According to a letter sent to the editor of both The Observer and The South Bend Tribune, Notre Dame is set to demolish Brownson Hall by the end of 2019. According to the University’s building directory, Brownson is the second oldest building on campus. Completed in 1855 and designed by Fr. Edward Sorin and Bro. Francis Patois, it has had several different lives and holds a relatively unique place in the history of campus.
Located just north of the Main Building, Brownson Hall has served as both the convent for the Sisters of the Holy Cross and a dormitory for students before being converted into the offices that it is today.
Notre Dame is a campus dripping with history, especially in the buildings at the heart of it. Anytime you lose a piece of that history obviously it is unfortunate. I won’t pretend to know the condition of Brownson Hall or how well it serves its users. I have never stepped foot inside the building. The letter to The Observer does list numerous problems that the building faces though including but not limited to “whole sections that are...not terribly functional.” If this is truly the case then maybe Brownson Hall has lived its life and should make way for a building better suited to meet the needs of the University today, presumably a building designed for the growing Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program.
One thing I do want to point out though. A someone who is currently making a career out of designing buildings, there was one statement that truly struck me. The writer says “while...the physical spaces we occupy are important, they do not alone make a place great. People make places great. What people do in those spaces are what count, and what they achieve creates the meaning we ultimately impart to them.” While this is certainly true, building design more than possibly anything else shapes the way people use spaces. People do make places great (although they ruin photographs), but design influences and determines how people use those places, how they interact with people in those places, and so much more that you may never even notice.
Notre Dame, possibly more than any other University, recognizes how good design can positively effect people. The curriculum of the architecture department is based entirely on that idea. The architects that Notre Dame sends out into the professional world make careers on designing places that are intended to promote the very best of human engagement. If Brownson Hall, or any other building, conflicts with these ideas then the only reason to keep it as it is currently constructed is for history and nostalgia’s sake, and that to me is not enough.