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Feature Story
reed magazine logoAutumn 2008

In the Neighborhood

At home in the new Spanish House (top); Sequoia dorm room (bottom); photography by Molly Gingras ’09

Reed now has the capacity to house 75 percent of students on campus; as recently as the 1990s, only half of students lived on campus. In its efforts to increase the availability and variety of campus housing, Reed’s guiding philosophy has been to create intimate living spaces with plenty of room for group activities.

“We understand that personal development and learning occur through certain kinds of interactions between students and their environment—the faculty, their peers, the staff, and also the physical spaces,” says Jerlena Griffin-Desta, the college’s new vice president and dean of student services. “There’s a difference between just giving students a bed and food and attending to students holistically so they can be successful at Reed.”

Houses in the Grove share a redbrick and copper-trimmed exterior, but are built with subtle variations in size, layout, and color. “The students emphasized broad-minded thinking,” says Melina Di Tomaso, of Zimmer Gunsul Frasca (ZGF), the architectural firm that designed the Grove and bridge. “We wanted to make sure the space was going to allow that type of thinking.” The buildings were also built with ample communal space, including living rooms, kitchens, dining rooms, television lounges, and study rooms. There are plenty of windows, and the covered patios provide outdoor space where students can gather, even during the rainy season.

“It has a nice vibe,” says Katrina Gertz, a first-year student from Italy who lives in Bidwell House. Gertz calls the new dorms “absurd,” by which she means very nice, indeed; she admires the buildings—“like ski lodges,” she thinks—and the beautifully landscaped courtyard. But she especially values the camaraderie among the Grove’s residents, an indication of one of the many ways in which the new houses are folding into the larger ethos of Reed’s learning community. “Here, you get the feeling everyone’s looking out for each other,” says Gertz.

Spanish House Dorm

Say Hola! to the new Spanish House; photograph by Molly Gingras ’09

The college held extensive conversations with students and other campus stakeholders to design a “physical and intellectual space” that would encourage student independence and interaction at the same time, says Di Tomaso. The doorways and stairways are situated in such a way that students coming and going are in view of the common areas. This concept of “conditional commitment”—the notion that students should have opportunities to engage other students or to maintain privacy—was central to the design.

“You can’t just sneak in or out,” says Amy Frey, resident director for the Grove. “You get a chance to see who is around and say hello, or you can go up to your room.” Frey tries to encourage socializing with casual activities like study breaks with milk and homemade cookies, and she plans to use the barbecue grills to have s’mores nights.

“A lot more than I expected,” is how Paul Hermanson, a first-year student from Chicago, describes his new digs in Sitka House. So what did he expect? “Welllll,” he says thoughtfully, putting down a box of books in his new room—which was, remarkably, already cluttered on move-in day. “You know, a dorm.”

reed magazine logoAutumn 2008