Let's face it, architecture that has an impact or takes a risk has rarely been a priority in Madison. Maybe it's because we're a process town, with lots of committees. Maybe it's because we lack the kind of public figures with the imagination, political clout and deep pockets that seem to be required to bring a vision of excellence into being. Maybe it's because we're more into development than esthetics.
Whatever the reason, we go for base hits rather than home runs, and even playing the short game we rarely break .200. While Milwaukee gets the world-renowned Santiago Calatrava Milwaukee Art Museum addition, we spend roughly the same amount of (Jerry Frautschi's) money to come up with the Cesar Pelli Overture Center, architecturally humdrum whatever its merits as a facility. With a few exceptions, this is true of the city of Madison, and it's true of the University of Wisconsin.
Especially the University. I snapped the above photo from the Southwest Bike Path over the weekend. It shows Dayton Street Hall, the new University of Wisconsin dorm that has sprouted up at Park and West Dayton. To my eye, it looks as grim as a Brezhnev-era Moscow apartment block in the old Soviet Union. Maybe it's just me. Wandering off to the University's website in search of a more balanced view, I came across their Dayton Street Hall dormcam, but, if anything, this view makes it look even more ugly and barren (click on the link to stream a view of the action.)
I know a lot of planning went into it. I know because the University has a comprehensive Master Plan and an even more comprehensive website dedicated to explaining just how exciting it is.
"This moment allows us to use our imaginations to envision a campus that is more workable, more livable and more sustainable — and one that will carry our teaching, research and service mission into the future." -- Chancellor John D. WileyIf only comprehensive Master Plans could guarantee great architecture, we'd be in great shape.