In Defense of…Squares

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It’s the return of “In Defense Of…” Here, a writer defends something that most students consider useless, inferior, or downright loathsome. In doing so, Bwog hopes to bring you a new perspective, and give the subject the appreciation it deserves…or not. For the first installment of the new year, daily editor Liz Naiden defends all those squares making your route to class hell.

One of the first great discoveries of a Columbia education is that you cannot walk diagonally to class. First-years quickly realize that all their manifold achievements and superpowers will not teleport them through the hedges and fences surrounding the South Lawns.  It’s equally impossible to cross the upper half of the campus, because Low, raised on high, prevents all attempts at diagonal movement. You can’t even walk through it diagonally in the basement; like a mouse in a maze, you’ll be forced by the layout to walk a right angle in order to emerge from the exit catty-corner to the one you entered through. It’s even impossible to walk through small spaces like the Fayerweather/Avery courtyard diagonally. In fact, the one area on campus that has diagonals is Lerner, where, we can all agree, they are thoroughly useless.

Few people manage to make it through four years at Columbia without at least once complaining about this injustice. The annoyance of running late to class is only exacerbated by the realization that there are almost no shortcuts to that destination, only long cuts. But while we all share the outrage, the right angles probably aren’t as responsible for all those tardy marks as you might think, and its other benefits more than make up for lost time.

First, the actual time lost is probably less than you thought. Bwog Stopwatch Specialists have calculated that the lack of diagonal route between Lerner and Hamilton costs you fewer than thirty seconds. For those counting the seconds, Bwog recommends walking up the side of campus rather than past Butler – several seconds shorter and no deceptively slippery metal ramps.

Second, the straight paths actually trick us into acknowledge one another by forcing us to walk together. During certain times of the day it’s hard to ignore the resemblance of College Walk and other paths to busy two-way Manhattan streets. Could this many people really avoid bumping into each other as often as we do now if we were all on our own trajectories of variant and rebellious angles? Put it this way: if we all walked our own little lawn paths, it’d be even easier than it is now to forget our common goals.

But most importantly, while the practical (and metaphorical) implications of Columbia’s square-ness can be irksome, it is in times like these that we must recall the grand aesthetic purpose behind the angles. The architects threw neo-classicism, the Beaux-arts boulevards of Paris, and popular rejection of irregular, cramped, dirty urban spaces into a hopper to create what we got: a good old-fashioned roman forum (the only space on campus you can walk diagonally) and a block-like system of North-South, East-West pedestrian corridors for maximum efficiency. While Butler, Low, and the other grand old buildings of the campus are stately enough, these rigid paths to campus complete the look that so many love. If nothing else, think of that thirty extra seconds not only as a time to reflect, but as a small sacrifice to the aesthetic gods, as gratitude for having, you know, an actual campus.

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  1. harmony hunter  

    is butler close to it?

  2. red  


  3. Anonymous  

    all these years i thought i was alone in my complaints of Columbia's anti-diagonal policy.

  4. patrick  

    it's not just about the pleasure of conformity and the importance of trends, it's also a personal statement about the band itself

  5. Patrick Bateman

    You like Huey Lewis and the News?

    Paul Allen: They're OK.

    Their early work was a little too...New Wave for my taste, but when Sports came out in '83, I think they really came into their own, commercially and artistically.

    The whole album has a clear, crisp sound and a new sheen of consummate professionalism that really gives the songs a big boost.

    He's been compared to Elvis Costello, but I think Huey has a far more bitter, cynical sense of humor.

    Paul Allen: Hey Halberstram.
    PB: Yes, Allen?
    PA: Why are there copies of the Style section all over the place...d-do you have a dog? A little chow or something? LOL!
    PB: No, Allen.
    PA: Is that a raincoat?
    PB: Yes, it is!

    In '87, Huey released this: Fore! their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is "Hip to be Square", a song so catchy, most people probably don't listen to the lyrics, but they should (grabs axe) because it's not just about the pleasures of conformity and the importance of trends, it's also a personal statement about the band itself.

    Hey Paul!





  6. Harmony Hunter  

    Can't we all just get along? Let's build the world a home, and furnish it with love. We can grow apple trees and honey bees, and snow-white turtle doves. Maybe teach the world to sing.

  7. Running into people =  

    the best thing about Columbia, quite possibly.

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