Think back to the days when almost all of your meals were a two minute walk away. For most freshmen living in the southeast dorms at UW-Madison, that one stop shop was the cafeteria known as Gordon Commons. Established in 1965, Gordon Commons provided thousands of housing students with a traditional, single-line cafeteria operation that distributes three meals a day. Many view the building as a home to their earliest memories of UW-Madison, as the site of a first meal in college or the place where they made lifelong friends. Unfortunately, there is not enough nostalgia to outweigh an establishment falling behind the times.
A few years back, the University began to examine Gordon Commons and even considered renovating the building. Prompted by the high costs of alternative dining plans and nearby land available for use, the University decided to begin design and construction of the new cafeteria, the Gordon Dining and Event Center.
While some might be disappointed to see an enduring home of the memories of past students replaced, the Gordon Dining and Event Center provides major upgrades in food service and flexibility. I sat down with Michael Kinderman, the Assistant Director of UW-Madison Housing, who described a sharp sense of contrast between the two buildings. “The new building offers space that is much more flexible. There are big rooms that can be split into smaller rooms, different types of meeting spaces… There is also a change in the way food is prepared. The new marketplace makes the food out in front of the customer instead of setting it out on a line” says Kinderman. With a greater amount of transparency and a high variety of food, the Gordon Dining and Event Center is intent on catering to the customer’s desires.
With 12 diverse marketplace dining venues, three dining areas with seating for 600 students, a meeting room with 750 seats and floor-to-ceiling window views of the Kohl Center, the Gordon Dining and Event Center is expected to be a vibrant centerpiece on campus which offers students a place to enjoy themselves and relax. It is safe to say that this type of open space is a pleasantly different dining complex than students were previously used to. Gone are the days when students had to wait in long lines only to find that their fries were cold. With new options and more space students are now the focus of the operation.
In terms of its design, Architect/Project Manager Stuart LaRose highlighted some of the features of the Gordon Dining and Event Center which distinguish it from the old Gordon Commons. “The old building had a mid-sixties new modernist look which made it feel a little too austere. The articulation of materials in the new building is much greater. There is more to it than just concrete and glass. It fits with the modern student and into the modern surroundings” says LaRose.
As impressive as the Gordon Dining and Event Center is, there is still more work to be done. Eventually the existing Gordon Commons faces demolition this November, but before that the building underwent asbestos abatement in October for about thirty days. The entire demolition process is targeted be completed over winter break. As for the surrounding area, at least one lane of Johnson Street will be closed as the demolition is underway. Following the demolition of the old Gordon Commons, a green space will be created in the very same spot that it once stood. This recreational green space will be completed in August 2013 and will successfully extend East Campus Mall.
Much in the same way that the life of Edgar B. Gordon is still honored in this new dining facility, the cherished memories of past students in Gordon Commons will live on while the Gordon Dining and Event Center provides students today with a chance to make lasting memories of their own.
Most would probably agree that the Gordon Commons of the past will soon be forgotten due to the stunning size and nature of the Gordon Dining and Event Center. One thing, however, that has not changed is the goal of honoring Edgar B. Gordon. Known for his techniques that effectively taught music via radio to approximately one million rural Wisconsin children, Gordon is still remembered as a music pioneer through our dining facilities. In fact, some of the meeting rooms in the Gordon Dining and Event Center are named after musical terms such as the Concerto, Sonata and Overture meeting rooms. Much in the same way that the life of Edgar B. Gordon is still honored in this new dining facility, the cherished memories of past students in Gordon Commons will live on while the Gordon Dining and Event Center provides students today with a chance to make lasting memories of their own.