What does your home smell like? No, I don’t mean that apartment down the street with pizza boxes and empty Budweiser cans all over. I mean your home. That place where you watched cartoons, got yelled at by your parents and formed your memories. I remember my home. It was in Colombia, South America, where I lived for the first 15 years of my life. It was a home built of brick and stone, and dated back several generations since its construction. What I remember the most was the smell. That smell of roasted coffee beans in the morning and hot, moist brick in the afternoon.
Every time I returned, those were the smells that let me know I was home. Similarly, Webster has certain smells that speak of a scholarly past, of a time fermented in the walls of Webster Hall, Loretto and other surrounding “historic” buildings. As I look at the new Business and Technology building, I can’t help but think of the clean, sanitized smell it will have. It’s disgusting. Don’t get me wrong, it seems like it is going to be a beautiful building, with the best in technological and architectural features. It will, however, forever lack character. It will smell, I’m sure, of bleach and tile and sanitizer. But there isn’t an aroma less enjoyable than a new, fancy building. When I think of a university, I think of it as I think of a government building. I believe it should have a Romanesque or Greek feel to it, complete with old books hanging from the walls and bearded professors in patched jackets walking down the hall, pondering the most important philosophical questions of life — or staring at pretty young students. The marble columns, the spacious domes of mason and brick, these are the signs of a true American university. It should be ancient and learned, like the notion of education itself.
Maybe I am a romantic about the idea of a university, but I think they should be somewhat of a temple to education. A church for exploration of the mind, body and spirit. It should reek of the smell of the thousands there before you, the ones that came to worship. I never liked new churches either. As part of Webster University’s master plan — as the planning, designing and renovations of the college’s centenary structure is remodeled — I just ask those in charge to leave a little bit of the character that is left of this university. Leave us a few buildings with old wood and worn rocks. Since I left my house in South America, it was torn apart and made into a giant apartment complex.
The memories of that place I called home — the smells, the sounds and feelings — were all decimated in minutes by a wrecking ball. Here, the Pearson House and the Sam H. Priest Building sit on about 5 acres of land, and they are crumbling. Will these structures of smell and memory be demolished to make room for the new, the clean and the odorless? I hope not. I will never be able to return to the place I call home. It doesn’t exist. But I do, one day, want to return to this university, take a deep breath and remember the old memories I made here. I want to continue to feel at home.