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A circular labyrinth is embedded in the east patio of the University of Utah's new humanities building, an airy four-story structure sheathed in sandstone, green-hued steel and glass.
In a fitting metaphor for the academic pursuits that comprise the very soul of a liberal education, you can follow the maze's passages in an infinite number of ways.
"To master the humanities is to recognize there is always more to master. It is learning that lasts a lifetime, the gift of the eternal quest for improvement," said U. humanities Dean Robert Newman on Friday at a candlelit ceremony dedicating the $16.5 million building.
"So we have created what Virgil referred to as 'the Genius of the Place,' a building designed to encourage both convocation and contemplation, full of natural illumination to inspire an illumination of our world. Here we will think, converse and debate, but also we will walk the labyrinth, look up to the mountains, and listen to the birds," he said.
The art-filled building marks a new "beautiful centerpiece" of the U. campus, Newman said, designed to facilitate "the often-uneasy dialogues between self and society" that characterize the humanities.
"I just want to sign up all over again," said the building's namesake, the Right Rev. Carolyn Tanner Irish, an Episcopal bishop and scion of the Tanner family, whose corporate money helped fund the building. "Obert [Tanner, Irish's late father] believed that beauty is not only pleasing, but good for us. It has a way of stilling our busy-ness and opening our imagination."
The College of Humanities houses six departments - English, history, philosophy, languages and literature, linguistics and communication - and 13 centers and programs, such as the renowned Middle East Center and Tanner Humanities Center, which celebrated its 20th anniversary Friday.
"We have built so many programs in the last seven years and we are scattered all over the campus. Now we are at the hub of the campus," said Newman, an English professor with expertise in 20th century literature, in an interview.
"The nature of the humanities is spontaneous conversation, collaboration, convocation and general interaction. Being scattered at the periphery, it was difficult for people to have those kinds of conversations."
Now the college, which awards one-fifth of the U.'s diplomas, is consolidated at the geographic center of campus in the new building and the neighboring Language and Communication Building, known as LNCO (pronounced "linko").
"This building occupies the spatial center of campus which is appropriate because the humanities is the symbolic center of the university," said Newman, who played a central role in designing the Tanner building with the Salt Lake City architectural firm Cooper Roberts Simonsen Associates.
The main entrance has large transparent doors that open into a lobby with glass walls. Even the stair treads are made of glass, maximizing the transmission of natural light.
"You come up wide stairways in a grand lobby, where there is lounging area for students to gather and share ideas," said architect Allen Roberts. "You can watch people move through the building vertically."
The building meets green standards equivalent to a high silver or low gold LEED rating, Roberts said, an investment that added 5 to 7 percent to the cost of the project. By forgoing certification, the U. saved about $100,000 while still achieving the aims of sustainability.
Green features include pedestrian-friendly design; energy-efficient lighting; high-tech window glazing that allows in 70 percent of the light while screening out 60 percent of solar heat; and use of locally produced and recycled building materials. More than 50 trees were planted to replace trees lost in the construction by a ratio of two to one.
"We positioned the building to save as many heritage trees as we could," Roberts said.
The Carolyn Tanner Irish Humanities Building occupies 50,000 square feet on four floors at 215 S. Central Campus Drive. The building houses an 185-seat auditorium, a cafe and the following U. departments:
* Asia Studies
* Latin American Studies
* International Studies
* Middle East Center director's office
* Tanner Humanities Center
Humanities building to host free lectures
The Tanner Irish building will host regular humanities functions to which the public is invited. The next event is a free lecture by David Abram, director of the Alliance for Wild Ethics (AWE) in northern New Mexico and author of The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World, which won the international Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction. Abram is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday. In a talk titled, "The Earth's Wild Eloquence: Language and the Ecology of Perception," Abram will explore how sensory perception, poetics and wonder inform our relation with Earth.