Before man could walk, he crawled, and before he could crawl, he swam—he swam like a fish because he was a fish. That’s right, I’m talking about 419-ish million years ago. Get your flippers ready, folks, we’re about to go full Devonian.
Many of us have seen Ferris. Some of us have even gone inside, fewer have eaten there, and even fewer have managed to find a seat. It sucks. All of us can recognize that Ferris is far behind its competitors in spatial efficiency and dining prowess.
JJ’s? Fried food galore. John Jay and Hewitt? More seating. Diana? Any bowl is a goal. Chef Mike’s and Chef Don’s? Italian-coded. And Faculty House? Boujie. Ferris Booth Commons lacks exigency—it lacks enough food, it lacks enough seating. Really, why is it viewed as some equal power to John Jay?
The only thing Ferris does have is a nice view of Southfield. Of all the architectural features of Lerner Hall’s architecture, the curtain wall framing Ferris reigns first. You can see outside and, most importantly for this plan, you can see inside it. From an outside view, we get a spectacular 90º of perspective, with only two structural pillars blocking our way.
Perfect—perfect for an aquarium installation. And I’m not talking about the only wall and save the seating and server inside. I’m saying to transform the entire dining hall into an aquarium. Every. Square. Inch.
I can already hear the critique.
“We’re already stressed for seats, doesn’t this make it worse?”
“Isn’t it inhumane for animals to be kept in the labyrinthine of Ferris?”
Are we not animals ourselves? Do we not all sing in God’s Earthly vivarium choir? Are we not tortured too, then?
“Why an aquarium?”
I’m so glad you asked. There are several reasons why turning Ferris Booth Commons into an aquarium is a great idea. As much as Ferris is lagging in the food department, it lags even further behind in the aquatic department. Honestly, all dining halls do, maybe except for this fish phase John Jay is currently in every dinner. By stripping Ferris of all its dining responsibilities and turning it into a giant fish tank, the space would now provide a unique and exciting atmosphere for students to enjoy. Hell, even people walking by would get a kick after they see a great white shark swim by the glass panels!
And while you, the average reader, may see the obvious genius here, I know that the general well-being of students would never convince the board of trustees. For that, I say that large aquariums like the Georgia Aquarium and the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium attract millions of visitors each year. While Ferris Booth Aquarium is barely a fraction of the size of those aquariums, it would certainly be interesting, and that brings attention too. Ferris could become a major attraction, drawing attention and visitors to campus. I can already see the merch now: “Roar, Lionfish, Roar!”
In fact, turning Ferris into an aquarium would be a bold and innovative move, demonstrating a willingness to think outside the glass box and try new things. This would really put Columbia on the map—who cares about being one of the oldest colleges in the United States or a part of the Ivy League? That was good branding in the ancient age of Tommy Hilfiger culture. Now? Now people want the absurd. They want the school that made an illogical decision just because they could—like turning a major dining hall into an aquarium. If we can’t get #2 on the US News College Ranking, surely we can get #1 on the US News Aquarium Ranking.
Ferris, and really Lerner as a whole, have been a common source of bemoaning. Yes, it’s unintuitively laid out, has few third places for students, and only serves as an attempt for aging insulation to appear modern. So why keep it? It’s not like we’d actually lose any space if we turn whatever many square feet the building is into a gigantic aquarium. I actually think the building would experience a renaissance as the center of student life on campus.
Imagine this: you’re sitting on Furnald lawn and watching seaweed leaves dance in a current produced by a beluga whale. Or maybe a school of fish rushing to get to their silly little fish class. Or perhaps a Sealion (SEAS LION!) to throw a bone at the engineers. Oh, oh yes! And a touch tank. And a jellyfish room. And so much more. We could have it all–we could! Everything we ever wanted. Our multi-billion dollar endowment is chugging along nicely, so why not spare a little for an aquarium?
Lerner Hall via Columbia Facilities, Georgia Aquarium via Wikimedia Commons