Narples Design: A Couple Steps Forward and a Couple Steps Back

In the very act of writing this article, I am surprising myself. I never cared much about interior decoration or architecture. In fact, all throughout boarding school and college, the walls of my dorm room have resembled those of a sanatorium. This year, I put in slightly more effort by placing three of my friend’s drawings on the wall above my desk, where they sit as the only splashes of color in a sea of dirty white drywall. 

Thisat is all to say, I was surprised when I found myself actually having opinions about the architecture of the new Dining Center, colloquially called “Narples.” The building gives me the energy of a Silicon valley tech office trying to be “homier.” That may sound harsh, but it is not my intention to be unreasonably critical of the new building. Is it perfect? Far from it! But does it inspire hatred inside me? Not at all. 

First, let us look at the improvements I believe have been made from the old Sharples building. I love natural light, so I am very happy about the floor to ceiling walls. I also enjoy the higher ceilings, which provide a pleasant contrast to the dungeon-like atmosphere of Sharples.. Additionally, I enjoy that there is an outdoor seating area that resembles a balcony. Although it seats multiple groups of people, I feel there is a strong sense of privacy. The two outdoor tables outside Sharples were nice to sit at, but only when there weren’t overwhelmingly long streams of students coming from class rushing by you. Of course you could, and still can, eat on Parrish Beach, but I find eating outside on the ground uncomfortable. Last, but certainly not least, I can imagine that this facility is a much easier location for dining hall employees to work. Students’ criticisms of the dining hall almost always neglect to mention the experiences of the people who work hard to serve us, which really aggravates me. I can imagine that the newer appliances and open kitchen space help to create a better environment more conducive to the tasks they perform. For people who have to spend hours at a time in the dining hall, that is an invaluable improvement. 

Now, here are my gripes. The dining area increased, but it feels like seating did not increase proportionately. The options for single person seating are limited. You either have to take a table that could seat multiple people or eat on a small ledge on a high chair upstairs overlooking an entire booth that is usually full of people. The former option creates even less space for other people to sit with their friends, and the latter is extremely uncomfortable. I have never liked high chairs in general because the distance from the ground makes me feel like a big baby and they are awkward to get down from, but I understand that this is a matter of personal preference. However, that combined with the small surface area from which you have to eat is just not comfortable. On top of that, you have to make sure you keep your eyes down, lest you make awkward eye contact with the person(s) sitting in the booth below you. 

Additionally, as people with allergies have pointed out, cross-contamination of allergy-free food with regular food is an issue. For example, gluten can become airborne, and the gluten free station on the first floor is extremely close to the regular food stations. Speaking of the food stations, for some, the glass coverings are needlessly low, to the point where you have to reach your entire arm and shoulder (and even sometimes your head) under in order to reach food. This is simply contradictory to the purpose of a dining center. 

The Dining Center is certainly modern and sleek. However, it does not make sense to sacrifice function for aesthetics. The dining center’s construction was undoubtedly an attempt to rectify the problems of Sharples and Swarthmore infrastructure in general, i.e. the lack of spaces for students to gather. It definitely succeeded in some ways. However, above all, it seems like another showcase of the college’s financial might, which can be seen in flashy yet impractical design choices. Ultimately, I have noticed no difference in the amount of gathering done in the Dining Center as opposed to Sharples. It’s a cool building though.

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