Uncomfy Cornellification: A Reflection of Hygge on Swarthmore Campus

Out of all the Scandinavian lifestyle trends I’m familiar with, I identify most with Hygge, pronounced Hoo-ga, which is a Danish word that translates to “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.”  I live by Hygge. I choose clothes to wear by softness and comfortability, I buy yarn for knitting that feels the softest and fluffiest, and I adore the feeling of being warm in my layers on a frigid day. 

To be fair, I’m not exactly the most fashionable. Dressing for comfort is definitely not dressing for style, so my outfits tend to be a mismatch of articles that will be the coziest on the chosen day. I’m happy dressing like this and I’m happy living like this, but if I’m searching for spaces with similar feelings on campus, it’s honestly hard to find.

Much of the seating to be found in Swarthmore academic buildings are hard wooden chairs and oddly shaped cushions that give the impression of a couch. This can be seen most clearly in the Cornell Library. The mix of gray mesh chairs and green egg chairs are aesthetically pleasing, creating an impression of stylish efficiency, but are dreadful to sit in casually or for long periods of time. Cornell does have more comfortable seating elsewhere but even those armchairs and booths aren’t Hygge, they are either too small or too plain to enjoy.

But for some reason, aesthetic rules over pleasure at Swarthmore and this exact, hard style has spread; the same style was repeated for the redesign of McCabe second. Often called ‘The Cornellification’, a section of McCabe’s second floor was transformed into a Cornell-esque space with the same loosely shaped couches and egg-shaped chairs. Many were impressed by the introduction of this new space and saw it as a much-needed upgrade to the library, but time has not worked in the area’s favor. Out of all the places at Swarthmore, I find McCabe second, the most recently redesigned and “high tech” space on campus, to be incredibly uncomfortable. Neither the multicolored chairs, the “couches”, the wooden benches around the edges, nor the high rise chairs give a feeling of Hygge.

I think that is a problem. Swarthmore is a stress factory, but half of the problem is not getting the chance to release that tension at any time other than the ten-minute massages at finals season. It sucks that more spaces aren’t explicitly comfortable and relaxing. What’s worse is that the trend seems to be an increase in aesthetic, rather than comfort, being the priority for new spaces. As I stated earlier, my Hygge approach to fashion does not always leave me looking the best but it does leave me forever comfortable, and I by far think it is worth sacrificing the former for the latter. Swarthmore’s administration should help their students mitigate stress with comfy surroundings.

In opposition to this Cornellification, I’d like to give recognition to the most Hygge spaces on Swarthmore’s campus. If one is looking for ultimate comfort, they need to go no further than the fireplace room in the Hormel-Nguyen Intercultural Center. With the comfiest and most relaxable couch on campus, multiple blankets free for use, and an artful, modern pseudo-fireplace, the room is by far the most Hygge place on campus. Just walking into the room makes me feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and taking a nap there feels like sleeping at home, warm during a winter’s night. But if I were to keep talking about the fireplace room, I’d take all day. 

An unexpected candidate for comfortable rooms is Parrish Parlors, and it’s becoming one of the premium napping spaces on campus. Touting the greatest number of couches per room, the Parrish Parlours are surprisingly cozy, especially if one is wandering between classes or looking for a quick nap. Some parts of Shane Lounge are similarly hygge, such as the two couch sectional with pillows, but the gray chairs and the circular tower seating areas are not as pleasurable. That is it: the two most Hygge spaces on campus. To be fair other spaces do have comfortable furniture, i.e. the chairs in Kohlberg lounge or the line of armchairs in Underhill, but there are very few truly comfortable spaces on campus. 

I understand that the school is trying to promote student “efficiency” and are trying to maintain a modern aesthetic, but they are going about it the wrong way. Hard and uncomfortable chairs do not increase student focus the way straight-backed chairs do not inspire good posture: there’s no basis for the argument that it’s to help us stay on task. Furthermore, modern and comfortable are not contrasting ideals, but the college chooses one over the other anyway. Swarthmore tends to leave most of the comfort to the students’ discretion in their rooms, but, with the busy lifestyle at Swarthmore, students spend much more time on campus and often don’t have time to relax in the comfort of their room between classes when stress levels are highest. Swarthmore is a community, not a workplace, so we should value comfort over visuals in order to support students and their large workloads.

As we construct new buildings and plan on redesigning new spaces, I encourage the student body and Swarthmore as a whole to plan with comfort in mind rather than blindly “Cornellifying” more spaces just so the college can put aesthetically pleasing pictures on their website. I’d love for more couches, armchairs, and recliners to be scattered around Swarthmore’s campus so that we can relax while doing our work rather than getting sore from sitting around on hard furniture all day. At the end of the day, if the spaces aren’t comfortable, then Swarthmore isn’t comfortable. Swarthmore is our home for the majority of the year, but it’s never been as cozy as a home should be. I would love to be able to crash on couches and collapse into chairs, finding warmth when school life is constantly driving us faster and faster. That is what I want for Swarthmore: for it to be a home not just in name, but in Hygge as well.

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