Letter: The oppressive architecture of Friley Hall

The architecture around us has an immense psychological impact on our behavior, attitude and thoughts. For this reason, I find it problematic that Friley Hall looks so characteristically like a foreboding 19th century penitentiary near the heart of our campus.

The key features are there: a castle-like structure with a steep pitched roof and dormers protruding from the slate-colored shingles. The long uniform corridors zig and zag to create a maze of similarity.

Seen from above, the building wraps around Helser Hall and the Union Drive Community Center. This proximity creates a large main courtyard. Then there are jagged external crevices created by the internal workings of the maze.

These courtyards are presumably for the prisoners — excuse me, I mean students — to experience recreation when walking from the canteen to their cells. There is even a moat-like dugout between the sidewalk and the walls at certain points.

When we see images, a natural phenomenon occurs where any associations our mind has with the image come rushing forward. It is a resource used often in art history to support links between artists or artwork.

When I look at Friley Hall, especially a black and white photographic reproduction of the building, I cannot help but associate it with an old photograph of the entrance to the Missouri State Penitentiary. Physical similarities are present: the brickwork, the pitch of the roof, the spacing of the windows, etc. Even the doorways of Friley look incredibly similar to this 19th century penitentiary.

There is a certain notoriety to the Missouri State Penitentiary though. It closed in 2004 and was the oldest running penitentiary in the western half of the United States during its time. It opened in 1836 and, as such, has all sorts of horror and ghost stories connected to it. Many famous prisoners passed through it, including James Earl Ray, the murderer who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. If you have read or heard any of these stories, then the photograph of the penitentiary takes on an entirely new aura.

Each blank window represents the lives of all who have been imprisoned there. You can look at any one of the windows and say that heinous criminals have lived and suffered in that room.

If you are more sympathetic, then you might wonder about all the solitude that has been experienced in those rooms. Incarcerated people who are surrounded by others similar to them but are isolated in their cells. These are the thoughts that run through my head whenever I see the photograph of the Missouri State Penitentiary. I cannot help relating these feelings to Friley Hall whenever I walk through campus or come across an old photograph of the building.

It started one late night when I was walking on Lincoln Way toward Welch and I looked across the street to see the sprawling, oppressive architecture of Friley Hall again. It was during the summer, so all the lights in the windows were off. It was dark, but not dark enough to obscure the outlines of the windows.

That rush of association came to me and I thought of the penitentiary and the lives of all who have lived in the rooms of Friley Hall. The building has been on our campus since 1927. A good portion of every freshman class and even some sophomores, juniors and seniors have resided in Friley. It has most likely also seen a lot of solitude and possibly even some heinous criminals like the Missouri State Penitentiary.

Once more, I would like to reiterate that the architecture around us has an immense psychological impact on our behavior, attitude and thoughts. Even if you have never seen the obscure photograph of the entrance to the Missouri State Penitentiary, you are likely to associate the prison-like architecture of Friley in a way that is counterintuitive to our learning environment. A prison is meant to reform criminal habits, but a university is meant to promote educational practice.