The concrete monster


During my daily tour of Gemini (read: trip to the bathroom to delay working), it suddenly struck me that Gemini is actually an extraordinary ugly building. Perhaps it's the effect of the monolithic concrete pillars bearing the scars of years of water damage, the sprawling mass of cables and the sinister labeled pipes running across the unfinished ceiling, or the bright yellow office doors that contrast so nicely with the grey concrete.

Despite all this, I am happy that my department (for the time being) is still housed in Gemini, and not in Atlas. It's late in the day to be complaining about Atlas, but still it has to be said: Atlas feels like an amalgam of the worst features of MetaForum. Like the upper floors of MetaForum, Atlas is a maze of confusing signage, while simultaneously managing to have gaping holes in its floors, like the library, that give sound endless space to roam. A hellish combination.

The illumination is ‘smart’, but in practice this means only that the light switch is more complicated that it should be (the user instructions run to 41 pages) and that if you sit still for too long at a table in the evening, you will be suddenly cloaked in darkness (since you can't turn the lights off yourself). Even the windows are special: they glide dramatically out of their hinges powered by an automatic system, at the press of a button. An engineer's wet dream.

Say what you will about Gemini - the lavatories stink, all the window panes are still single-glazed, the radiators are old-fashioned - but here you can still open a window by hand, without first having to listen to twenty seconds of hinges and chains winding into action in an overengineered system. We do at least still have offices instead of open-plan spaces where the dream of ‘intellectual cross-fertilization in the work place’ so often dies a death because everyone is wearing earphones.

With the forthcoming renovation of Gemini, the designers have a chance to leave a building with a highly pragmatic design just as it is. It's a little naive to assume that Gemini won't suffer the same fate as Atlas, but a man can dream. My advice would be to update what needs updating, but to make sure that a light switch is still a light switch, and that means it has only one button.  

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