When alumni talk about their experiences as students in the Geography Department, they often speak of the fondness they have for Science Hall itself. Unique in character and steeped in history, Science Hall is a place where attachments are easily formed.
Once home to all nearly all sciences on the UW–Madison campus, Science Hall has always our department’s home—formally splitting from Geology (an original building inhabitant in 1888) to form a separate department in 1928. So it was with great pride that the Geography Department hosted a celebration of the 125th Anniversary of Science Hall last semester with alumni, friends, and residents (past and present) of this historic building.
On the evening of October 30th we celebrated with public building tours, presentations, and a reception in our beautiful Robinson Map Library. Complimentary copies of Clarence Olmstead’s Science Hall: The First Century pamphlets were reprinted for the occasion, and a new (and developing) blog was launched to invites you to share your own memories of Science Hall.
Building staff led historic building tours that took attendees back in time to what existed here before the turn of the 20th century and shared some of the great lore and traditions that have been passed down through the years.
Stories of the former slides in the Science Hall turrets are always a popular topic—and there were quite a few attending alumni who were there to remember and share their own stories of slide escapades!
UW Archivist, David Null, took us through Science Hall’s rich and interesting past with a presentation of historic photos, stories of former inhabitants, and tales of bygone days. He also cleared up some common building myths—no, Frank Lloyd Wright was not a student assistant to the Civil Engineering professor who designed and oversaw the building construction, although Wright’s mother did get him a job on the project as a laborer.
Since our event was so close to Halloween, we would have been remiss without acknowledging tales of the “darker side” of Science Hall and our “Haunted Science Hall” tour was a big hit! This special building tour drew quite a crowd—mostly students from all over campus—who explored some of the more hidden and quirky parts of Science Hall and learned how it earned its spooky reputation.
Enjoy this video about our “haunted tour” from the Badger Herald.
But the night was not just about looking back at history. We also had an eye toward the future of our department home.
Architect and engineering manager, Angela Pakes Ahlman, of the UW–Madison Office of Sustainability, gave an inspiring presentation on moving historic buildings into the future. Pakes Ahlman has led a number of high-profile campus building renovations, including that of our historic Bascom Hill neighbor—the beautifully renovated, LEED-certified Education Building. She shared her experiences on the challenges and opportunities of bringing our architectural legacy into the 21st century in a way that complements UW’s environmental mission.
While there are no concrete plans for Science Hall renovations at this time, we wanted to start that conversation with those who care about the future of this special place.