Turn Off the Lights In Here, Baby
By David Zheutlin '11
So I’m getting pretty excited for spring — you know, if it ever plans on coming. A time when we get to enjoy the benefits of warmth, a general lack of sleeves and the chance to break out those sunglasses and pretend that Pond Beach is a real beach. Gotta looove the chance to wear sunglasses.

I don’t, however, enjoy walking into a dorm and getting the feeling that my un-protected eyes are being assaulted by about 3,000 watts of brightness. And that’s the experience that I get, far too often nowadays, when I walk into some of our newer dorms and houses. I walked into Porter last night around 10 p.m., and noticed that for some reason there were about eight extremely bright lights on in the main foyer, in addition to the ceiling’s large fluorescent lights.

I reached for the light switch only to find out that when I flipped it down (presumably to turn these lights off), even more lights turned on! The public lighting options for residents or guests in Porter (or Hitchcock, or Seelye, or Mayo-Smith, among others), therefore, are either bright or REALLY REALLY BRIGHT.

For the students, those who actually inhabit these houses, the bright-or-nothing lighting situation is a real problem — one that I hope to address in this article. Porter’s custodian, Sokhom Pech, told me today that it’s easy to see, “there’s far too much light in here.” Apparently, Sokhom complained to the facilities department that in addition to being overly bright, the lights couldn’t be turned off. But, unfortunately, nothing was done — “the engineers must have made a mistake when they designed the lighting in here,” he said.

It does in fact seem, when you walk into some of these places on campus where the lighting is always too bright, that something was done incorrectly. Too much light gives a place like Porter, which has a gorgeous library and common space, the feeling of being antiseptic and “too new.” Issues of lighting, though not something we usually think about when we enter a house or dorm, must not be taken (please excuse the word choice here) lightly. Take a look around where you live, and you’ll realize that lights greatly impact our living experience.

The older houses and the Socials, by contrast, feature a variety of lighting options; and when it comes to living space, options are always good. Walk into Porter’s neighbor, Garman, for example, and you’ll be greeted by a softly-lit, comfortable old house that employs a number of different types of lighting (small floor lamps, chandeliers, candelabra on the walls and a few overhead fluorescent lights), all of which can be adjusted or turned off. You can even move the lamps around to decide which areas of the common room are best to light. It’s no surprise that this Garman place feels far more comfortable than, say, Hitchcock, Charles Pratt or your local CVS.

Certainly, bright lighting can be a good thing; it’s great for doing work, great to have in classrooms, and great in the library. But there are a number of times when students don’t want a ton of light. During the day, it’s nice to enjoy natural lighting from outside (and it saves energy!); at night, the option to have dimmer lighting can be particularly enjoyable. If you’re trying to host a party or other type of social event, you probably don’t want it to look like the A-level in Frost (not that A-lev isn’t a hopping party scene…). People feel more comfortable in warm, pleasant lighting, especially in their homes and places of leisure. Yet, the Physical Plant of the College has gone away from dimmable chandeliers and adjustable lamplight in favor of large, bright fluorescence that cannot be controlled, moved, or in many cases, turned off, by those using the space — the students.

Lighting isn’t everything, but it does completely change the way in which people experience a room, or a building as a whole. And the renovation process, whether intentionally or not, has made our houses brighter, whiter and shinier — qualities that tend to fit poorly with elegant Georgian houses built in the early twentieth century. Some people prefer bright lighting, but certainly not everyone does. And my concern is that the College has assumed two things: a) more lighting is better, and b) if some people like more light, then everyone must prefer more light.

For some, more lighting may be better for living — but without a doubt, this is not the case for everyone. We must not treat the lighting on campus as something that should uniformly be increased and brightened (plus, all lights on campus shouldn’t look the same). With such a diverse, quirky group of people at this school, isn’t it right to assume that people’s living preferences would differ? Some people like brightness, and some don’t; houses here need to embrace all types of people and all types of living styles. It starts with the lights.

But anyway, let’s get excited for spring and the chance to take advantage of warm weather and bright sunlight. Let’s just keep our indoor lighting to a minimum — and at least give us the option to adjust. Because when I walk into a house, day or night, I’d rather check my sunglasses at the door.

Issue 21, Submitted 2011-04-06 02:40:36