Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Harder Hall: from Cleaner to Harder

Harder can be classified in many ways. One interesting way to view the building is by floor, and by cleanliness. At first glance, there is an obvious hierarchy. Out of 5 floors, the 5th is the cleanest and the 1st is by far the dirtiest.

On the 5th floor, the majority of litter is comprised of paper scraps. Three Design computer labs yield toxicity in monitor radiation and fine-powdered toner. The print room yields toxicity in paper dust filling the air, toner cartridges, and a film-processor using harsh chemicals. Technicians' offices yield mild toxicity in the form of clutter and the mystery of strange technology.

Next, the 4th floor. The Sound and Video students do their best work at night, when there are no classes taking place. Without a round-the-clock monitor chastising food and drink around the equipment, as the 5th floor labs have, the majority of litter comes from soda cans and coffee cups, vital caffeine for late-night creativity. All three sound and video studios yield toxicity in the form of various machinery radiation and the threat of strangulation/tripping on yards and yards of tangled wire strewn here and there.

Once we enter the 3rd floor, the floor plan widens dramatically and the possibility for filth increases. The Fosdick-Nelson gallery, Holmes Auditorium, and the lobby offer three usually-spotless sanctuaries, and balance out the floor's averaged level of cleanliness to give it the third spot, rather than the fourth, for the rampant chemicals and toxic substances available in the Print space. A thick Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) hangs on the wall, covered in a thick layer of dust, an ominous reminder that most of the students snoozed during the informative safety lecture and have no idea how dangerous the materials they work with truly are. In a dark corner of the print room, an acid bath sits, waiting for students to plunge their be-gloved hands into it to retrieve the metal plate that the acid has been eating. A roaring fan sucks the fumous air away from delicate student lungs. In the main Print space, Mean Green and mineral oils sit on the tables, dozens of spray bottles and metal cans. The inks they use are not worthy of sink or trash can, yet are cleansed with special red rags, sent away to be recycled. Rubber or latex gloves are a staple on this floor, but less to avoid the horrible substances infiltrating one's bloodstream and more to avoid staining one's hands an incriminating shade of puce. One's fingers are always at risk, with the various cutting devices--including the aptly-named guillotine--used for anything from paper to sheets of metal.

Moving down towards the 2nd floor, the floorplan once again widens, nearly doubling in size. This floor is home to the splattered, streaked walls of the Painting studios, the unchecked chaos of the Foundations space and the haunting, deceptively clean Photo space. Paint: oil, acrylic, watercolor, none of it meant to linger on skin, yet it coats every surface in the Painting wing. Another MSDS hangs on the wall, heralding the dangers of turpentine and "all-natural" paint thinners. Angry signs in the nearby bathrooms admonish students who would wash their filthy brushes in the bathroom sinks, when industrial sinks wait in the classrooms for their spoils. The mess spreads slowly, like Purple Loose-Strife, into the hallways. This disaster pales in comparison to the horror of the Foundations space. Like the calm before a storm, if ever it is empty, it means that an Assignment looms near, waiting for students to begin their frenzy the night before it is due. Students claim their sectors with wild abandon, scraps of tape and streaks of paint, charcoal dust and piles of paper tubes marking their territory. Glue smears on every surface, strange materials gathering to its stickiness. Students fill the tables with supplies and the floorspace with chairs and easels. When the Assignments are near completion, fascinating works of art are put on display, whether it be 50 ink drawings of a tormented psyche or a dozen massive inflated-plastic sculptures. Inevitably, the mess is still there, yet mostly thrust aside for critiques. We move, then, to the Photo space, passing the Moka Joka. The Moka Joka, a student-run coffee counter, is a fine example of a successful business operating outside sanitation laws. Food is prepared by gloveless (but not loveless) hands for that extra flavor, and butter and cream cheese sit unrefrigerated on the counter. Down the hall, one enters the Photo space and is greeted by an unfamiliar scent, that of no less than six highly toxic chemicals engulfing the space in fumes. The hallways seems relatively clean, the floor only slightly dirty. However, photo chemicals are clear, and the eye does not see the splashes, the spills, the splatters. This is not a place to put food down without a napkin; best leave that to the Moka Joka. The darkrooms are even more deceptive, as the dim safety bulbs illuminate the eerie scene in a saturated, yellow glow. Students are encouraged to wear gloves when dealing with chemicals, but the finesse required for the enlargers often dictate that hands are bare. Tubs of noxious chemicals sit in a massive sink, ready to wash away the highly toxic fluids. If one but turns on the lights, one sees the horror that the darkroom personnel must clean each and every morning; the dark stains on the floor, the splashes on every surface. Truly, it looks cleaner than the Painting studio, but in the Darkroom, one wears glasses, not contacts--since contacts absorb the fumes. A hop, skip, and a jump from the Photo department is the Print, Painting and Photography technician, Hope Zaccagni, who tirelessly teaches each fresh crop of students impeccable safety habits which they will habitually ignore, who tirelessly keeps all chemicals and fixtures to code. The last bastion of cleanliness, Hope directs the workstudy students to try to clean the Print, Painting and Photography spaces as much as possible.

The final descent through the levels of Harder takes us to the 1st floor, even larger than the 2nd, and almost entirely devoted to clay. We have reached Ceramics. Pets who lingered on this basement-like floor until their death, and were cremated, left behind perfect clay lungs from clay dust inhalation. Dried clay is everywhere, walls, floor, windows, somehow even the ceiling, high as it is. Clay dust sparkles in the sunlight that filters through the smudged glass hallways. It's like a beige jungle, pots and shelves, the flora and students, the fauna. The students themselves develop a camouflage, their clothing becoming deeply saturated with dirt and clay, so they blend in with the sculpted forms and boards and pipes. Merely breathing in this space too long could leave one with Silicosis, or "Potter's Rot," but luckily that takes years. Unless one counts the risk of clay flying off of the potter's wheel, or falling into a pile of shards, the physical risks in most of Ceramics are limited to inhaling the stuff. Step into the hot, mighty kiln room, and the risk goes up a bit. Temperatures in the kilns themselves can hit over 1,000 degrees Celsius. That's almost 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit! Fire a kiln the wrong way and it's entirely possible that it will explode. While going through the kiln room is often a shortcut through Harder, it's more than understandable why nobody does it. Simply walk around, and all that's needed is to be vacuumed off once you leave--and don't forget to wipe your feet before you go outside.

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