Monday, August 27, 2007

Move In

There it was, the line of cars, all idling along 13th street. In them, piles of clothes, plastic bins, posters and expectant parents. Move-in had arrived at NYU.

It has been a long time since my own move-in. Eight years since I was that newly minted high schooler, embarking on college life. My move was a cross-country affair, limiting the amount of stuff I could bring on an airplane. (At least it was before the luggage restrictions of today’s friendly skies) It was with two suitcases in hand that I made my way to my freshman room dorm. Not much beyond clothes came along for the journey.

So I marveled at what came out of those minivans and SUVs that processed to the front doors of the NYU dorms. Like a clown car, where surreal numbers emerge from an impossibly small space, piles of things poured out. Pillows and sheets, musical instruments and lamps, computers, TVs, music systems, microwaves, mirrors and the odd stuffed animal – out they came, in plastic bags and suitcases, parents and siblings struggling under the weight of their college student’s over-stuffed cargo.


Despite the knowledge that a nomad life lies ahead, college students seem hell-bent on making sure that their dorm rooms effectively capture who they wish to be. The fresh start, the freedom, seems to exacerbate the need to individualize their new habitat, if only temporarily.

Ingenuity becomes the name of the game. With the strict policies leveled by universities over what can change, what must be returned in “original” condition, what can be attached to walls, ceilings, furniture, and what not, you quickly discover the available alternatives for making things stick. I believe 3M has created an entire product line for just such occasions. And with your blue wads of gummy adhesive, up go the things, both sentimental and cliché, which, despite your hopes of individuality, are likely going up on walls of universities and colleges all around the country. Trust me.

And yet, every fall, the same process inevitably repeats. Stores prepare for the rush, salivate at the numbers which will swarm their aisles for the latest in dorm accoutrements. Funky drawers and book cases, mirrors to hang on doors, colorful pillows or beanbags, a carpet or two – all bought by frantic parents in a chaotic spending spree. All done so that their soon to be adult children can shape their space, leave their mark, claim some ownership of their rented digs.

I have to admit that, beyond a photo frame or two, I left much of my room bare. It was an accurate reflection of my connection to my room. I mean, I slept there, maybe studied there late at night. But as I mentioned before, most of the time, I was across campus, hunkered over my drafting board, sweating under the heat of a western setting sun. My R.A. went so far as to informally disown me from the floor; as he put it, I was never around anyways.

Looking back, I see that the lack of connection between me and my dorm room was reflective of my general attitude towards school. I was disconnected throughout much of my first year, stuck between my dreams of escape and my refusal to believe that my college plans had not work out as I had imagined. I moved to college with a dreaded sense of inevitability – as though I had no other choice but to go and see. Excitement wasn’t really a part of my state of mind.

I remember vividly my first weekend after orientation. A friend from the summer was going shopping with her new roommate and invited me a long. Over the course of three hours, I watched these two girls buy matching glasses, plates, with complimentary sheets, a couple of throw pillows and floor rugs. They had thoroughly planned this shopping trip, sketched out, in detail, how they would decorate their new room together. Colors, accessories, the location of a new, full length mirror. We had no sooner arrived back at their room, bags in hand, than they began to unpack their space, moving the just purchased items to their appropriate “homes”. I knew right then that these two girls would be friends and roommates for the rest of school.

That should have been a revelation for my own frame of mind, but alas, I only recognized the importance of shaping my space later, about one year before I left my home in the ‘Burgh for my cross-Atlantic trek. It was only then did I feel settled, as though I had finally created a home for myself. Leaving it was hard.


So, maybe it is with a twinge of jealousy that I watched those happy kids, their piles of stuff in tow. They are off to create memories, good and bad, of a place they will inhabit only temporarily. And I hope that they do make it their own, if only for a year. Because the more it means to them, I believe, the better time they will have. A reminder to anyone that architecture is as much about the space created as it is the users who will occupy it.


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