The majestic beast circa 1982

The majestic beast circa 1982

Ever noticed the aura of mystique surrounding Altschul Hall? Well, we did. Bwog sent Barnard Bearoness Maddie Stearn on a recon mission to find what lies behind Altschul’s harsh exterior. Her findings may surprise you. 

In case you didn’t know, Altschul is absolutely divine. It’s like 13 Rooms of Requirement stacked on top of each other, masquerading as a tower of brutalist architecture. Clearly I’m not referring to the Altschul Auditorium in SIPA (who would refer to that?), but to Altschul Hall on Barnard’s campus. Over the course of my mission I found my heart softening toward this misunderstood building. Maybe yours will too.

The Atrium: a space for whatever

I am extremely fond of the atrium, but I usually only remember to go there when I have no place to eat my pizza in the Diana. Once I end up in the atrium, though, I am extremely content. Those floor-to-ceiling windows do wonders for my Seasonal Affective Disorder (ugh, winter). If the sun hits you just right as you’re reclining in one of the green chairs then you can close your eyes and kind of pretend that spring is coming.

The atrium is also like a freaking chameleon because I have yet to find a purpose it cannot serve. For example, it can be a…

  • …wicked dance space. Tango Club knows what’s up.
  • …concert hall. There’s a piano for your musical needs.
  • …romantic date setting. Short on cash? Unable to brave the cold? Go to the atrium and enjoy some sexy easy-mac while gazing into your date’s eyes.
  • …circus venue. Really, who is stopping you?

3rd Floor: should be called the 2nd floor

Seriously, this numbering system is absurd. Why would you call the basement the first floor? Ok, the lobby makes sense, but my heart tells me that the first floor should come after the lobby. But whatever, I’m not bitter.

The second floor third floor is a mixed bag, but in the best way possible. It’s a little disappointing when you realize that it is basically just another entrance to the large auditorium downstairs. The good news is that the enormous blackboard wall and cute tables definitely make up for the disappointment.

4th Floor: the best floor you will ever meet

The EnviSci floor is the crowd favorite because who can compete with a fish tank? In case that’s not enough, there are also plants everywhere, various rock and wood displays, and a few skeletons. The 4th floor really covers all of the bases.

5th Floor: you only think it’s normal

You step out of the elevator and the 5th floor looks unexceptional. You think you’ve arrived at the not-fun floor. Sad. Out of the corner of your eye you catch a glimpse of something bright. You walk down the hallway, turn, and suddenly EVERYTHING IS BLUE. The 5th floor has now become that friend you once underestimated but who turned out to be a world champion in parkour.

6th – 8th Floors: clearly everyone loves chemistry the best

I have to admit that these three floors started blending together pretty quickly. I had a moment when I was traveling to the 8th floor and was hoping it wasn’t more chemistry. It was. At least all of the walls looked like sunshine. The Chemistry department’s decorating game is also very on point. See bottom of this post for the full visual experience.

However, if you think Floors 6-8 are just for chem aficionados, think again! There’s a nice selection of seating on all of these floors. Pick your poison.

Note: these floors were recently renovated, so everything looks extra pristine.

9th – 13th Floors: Biology won some competition

Seriously, how did the Bio department manage to commandeer 4 whole floors? I may have misinterpreted the purpose of the 9th floor, though. There’s a distinct possibility that it is a mix of bio and chem, but I’m having a Brian Williams moment and my memory is failing me.

One thing I’m sure of, however, is that the bio floors are a little frightening. The walls hum/buzz because there are these rooms that serve a purpose that is beyond me. One had plants in it (see photo gallery). I’m also afraid of the chemical showers outside of these rooms. I have always been afraid of such showers.

The 12th floor looks like the bio department’s less successful sibling. Lots of family tension. The 13th floor is clearly the most successful family member.

Note: I have my “Gender and Power in China” class on the 9th Floor. I don’t know why we meet there, but I dig the enormous windows in the classroom.

In conclusion…

I’m glad that I visited Altschul at night because I’m terrified of heights and the view from the 13th Floor would have been a lot to handle. Other than the sheer size of the building, it’s very welcoming. I’m definitely going to take advantage of the ample seating in the future.


Our old friend via Barnard Digital Collections