Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I’ve been at the University of Michigan for a relatively long time. Those of us who did undergrad here (and stayed for medical school) remember that the Life Sciences Institute used to be a ratty looking collection of buildings and parking lots, and then a giant hole in the ground, all before it sprang to life as a modern, highly stylized (and debatably tasteful) new building. We may remember being in the LSA building during our first few weeks on campus, but I was shocked just last year when I realized that it was, in fact, finally completed after nearly 4.5 years of construction and inside it was beautiful (contrasting starkly with my first impressions of it). We’ve witnessed countless expansions on this campus, all of which start with knocking things down and digging holes, and we’ll be here for many more (I perhaps more than most of my classmates - yay for the MSTP!). As I was driving home the other day, I was struck by the balance between knocking buildings down to build new ones and improving the ones we have. Within a few short blocks on State St. (central campus), one can see expansions underway on both the UM Museum of Art and the Kelsey Archeological Museum (both of which are at the huge hole stage, but did not involve knocking buildings down) as well as the newly initiated demolition of the Frieze building (pictured above).

This made me pause, and reflect on my almost reflex nostalgia. Was the Frieze building really all that great? You see, as an undergraduate, I had a huge number of my classes in the Frieze building. It housed many of the foreign language departments. It was also one of the most distant buildings from my dorm, and I resented it on many frigid mornings. And the heating never worked very well so it was either still icy inside, or heated to the level that I would classify as blazing inferno. And it was laid out so poorly that you could identify those people who had never had classes there before by their frustrated looks, angry mutterings, and their unusually brisk pace. The Frieze Building apparently started out life as a high school, and was acquired by the university sometime later. From there, it was added on to and adjusted, never quite fitting the bill for a university building, but never so outrageously unworkable to have merited total destruction and rebuilding. Now, needs have changed and the site is destined to become a dorm. I guess that seems reasonable enough to me.

This never-ending sequence of renovation, demolition, and construction can at times be disturbing, but perhaps models the rest of life eerily well. Each day is like an evaluation, whether it’s of a job, of a relationship, of school, of anything, honestly - deciding whether it’s beautiful and functional just as it is, just alright how it is for a few more years, whether it needs a few little touch-ups and it will do, or whether the time has come for a massive overhaul. Especially during board studying, during the desperate moments where each of us questions everything about our lives, we wonder where on that spectrum our lives fit: whether it’s worth the misery of sitting in the library for 8-12 hours every day, whether it’s worth having to work so hard to squeeze in time with family and friends, and frankly, whether we aren’t doing more demolition than construction during this study period. And yet, here I am, on another morning, ready to head out with my books/flashcards/notes. Must be working well enough.

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