September 18, 2010

Max Palevsky Residential Commons

With 712 beds, eight houses, three buildings, and at least six officially registered cats, Max Palevsky Residential Commons is the second-largest and most visible dorm on campus. It opened in 2001 as one of the earlier developments of the decade-long building spree that also produced Ratner Athletics Center and a restored Bartlett Dining Commons.

Max P, as it’s known, was designed by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta, whose earlier projects conspicuously include a children’s museum and a Wal-Mart Supercenter, making it unsurprising that Max P could be mistaken for a postmodern juvie. The dorm rooms are divvied up in suite formation, with two- and four-person setups around a central foyer that’s just big enough for a mini-fridge. One of the pluses of a Max suite is that each comes with its own bathroom; the downside is that anything more frequent than the routine end-of-quarter cleaning is up to residents, so about two-thirds of suites look like petri dishes by eighth week. Each house lounge is equipped with a small kitchen.

The three buildings, West, Central, and East, are connected by an eerie basement tunnel system that looks like it’s controlled by HAL 9000. The subterranean level contains storage rooms, music rooms, laundry rooms, and many rooms with doors that are always locked; the silence is broken only by echoes from the dryers and the occasional "Ahnk!" from one of the belabored elevators.

As for the color scheme, it’s hard to say whether the paint job encourages or assumes psychedelic drug use. The building’s coloration has been such a source of angst among students that U of C graduates tend to sort themselves into pre- and post-orange groups, as though remembering a particularly traumatic episode. For most current students, the paint is neither here nor there; during the winter, it is often the only non-gray thing around and can seem almost cheerful.

Regardless, the block that Max Palevsky inhabits is well on its way to architectural infamy. Close neighbors include the daunting, unapologetically ugly Regenstein Library and the in-progress Mansueto Library, which is slated to resemble a UFO. Poor Bartlett Hall, older than all three, is dwarfed; but fans of Lego and Star Trek should feel quite at home in the area.