The first time I saw the Goddard College Design Center building, I stopped in my tracks (the snow was a few inches deep) and stared. I was a high school senior, and I knew nothing about architecture – but this was design anarchy, a spirit I had never seen embodied in a building before. That was the moment I decided to go to school there.
The building itself wasn’t quite finished – it still looks not-quite-finished, but old, 46 years later – and I wandered through it greedily absorbing the eclectic woodwork and crazily inspired details. I found something written on the wall that changed my life – you can read about that in Some Way Outa Here…no spoilers here. Then I started asking questions.
The story unfolded in small bites…the students built the building…a local architect, John Mallery, was the inspired teacher who let students try pretty much anything…it was all about “learning by doing.” The last part closed the deal for me – if architects could learn by building things, isn’t that a great model for learning everything? My high school mind was, in the terminology of the times, blown.
I returned to Goddard the following fall, determined to learn all I could about political activism and social change. After all, the Vietnam war was still raging, and nothing seemed more important than learning about how to stop a war. Of course, it wasn’t that simple.
I focused on economics, democracy and radical change. The school was caldron of activism, oddly isolated from the world by the Vermont countryside. I found myself surrounded by radicals of every stripe, Weather Underground fugitives, and earnest academics who believed that knowledge could change the world. Cult leader Steven Gaskin briefly brought a bus caravan of his followers onto campus. A year later, Bernie Sanders would volunteer to run for office at the Goddard library.
Music and drugs were everywhere. Especially music. Top bands would come to play at the behest of Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green, a troubled soul who lived in the next dorm. Peter would sit around naked and play astonishing guitar licks; he showed me how to play his song “Black Magic Woman.” There were other lost souls in residence, too, like the couple known only as Man and Woman.
It was less “learn by doing” than “learn by total immersion,” more about culture – and counterculture – than politics and economics. I found myself missing the “real world.”
Even though Goddard was a tiny school – enrollment: 600 – it was sufficiently compartmentalized that I didn’t have much contact with the builders. The Design and Construction program was planning a new project, an even more ambitious building for the sculpture program, but I wasn’t paying attention.
After a semester, my friend Alex and I impulsively left for New Mexico, and found ourselves renovating a house in Santa Fe. Building a wall, installing a toilet – everything was learning by doing. I started thinking about Design and Construction again. More on that later…
The Design Center building became a white elephant on campus, and served for years as a classroom, a meeting space, and music enclave. Years later, Phish would play there, during and after their student days. The building has survived, but needs some work. Like many of us, it’s a little run down, but still standing.