The Terrace: Why we have an emotional connection

A final night on the Terrace.

A final night on the Terrace.

Tonight, the Memorial Union Terrace closes (well, most of it). And it’s an emotional moment for a lot of us Madisonians.

This Terrace season has been cut at least a month shorter than usual to accommodate much-needed renovations. And the premature, man-made closing date makes the goodbye all the more difficult. At least when Mother Nature shuts down the Terrace, Wisconsinites know better than to argue with her.

I spent a couple hours after work on the Terrace to read and sip a final beer today, and it was a sentimental moment for me. And I have a strong guess that it was emotional for just about everyone else packed into the space.  

And that’s incredible. We’ve formed an emotional relationship with a piece of design. With the bricks and the concrete and the wood and the trees and the metal chairs. How odd that we all have such a passion for a collection of inanimate materials.

But that’s not what the Terrace is about at all. It’s about people—specifically, connecting people. We have passion and emotion for each other. We’ve formed a love for the relationships and interactions we share with others on the Terrace.

Not to say that design doesn’t matter. It has everything to do, in fact, with those emotions. Every part of the Terrace was intentionally designed to facilitate human interaction to an extreme degree replicated few other places in the world. It’s that good.

Further, I think our emotional attachments with the Terrace are all the more inflated because we know of and interact with so few other places like it in our lives.

Urban design has spent the last eight decades on an insane mission to rid our world of human interaction. We spent years designing for efficiency, for segregated uses and for cars. And only now are we beginning to realize how much we actually like being around and interacting with other people on a basic human-to-human level.

So let’s pour one out for the Terrace. Goodbye for now. (You’re going to love her when she reopens in the spring.)

But let’s also start designing more spaces in our cities where regular and meaningful human interaction is no longer such an unexpected experience.