Next year, Gund Commons will be forty years old. Those of us who remember the building when it was new will shiver at the recognition of time's passing, but for most people, I expect, it will be an unacknowledged anniversary. The building that held Kenyon's second dining hall for almost four decades has been decommissioned for that particular purpose, and the structure's long-range prospects, aside from housing student-affairs offices in the old dining room, are still to be determined. Gund's three "pods"—dining hall and lounge, study area, and, originally, game room—may be turned to some service not yet imagined.
Gund Commons was built in 1968-69 as the centerpiece of the campus of the Coordinate College for Women. It was also the first structure to be completed, and the one most nearly complete when the inaugural class of the Coordinate College arrived in the fall of 1969. The residence halls—known then, and for some time thereafter, as Dorm 1 (McBride), Dorm 2 (Mather), and, eventually, Dorm 3 (Caples)—became habitable wing by wing, while some women waited to move into their pristine new rooms from temporary quarters in the old Alumni House (where the Kenyon Inn now sits) and Watson Hall.
Like the other structures on the new campus—eventually named Virginia Hyatt McBride, Madeleine Mather, and Jean Dunbar Caples residence halls—Jessica Roesler Gund Commons was distinguished from the buildings on the Kenyon campus not only by the feminine names. Kenyon officials consciously set out to make the look and feel of the "women's campus" different from that of the older institution.
The architects for the project were with Perkins and Will, a firm based in Chicago, Illinois. They were given the task of developing buildings, and an entire campus, that would contrast with the more standard geometries already present in the Gambier landscape. Thus, they proposed structures that would follow the contours of the land in that area of the village, rejecting—in what might seem a somewhat odd decision for a firm of committed modernists—the rectilinear for something more picturesque. Although there is a widespread belief among today's students (as well as many of their forebears) that the twisting corridors in the residence halls were designed to make those buildings "riot proof," they were, in fact, designed to create intimately scaled "neighborhoods." The architects believed this would be more conducive to friendly interaction between the residence halls' occupants.
With more right angles than its neighbors, Gund Commons is nevertheless set off the grid of the surrounding village in order to take maximum advantage of its site. An article in the September 9, 1968, issue of the Mount Vernon News reported that "the commons has been designed to be more informal and feminine in nature. Warm colors will be used throughout, along with local brick and aggregate, which will give color tones in the large areas of sand-blasted concrete to be used in the building. Accents will be provided by black anodized aluminum doors and window frames." Ah, yes: what could be more feminine than sand-blasted concrete.
While some might imagine that the site of the Coordinate College was previously an unspoiled, wooded corner of the village, it was, in fact, a thriving residential neighborhood. To make way for the new campus, Kenyon purchased those properties in the area that it didn't already own and tore them down. In addition to the houses that were demolished—among them the lovely White Wing, once the home of long-time College professor and treasurer Marcus Tullius Cicero Wing—the charming Harcourt Parish Sunday School building was also lost to the wrecking ball. One house that survived was the one we now know as the Hyde House on Acland. Originally located where Mather Residence now sits, it was moved down and across the street to its current site, where it became the home of Doris Bean Crozier, the first—and only—dean of the Coordinate College.
When the Class of 1973—the first class of the Coordinate College, eventually the first fully coeducational class, my class—returned to campus this past spring for its thirty-fifth reunion, those class members not lucky enough to snag a room elsewhere were assigned to the second floor of McBride. On the first evening, we gathered under the shelter of the lounge that separates the building's two wings to sip designer cocktails and reminisce about the old days. The scent of nostalgia, mixed with the smell of beer, was in the air. But—perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not—little sentiment seemed to have attached itself to the local brick and aggregate of the erstwhile Coordinate College buildings themselves.