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Honoring the Open Book

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Humanities in Situ

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accents on english

Newsletter of the Department of English
at Arizona State University

Fall 2018-Spring 2019
Volume 22

Humanities in Situ

The sun bursts over the horizon not bothering with some filtering effect of east coast greenery, but immediately filling an enormous sky with incredible light. Textures and colors vibrate. On the ground plane and along the horizon every form takes on a hyperness, incredibly legible and overly important.

—Merrill Elam, Ross-Blakley Hall architect

Originally constructed as a law library in the early 1990s, Ross-Blakley Hall on the ASU Tempe campus is a jewel in the university's architectural crown. The building's midcentury-esque geometry nods to its Southwest environs, combining "exuberant" form with function.

Atlanta-based architect Merrill Elam took design cues directly from the building's site. "The Arizona desert landscape provokes mis-readings," she told Architectural Record magazine. "Plants look like animals, animals look like rocks, rocks look like animals, plants look like rocks, animals look like plants . . . eye foolers."

Ross-Blakley Hall provides some eye-foolers of its own. Inside, a landing between floors juts into nothingness at a distinct point, appearing as a ship's prow from which to overlook a sea of activity below. Outside, the west facade leans 7 degrees toward adjacent fields, softening the glare of the afternoon sun. Some observers see the resulting form as an "open book."

Whether or not these associations and images are intentioned, the humanities units at home in Ross-Blakley Hall—the Department of English, the Institute for Humanities Research, and the Humanities Lab—are glad to celebrate them in place.

Dramatic view of Ross-Blakley Hall tower / Photo by Bruce Matsunaga

Who were Ross and Blakley?

John J. Ross and William C. Blakley were Phoenix attorneys and ASU College of Law alumni who were killed in an airplane crash in 1987. The Ross and Blakley families raised contributions from friends, family, colleagues, and community members to name the building for the two best friends as a "living memorial." It was dedicated on Nov. 5, 1993.

"I can't think of a higher honor," one family member told the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix at the time of Ross-Blakley's dedication, "than being remembered in a center of learning."

Images of Ross-Blakley Hall's gallery space before the 2017 renovation (left) and after (right). / Photos by ASU Now

Who are the building's main occupants and what are their priorities?

The Department of English is The College's largest humanities academic unit, serving thousands of students each semester while producing original research and creative projects. English's high-use spaces in Ross-Blakley Hall include:

  • Community spaces (like the Seminar Room) for dozens of classes, festivals, performances, lectures, research presentations, conferences, poster sessions, readings, ceremonies, film screenings, professional development, team-building, fundraising + more each academic year.
  • Research spaces (Media Learning Lab, Journals Area, Audio Lab, Video Lab) include new technologies, equipment, and learning platforms.
  • Quiet spaces (Reading Room, Graduate Lounge, Enclaves) offer privacy and opportunity for individual and small group reading, writing, and reflection.
  • Neighborhoods and shared desk areas promote community and creativity.
  • 91 private offices for faculty and staff to complete research and intensive administrative work.

A student project takes place in the Ross-Blakley Hall gallery space. / Photo by Bruce Matsunaga

The Humanities Lab is a research lab engaging students in integrative, hands-on work to create solutions for 'wicked' global challenges. Its priority spaces include:

  • Lab equipped with stationary and moveable whiteboards for brainstorming, rough tables for building models or creating artwork, and media for facilitating local to global collaborations.
  • Humanities Huddle space is a team workroom with benches, tables, and whiteboards.
  • Private and shared workspaces for faculty and staff.

Students work in a Humanities Lab space in Ross-Blakley Hall. / Photo courtesy Humanities Lab.

The Institute for Humanities Research is a site for interdisciplinary conversations, fostering new humanities projects and research. Provides funding, workshops, grant assistance, and other resources to faculty and graduate students from colleges throughout the university. IHR's functional spaces include:

  • Community spaces, like the ThinkerSpace, that facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration among faculty, students and staff.
  • A Conference Room to host workshops and supporting humanities scholarship.
  • Study areas for researchers to advance flagship initiatives such as digital humanities, health humanities and desert humanities.

Faculty hold a meeting in the IHR's ThinkerSpace. / Photo courtesy the Institute for Humanities Research

The Campaign

The Department of English made its home in a renovated Ross-Blakley Hall in September 2017. With The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Institute for Humanities Research, and the Humanities Lab, English endeavors to name portions of the hall for donors and those whom donors choose to honor. With this help, we can fully realize the possibilities of our beautiful space—a unique campus destination—to fulfill our mission and goals in research, teaching and service to our communities. If you are interested in joining us, please reach out.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Image 1: Ross-Blakley Hall's 'open book' has 'pages' made of windows. Photo by Bruce Matsunaga.

Images 2-3: In the 2017 renovation, the 'gallery' space in Ross-Blakley Hall was transformed from a space for books (left) to a space for people (right) by removing the stacks and installing desks, dividers, additional lighting, and jubilant color. Photos by ASU Now.

Image 4: Professor Elenore Long's class installed an art exhibit in Ross-Blakley Hall's gallery, called "Selves in Systems." Photo by Bruce Matsunaga.

Image 5: Students work in a Humanities Lab space in Ross-Blakley Hall. Photo by Maureen Kobierowski.

Image 6: Faculty and staff members interact in the Institute for Humanities Research's ThinkerSpace. Photo by Lauren Whitby.