Beyond the Walls: Karla Britton
Professor of Art History at Diné College, the Navajo Nation
YSoA Professor from 2003–2018
In pre-pandemic times, Rudolph Hall was a microcosm of the university itself: a place whose walls and corridors, library, lecture hall, galleries, and fabrication shop all helped to create an intense learning-centered environment. The building’s insulated sophistication, of course, is an extension of Rudolph’s own calibrated vision as both an architect and dean: Rudolph well understood the emotional power and energy generated when people convene together in a theatric architectural setting that in turn shapes their communal identity.
Rudolph Hall’s bundling together of multiple functions – including patterns of behavior, social traditions, and academic expectations—set the building apart even at Yale. In my experience, for example, architectural seminars held in Rudolph Hall could bring together very different kinds of people from all corners of the university curious to glimpse that very visceral and theatrical shared experience of learning which took place in the building.
What the pandemic has shown, however, is that the aura of Rudolph Hall is only one point of light in a constellation of learning environments that reaches far beyond its walls, and even the walls of the university. The pandemic has facilitated what many students already recognized: that learning is no longer exclusively defined by geographic location or institution.
This point was underscored when I recently lectured remotely from my current academic institution, the tribal Diné College on the Navajo Nation, to students in Kyle Dugdale’s Yale architectural history course. As I addressed the topic of “Native Architectures of the Southwest,” we reflected on how one opportunity opened by the pandemic is for students from larger universities to connect with more ease to constituencies they otherwise would not – with students, for example, in smaller liberal arts colleges; traditional Black Colleges; or the tribal colleges in Indian Country in rural America. Such encounters open us to worlds of human experience beyond Rudolph Hall, to a more informed understanding and civic preparedness for participating in all levels of the social matrix.