped much. Memo to ASU: If your next imported architect can't seem to grasp the idea of Arizona sunshine, expose him or her to a bit of it. About four hours on, say, June 15 should make a memorable enough impression.
Inside, there's a rather empty two-story lobby serving as a gateway to the old music theatre in the drum or the two performance halls in the new building. Inside one of the halls is a drop-dead architectural masterpiece, a $300,000 neobaroque organ built by Paul Fritts and Company of Tacoma, Washington. To say it has a commanding presence would be like saying Saddam Hussein has a mean streak. The casework is painted scorching red, the carved pipe shades are gold-leafed and the highly polished tin-lead-alloy facade pipes are gathered into powerfully rhythmic towers over the organist's head. The extremely live hall (organs want more reverberation than other instruments) is also extremely austere, however; money ran out before the specified hardwood floor could be installed.
The School of Music leaves the organ hall open all day, and visitors are even invited to walk in and listen when students are practicing. But the architects muffed an opportunity to show it off still better: Given such a visually smashing instrument, the hall's back should have been a two-story glass wall. That would have made the organ a virtual tourist attraction.
Speaking of glass, Dennis did the students a favor by providing windows-big ones, nearly floor to ceiling-in the practice rooms. The natural light actually has an effect on my practicing," says one student, a saxophone major. Being closed in and alone so much kind of makes musicians weird. It's nice to be able to look out and remind yourself that you're actually part of the world."
The building seems mildly controversial, however; another music student says it reminds her of a jail. Some students don't like the new practice rooms, particularly at night, when passersby can stroll down the arcade and peer in, studying the students like caged zoo animals.
We were really pleased with the architects," says Umberson. They actually listened to us, which is unusual, and special. Overall, I couldn't be happier." But John Meunier, dean of the ASU College of Architecture and Environmental Design, could; his praise sounds rather faint. I wouldn't say the problems were insoluble, but it was a very, very difficult architectural challenge. I think the result is really pretty decent."
A pretty decent" building is certainly preferable to a disastrous one, which is what ASU erects with depressing dependability. Still, the main entrance to the campus symbolically demands more-more coherence, more drama, more Architecture Power. Unless, of course, we're just talking about a pretty decent university.