Students are about to return to Morningside! To celebrate, we’ve gathered a list of your favorite campus spaces, culled from more than 150 responses in our “Take Five” archives and polls across our social media channels. The Top Nine appear below, along with some special memories we’ve heard over the years.
Low Steps is where you saw everyone. It’s where you met before you’d go anyplace else. It’s where you could see the beauty of the campus at any time of the year. It’s where all the protests were, so you could see people putting their education into action. Whenever I go through campus, I still hang out on those steps, just to feel the campus community again.
I’m a pretty social person, so a prime spot on the Steps on a sunny day was my happy place. I’d sit there for hours, catching up with friends — when Spider-Man was filmed on campus in spring 2002, I was part of a crowd that was repeatedly chastised for not being quiet on the set.
Sitting there with my friends, laughing and talking, it seemed like everything was possible. I got to walk up those steps last spring for the Pulitzer ceremony and it felt like high-fiving an old friend.
The view of campus from Low Steps provokes a response in my body that only the best views and works of art can do for me. It invigorates me, and inspires me to learn and connect with the world, and be the best version of myself.
I like the Steps, because of course I do.
Jenna Bascom Photography
I know it’s geeky but I loved every part of it. I loved the big, giant tables where I could feel like I was in The Paper Chase; I loved the spooky stacks, which had timer lights that would tick down and then shut off (I always thought it would be a great scene in a horror movie and have tried to add it to many I have worked on); and I loved the basement, where I would watch old, obscure European movies Professor [Annette] Insdorf had recommended with totally immersive headphones.
I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to find a workspace that has the qualities of the Philosophy Reading Room. I have this nagging sense that I’ll never be as mentally focused and intellectually alive as I was in that room.
Being in Butler always made me feel that I was never alone in the struggle.
I loved the old book smell, the muffled silence, the strangely intimate coziness.
The Butler stacks will always be dear to me — that’s where I got engaged!
My favorite place of all was the old home of the Columbia Daily Spectator on Amsterdam Avenue, where I spent most of my time. A few years ago I stopped by the paper’s current home and the second I walked in, I was overwhelmed by the scent of old newsprint combined with cigarette smoke. They’d brought all the bound volumes from the old place, so the new place and the old place smelled exactly the same.
It was a total dump. But damn it, it was our dump! Spectator was where I got my real education, as a writer and an editor. In the days before desktop publishing, we had to stay up until 6 a.m. pasting news onto big pieces of cardboard. Then we would have breakfast at Tom’s, catch a few hours of sleep and do it all over again. That’s the kind of thing you can only pull off when you’re 20 years old. I get tired just thinking about it now.
I spent many happy hours in the Spectator office and darkroom as the newspaper’s photography director, and as an occasional writer. It’s where I got to see Dwight Eisenhower, Robert Kennedy, Norman Thomas and other political celebrities up close.
I loved the Spec office because of the feeling permeating the space that we were all part of a team trying to put something meaningful and useful out into the world.
I probably spent 50 hours a week there, or outside covering sports events (I was sports editor for two years). I loved the camaraderie of others who enjoyed journalism as much as I did, and it certainly was an exciting place to be during the demonstrations in Spring ’68 and Spring ’70. I’ll never forget seeing the late, great columnist Jimmy Breslin sleeping on a couch in the Spec office because he didn’t want to leave campus and miss anything that was going on.
The warm lighting on the first floor of the Avery Library was just right. The floor-to-ceiling bookcases were comforting, kind of like a cocoon. And you could spread out all of your books and work on those thick wood tables. It was so peaceful when it would snow.
I became an architecture major, and enjoyed Avery Library to study. It was fun to take a break and pick out from the shelves a random, large folio of a particular artist’s or architect’s work. I also liked walking around and looking at the models of famous buildings that were on display. And, if I really wanted to procrastinate further, there was the café on the lower level.
Avery was my study spot of choice: quiet, comfortable and you never had to passive-aggressively leave tissues or a dirty sweatshirt behind to reserve your desk while you stepped outside for a break. Plus, Brownie’s Café serves delicious roast beef sandwiches one floor below. What more could you ask for?
Jenna Bascom Photography
Having been a pianist I had never played a pipe organ before coming to Columbia but boy oh boy, that sound changes a man. Playing Bach on three manuals in that chapel is still one of my single favorite memories.
The basement of St. Paul’s Chapel is my favorite spot on campus because it is where the Barnard/Columbia Gospel Choir rehearsed on Monday nights. When students from all walks of life lifted their voices in harmony and praise, nothing else mattered. Exams, papers and projects gave way to the divine, and hope, love and joy reigned.
I wasn’t particularly religious, but I remember finding a unique feeling of peacefulness in the chapel on the Sundays following 9-11. Our community came together there to cope with the shock of the attack and losing so many of our recent graduates in it. The intimate nature of the chapel and the quiet time it gave us to reflect provided the comfort we were all searching for.
Jenna Bascom Photography
When we’d return from a Glee Club concert or trip, we’d congregate at the Sundial and exhaustedly belt out the school songs — we still do this at reunions!
The Sundial was special because it was a regular place for the exercise of free speech and a gathering place for students who came from left-wing families. Students who wanted to speak out against the remnants of McCarthyism and the Cold War, racism in the South and especially, the testing of nuclear bombs, gathered there to form a kind of activist community. We also sang folk songs together — informal hootenannies that were so much fun.
I love the Sundial. The campus was the first thing that I fell in love with, and from the Sundial you can take in almost all of it.
I don’t know how I discovered it, but it became the most calming and reflective space for writing essays.
The East Asian Library was my favorite place to study: the stillness, the high ceilings, the bay windows, those nooks you could spread your books out in and occupy for a few hours.
It was a quiet place to read and work that was never too crowded, while centrally located. And also because someone I had an enduring crush on could often be found working there. I would never talk to him except to say hello in passing, but it was always a draw.
Schermerhorn Hall, with “Speak to the Earth and It Shall Teach Thee” carved into a slab of Indiana limestone above its entrance-way doors; it became the focus of my campus life.
The architecture studio in the basement of Schermerhorn Hall. This is where the rivalries in architecture classes became genuine friendships. Not that we talked to each other all that much. It was simply infectious to be around all that creativity — the attempts, the failures, the revisions, the successes.
Columbia Daily Spectator
Such fond memories of 11 p.m. milkshakes and french fries with the Notes and Keys crew, procrastinating ... post-rehearsal bliss.
JJ’s Place was a quiet affinity space for me. I was outgoing, but even extroverts lose steam sometimes. Being able to hang out with Charlie and Al at the grill did wonders for my development in understanding what NYC culture was like and learning how to navigate socially. I did not know it at the time, but that was the first bodega I would be introduced to.
I want to throw a special shout-out to the grill cooks at JJ’s Place. Those guys made getting a late-night snack more fun than it had any right to be.
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