Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Is UMass really that ugly?

UMass ranked 13th least beautiful
(Collegian file photo)

What makes University of Massachusetts so beautiful is perhaps the basis for why many think it’s not: the eclecticism and incongruity of each part of the campus. Often, college campuses are seen as more beautiful than others when every single building shares the same neogothic architecture, like Yale, or when it is guided by a common culture, like Brigham Young University. But UMass rests in the center of the Pioneer Valley and brings people from all walks of life together, could it really get any better? The answer is no, it can’t. So why isn’t UMass perceived as beautiful?

Every year the Princeton Review interviews more than 140,000 students across 385 colleges on 80 questions. These range from the quality of food to how beautiful they think their campus is. This means that among the students interviewed at UMass, many of them answered “Poor” to the question “How do you rate the beauty of your campus?” As a result, UMass ranked 13 on a list of the least beautiful campuses.

Although schools like Duke University and University of California at Los Angeles are beautiful in their commitment to architectural consistency and formality, there is also something beautiful in the lack thereof here on the UMass Amherst campus.

One of the colorful aspects of UMass is that each area of campus boasts a different form of architecture, personality and subculture. Schools like Elon and Vanderbilt, which top the “Most Beautiful Campus” list at #1 and #5 respectively, win praise from student voters because each campus maintains a level of symmetry. The omnipresent obligation to “Keep campus spick and span!” inhibits students from expressing their personality and creativity on their very own campus.

What the University of Massachusetts does so beautifully is it finds a way to draw so many individual pictures into one painting. With six different residential areas on campus UMass fosters six different environments for students to create their own niches. Students in Northeast bond over their beautiful dorm buildings while students in Orchard Hill bond over their distaste for walking up hills. Regardless of the attributes that make their living community unique, students from all reaches of campus bond over their shared love of UMass.

In painting the masterpiece that is UMass, ultimately it is the students who add the finest details – from loud hall conversations at two in the morning in Southwest to the graffiti mural located snug in the middle of Central. These seemingly minor additions contribute to a much larger picture. Student-made contributions, physical and vocal, are what add to the campus’ beauty. This, then, begs the question: “What makes your residential area beautiful?”

Chloe Mitchell, a freshman political science major, answered, “What I love about Southwest is that everyone here is very social. No matter where you are in Southwest someone is rollerblading or socializing with their friends. It’s just a very welcoming environment.”

Although Southwest doesn’t offer the prettiest views on campus, it fosters an environment for socializing like no other residential area. Physically speaking, many of the buildings in Southwest are designed so that they hug one another, giving students the opportunity to meet people right outside their hall.

A mile walk to the north of Southwest will bring you to Central where compensation for the lack of interactions comes in the form of graffiti. Located just in between Brett and Wheeler Hall is a wall covered by student artwork. Donned “the graffiti wall,” it serves as a form of expression for students who want to send a message or simply create a unique design. Unlike schools that value architectural accordance and regulated student opinions, UMass encourages its students to add a little to the buildings here and to speak out a little there.

UMass may not have the prettiest buildings, nor does everybody walk, talk and look the same. Butthat’s where true charm of the campus lies: in the inconsistency, the lack of beauty and the gap rather than the filling. This year the university accepted its largest class of students yet, meaning 5,800 new freshmen have come to campus this year to share their voices at two in the morning in Southwest and make art on the graffiti wall in Central. Invite the 13th “Least Beautiful Campus” title, welcome the grass that surpasses the curb and remember the campus is beautiful for what students add to it, not what’s already there.

Max Schwartz is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected].

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  • B

    BenNov 27, 2020 at 11:13 pm

    I attended Hampshire College nearby UMass/Amherst, but I spent a LOT of time on the University campus for meetings, social activities, classes, theater performances and film screenings, readings and workshops and practicums. UMass/Amherst actually has an amazing campus with world-class facilities.

    It isn’t the most hideous university campus I’ve ever seen, although I do commiserate about what people are saying about the ugly and harsh brutalist architecture, but UMass/Amherst’s more classical architecture balances that out.

    I was even offered an MFA fellowship at UMass/Amherst for grad school, before I’d graduated from Hampshire. It’s a good university, with a vibrant campus, and for a large state university has an amazing amount of arts and culture.

  • F

    FiApr 3, 2020 at 5:08 pm

    Despite the eyesores that are fine arts building and Hotel UMass, the campus still remains the most beautiful of all campuses across the country. Missing my school, home away from home ❤️

  • M

    mark speckSep 26, 2019 at 5:01 pm

    I loved the campus when I attended. I lived in Brett in Central. The buildings are what they were designed for. Think of the mentality of the designers building multi use places. The only place they messed up was the old water plant on top of campus. Start using bucolic pics of the farm and the river and watch perceptions change.

  • L

    liz freeman, class of 68Sep 17, 2019 at 9:57 pm

    There are some ugly buildings like the Admin Bldg that looks like a fort… and maybe in the 60s the president and deans did need protection from the protests happening. And I’ll say I hated when I lived on the 7th floor in Orchard Hill and the elevator didn’t work.. but coming down the hill in fall, winter, and spring was often beautiful and made me glad I chose the campus surrounded by countryside. like a Brigadoon.

  • A

    Anthony KingSep 17, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    umass was very beautiful when I attended back in the 70s. It seems that way to me. I thought southwest with its towers was beautiful and reminded me of the sky line of some of America’s famous cities like NYC, Boston, and Chicago. Umass forever!

  • C

    Christine chapinSep 17, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    I am at umass in Dartmouth mass and it has lush green grass and many great areas the campus center is a hub of activity always and at anytime you can find a friend or make a new one here as a commuter student who is older 53 I find this campus wonderful and Beutiful …..its beauty is in its diverse student body and its surroundings. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder …in many cases.

  • P

    PcSep 17, 2019 at 8:50 am

    The article misses the mark on why students find the look of the campus to be ugly. A campus does not need to be formal, symmetrical or consistent in architectural style to be an inviting place to live or learn. The biggest problem with UMass is the core of the campus is littered with hulking brutalist buildings that are not spatially orientated with each other or any other campus buildings. Students find the buildings to be severe, and uninviting. Cold war Soviet style architecture typically does not make for a pleasant space to be nor does it enhance creativity or ones sense of individuality.

  • G

    GeorgeSep 17, 2019 at 12:13 am

    Personally I hate the look of the cold war era brutalist buildings like the Fine arts center, Whitmore, and the umass hotel.

  • D

    DanSep 16, 2019 at 10:32 pm

    My brother went to a beautiful undergraduate college and then grad school with an unattractive campus. When he came to pick me up at the end of one semester and we were walking along the pond between Northeast and the Fine Arts Center, he remarked how nice the campus was and how much he missed being on a nice campus.

  • M

    MehdiSep 16, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    Well written piece, I mostly agree. Must point out that the crazy amount of construction on campus especially around the old SU building is definitely contributing to the ugliness.

  • I

    Its educationalSep 16, 2019 at 12:51 pm

    Its great that we have a lot of critical thought coming out of the university magazine. UMass is really a beacon of free thought, that’s why there are so many unbiased opinions coming from it’s magazine, and student body. Why don’t you just have the architects of your constant 6 new building projects write your articles for you? UMass does the opposite of foster a “subculture” it tries to rid all subculture from a 20 mile radius.