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Black Mountain College Bulletin
Series 1, Number 6

BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE BULLETIN 6
THE BUILDING PROJECT AND WORK PROGRAM


 

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BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE   BULLETIN 6

THE BUILDING PROJECT AND WORK PROGRAM

 

In September, 1940, Black Mountaln College began construction,

largely with student and faculty labor, on the first unit of a com-

prehensive building program on its own property. The co-operative

building project--in 1940-41 of a seventy-five room modern build-

ing--not only assists in the solution of an economic problem but

also constitutes, through the work program, an extension of one of

the College's educational ideas.

 

The idea of some manual work for students is a corollary of the

College’s concept of general education. Voluntary practical activi-

ties, on different levels, have always been regarded as part of gen-

eral education and as indispensable to the full development of the

student. The participation by students in the present building pro-

ject is, then, the fruition of a fundamental idea rather than an in-

novation or a change in ideology. Nevertheless, the project is of

much greater scope than previous undertakings and plays a larger

role in the community life.

 

The work program does not interfere with academic study but

tends to enhance it through the general invigoration produced by

intelligently varied activity. Students volunteer for three to nine

hours of work a week, depending on their schedules and their

strength. Once they have signed up to work on fixed days, they are

expected to appear on those days unless illness prevents. Many

members of the faculty and staff also participate in the project on

the same basis. Thus it is a community enterprise and provides an-

other area for free and informal contact as well as a point of com-

mon interest.

 

The buildings were designed with a modern construction appro-

priate to non-professional workers. The program includes all types

of work that the erection of such buildings on a new site entails:

 

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land clearing, road building, (ditching. Landscaping, digging of wall

and pillar foundations, procuring of building stone, carpentry,

masonry, and, at a later stage wiring, plumbing, and other interior

finishing. The designing of furniture and textiles is also con-

templated.

 

Participation in the building program has shown itself to be val-

uable in many ways, the most obvious being the regular outdoor

exercise that it provides. For all students it is a broadening experi-

ence. Most do manual labor for the first time. The majority, by

doing the types of work that are the occupations and the means of

livelihood of a large section of the country's population, increase

to some degree their understanding of society, gain more respect for

skilled workmanship, and adopt a less superficial and more sym-

pathetic attitude toward necessary hard work and toward those who

perform it. The work program also affords an opportunity for the

development of resourcefulness, practical judgment, and the ability

to cope with certain kinds of emergency. As they do in craft work,

students may learn that materials have limitations and laws of their

own and that working with them requires discipline and technique.

Some students attain a fair degree of skill in one or more of the

types of work involved; and for most students the first-hand ac-

quaintance with modern architectural thought and materials is a

valuable experience, particularly since housing is so vital a na-

tional concern. Finally, they can see how individuals' efforts com-

bined into group activity can overcome difficult obstacles and

change a plan into a reality.

 

The co-operative aspect of the program should be emphasized not

only in regard to its educational benefits but also in regard to the

material economy which it effects. By undertaking most of the

labor itself, the community is helping to solve a pressing financial

problem and is making it possible for the College to move to its

own property in September, 1941. That this is so gives a seriousness

and a reality to the work which no manufactured enterprise could

give. One result is a strong morale, springing from a common pur-

pose and from the satisfaction of concrete achievement.

The relation of the work program to the academic curriculum is

contrapuntal rather than harmonic. There is, of course, a direct

laboratory connection with Architecture, and in some degree with

Art and Economics. But the main importance is in the opening of

another area of activity and experience. A student's studies may be

made less rarified: but the real point is that the student himself

may be made less so.

 

Supervision of the work program is in expert hands. The organiza-

tion and management of the volunteer work crews is handled by a

 

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(democratically chosen Work Committee of students and faculty;

and from day to day straw losses are made responsible for par-

ticular jobs. The well-known architect, Mr. A. Lawrence Kocher,

who is Visiting Professor of Architecture at the College and Resi-

dent Artist sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation, designed the

buildings and is superintending their erection. Mr. Charles Godfrey,

an experienced builder and contractor of Black Mountain, oversees

all actual construction and helps instruct workers. The chairman

of the Work Committee is Dr Richard Gothe, who was released by

the National Youth Commission to join the College's faculty as

Professor of Economics and to make a study, under the auspices of

the General Education Board, of the place of a work program in a

liberal arts college. Heading a steering committee to co-ordinate

all phases of the work program and the building project is Mr.

Theodore Dreier, Professor of Mathematics and Treasurer of the

College since its founding.

 

The particular synthesis of the Black Mountain experiment differs

in a number of respects from similar projects being tried and in

use elsewhere. The College believes that the conclusions reached

and the technique established may prove useful and applicable in

other institutions which, on the one hand, acknowledge some truth

in the contemporary cry for "practical education", but which, on

the other hand, do not wish to sacrifice any of the values of a lib-

eral arts education. The program also illustrates one manner in

which an institution, without detriment to its primary educational

function, may help itself economically, and this decrease the finan-

cial assistance which it needs from outside sources.

 

The architect’s sketch of the building begun in September, 1940,

appears on the first page of this bulletin. Designed to make the best

use of novice workers and of building materials on the property, it

will cost less than half of what it would cost if built by a contractor.

The ground floor, from the hillside to the terrace under the build-

ing, and the fire-tower, against the hillside, are of masonry in native

stone. The greater part of the blinding is supported by concrete

and steel columns in cantilever construction. The sheathing of the

outer walls is of large corrugated sheets of Transite, an asbestos

synthetic, the sections of which are easily screwed in place. The

continuous steel-sash windows are of the projecting type and run

almost the length of the two upper floors. The skeleton of the

building is timber, with inner walls of plywood over an acoustical

core. The roof is built of alternate layers of asphalt and heavy

building paper, gravel-surfaced for walking and for fireproofing.

This building is the largest of the group of four shown in the plan

on the back page, and contains sixty student studies, ten faculty

studies, and studios for the Art Department. The group of buildings

 

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is situated at the northwest edge of the lake, between the hillside

and the water. When buildings and landscaping are completed, the

two main wings of the group will roughly parallel the lakeshore, at

a distance of about twenty-five yards. The three other units that the

whole plan calls for--a second student studies building, a library,

and a small building for offices--will be constructed as rapidly as

finances and time permit. The first unit, together with the already

existing buildings and some faculty houses to be erected, will pro-

vide sufficient space to house the College during 1941-42. As the

other units are completed, the College can expand, and will be

modestly quartered for a number of years. At a later date it is

planned gradually to replace the old buildings (which are being

remodelled for present use) by the buildings designed in 1939 by

Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. This plan for growth avoids

waste, since the old buildings will be used as long as it is eco-

nomical, and all new buildings will fit into a comprehensive build-

ing scheme.

 

STUDENT

STUDIES

BUILDING

 

BLACK

MOUNTAIN

COLLEGE