Buildings That Teach is an ongoing series that looks at the buildings on campus and explores how the space around us plays a role in the teaching and learning process at Williams.
The Spencer Studio Art Building, now in its 17th year of operation, was built in 1996 by the award-winning-architect Carlos Jiménez. Constructed for the dedicated purpose of making, creating, and sharing thoughts and artworks, Spencer brings together the campus art community with a large, functional building featuring high ceilings, bare walls, and its own space for exhibition, the Wilde Gallery.
At the beginning of each semester, students come into the blank, open hallways of Spencer, and before long their work expands within the building. Paintings, drawings, diagrams, and color experiments are hung along every inch of the wall. “The student in one class learns from another student in another class through their shared experience of seeing one another’s work all around the building,” says Ed Epping, Alexander Falck Class of 1899 Professor of Art.
Dominique Rodriguez ’12 agrees. “Spencer encourages collaboration just by forcing you to interact, not necessarily with the other students, but with their work.” Rodriguez, a studio art and anthropology major, claims to spend more time in Spencer than in her own dorm room, and appreciates the opportunity the building’s design provides. “It’s kind of like the dog in a family with a bunch of rowdy kids,” she says. “You rough it up, dress it up, and push it to its limits, but in the end it always takes it and seems to return to how it looked before, ready for another round.”
Rodriguez definitely pushed the limits of Spencer last semester when she drew self-portraits straight onto the building’s walls. She jokes that even though she technically doesn’t have any studio space in Spencer, she and the custodians both know that the building itself—its stairwells, hallways, and walls—are her working space.
Before Spencer, students would make art in Goodrich, empty spaces in local Laundromats and garages, and the cellar of Greylock dining hall, which has no windows. Now, they find in Spencer an architectural manifestation of possibility and a coherent community of supportive professors and fellow art students. “The generosity of the space—size of the studios, openness of the entryway and hallway passages—communicates that there is room for people here,” says Epping. Rodriguez adds, “It is one of my favorite places to be.”