By: Sam Marchetti
If you have ever studied in the H.G. Thode Library of Science and Engineering, you have probably visited the third floor at some point. For many students, it strikes them as unfair that most of this floor is only accessible to students in the integrated science program. However, what most students don't realize is that the third floor of Thode is not a full floor.
The third floor covers only about 50 per cent of the ground space covered by the building itself. Of this, about a third is devoted to faculty office space for the school of interdisciplinary sciences and another third is inaccessible storage space used by facility services. The final third is actually split between two wings.
One of these wings is the ThInk Space, an active learning classroom available for use by anyone in the faculty of science, and the other is the iStudy, a dedicated study space for integrated science students. Thus, not only does this study space account for a very small amount of the total finished space on the third floor of Thode, but the third floor itself is largely unfinished.
A large portion of the space above the second floor, over 30 per cent of the ground area covered by the library, is actually an open rooftop. Windows along the curved portion of the roof look down into the second and first floors around the perimeter, leaving an open area of almost 10,000 square feet surrounded by story-high walls.
Inspecting an aerial view of Thode, you’ll find that there is almost nothing up there. While it is easy to understand students’ frustration given that they are restricted access from what is the most noticeable part of the third floor, what should be more frustrating is this massive area, apparently left unused for no discernible reason. With so much unused space, I think it's fair to consider transforming it into something all students can enjoy.
In November, I wrote an article about the lack of natural elements integrated into McMaster University’s study spaces. This unused space provides a unique opportunity to change that. For example, a rooftop garden could be created, complete with heating elements to keep it useable year-round. The rooftop space already has walls on all sides, protecting it from most wind damage.
A garden in the library could have serious benefits for the mental health of its users, especially during exam season when students spend endless hours there. Imagine, instead of taking a break by walking around the jam-packed Thode study spaces, you could take a walk in a garden, without even leaving the building.
Another possibility for this space could be something that's been attempted at McMaster before: an outdoor classroom. Recently, this was accomplished in the form of the Indigenous circle. This outdoor amphitheater is ideal for the kind of learning that the Indigenous studies program promotes, and has received positive feedback from its students and faculty.
The unused space on the third floor of Thode is large enough to create a small outdoor lecture theatre, and the integration of a canvas roof and heating lamps could easily ensure year-round use of the space. Based on the feedback from the Indigenous circle, it’s easy to see the potential benefits of having a similar space that is adapted to science lectures.
Not only would an outdoor lecture theatre be an interesting addition to our teaching spaces, but it could serve as a point of attraction for future students and guest speakers. McMaster already has a reputation for being innovative thinking, so why not add a teaching space that reflects our progressive focus?
Although Thode’s seemingly ‘private’ third floor is irksome to many students, what should cause greater outrage is the existence of a very unique, inaccessible space to all students. Whether we decide to integrate nature into our study spaces, or choose another avenue to benefit the student population, this empty space should be transformed into something more than just an empty rooftop.