The Walls Are Just Too Dang Red

Eric Summers/SAConScene

Eric Summers/SAConScene

The walls are just too dang red.

I’m talking about the brick-and-mortar walls of Mt. SAC’s Building 26. Officially, it’s labeled the “Humanities and Social Sciences Complex,” but most people just call it “Humanities.” It is also often referred to as “the English building.”

The thing is, I’ve always known it as the building that’s just too dang red.

If you take a quick walk through campus, you start to notice that it really does kind of stand out from the other architectural features in that it’s not simply made with red bricks. We’ve got plenty of those. The Design and Technology building decorates large expanses of their walls with red brick while the science laboratories highlight their stairwells with the building material as well.

No, the difference is that while those buildings accent their just-a-bit-too-off-white stucco walls with the warmth of the building material, Humanities seems to take a different stance and spotlight the dusty red bricks—bringing unnecessary attention to them.

To clarify, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the usage of red bricks. Historically, they have been lauded as a cheap construction material whose production can be easily scaled to size as needed. What’s wrong is that when one decides to tile every single side of a building with it, the walls just become too dang red—and that’s a problem.

In fact, it’s a problem we’ve known about for centuries!

The study of psychology in the experimental sense didn’t technically become a formal school of thought until the late 19th century, when Wilhelm Wendt founded the first psychology lab in 1879. However, the brilliant German Johann Wolfgang von Goethe began to lay the brickwork to what would one day be known as color psychology as early as 1810 when he published his findings in his “Theory of Colours.”

The man knew he was well ahead of his time—to the point that his personal secretary once wrote: “His feeling for the Theory of Colours was like that of a mother who loves an excellent child all the more the less it is esteemed by others. … he would repeatedly say to me, ‘… that in my century I am the only person who knows the truth in the difficult science of colours—of that, I say, I am not a little proud, and here I have a consciousness of a superiority to many.'”

One of Goethe’s most famed works is his Temperament Rose, a diagram he created with poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller in the hopes of matching the color spectrum to human personality. According to Wynn Social Marketing, it’s still used by branding and design firms even today.

So, of what trait did these geniuses – these forefathers of the color psychology avant-garde – attribute to the color red?

That it was “choleric.” An adjective meaning “bad-tempered or irritable.”

Well … heck. So, clearly, extensive use of the color red cannot be good for the student psyche. In fact, a survey of 20 random Mt. SAC students found that up to 10 percent of the student population found the disproportionately large swathes of red brick in building 26 to be “mentally disturbing.”

This knowledge has been around since well before industrialization would even allow for the mass production of bricks, not to mention the 1967 launch of the building. So then, why did the school decide to make the walls of the Humanities building so dang red?

Uber driver Steven Chavez, a man who spends most of his days driving past buildings of different colors, thought it might just be an innocent mistake.

“I mean, when were the buildings made?” Chavez said, “It’s possible that back then they didn’t know about color science and didn’t know better?”

It’s admirable that Chavez tried to give school administrators the benefit of the doubt. But suppose that we assume that no one had heard of Goethe and his Temperament Rose when the school first opened, given that it preceded the internet era, and no one since has even bothered to look in years since.

The fact is that something as deeply ingrained into our society as color psychology simply can’t be ignored. It’s everywhere!

Take a look at “Star Wars,” the epic space opera franchise (as it would be ridiculous to call it just a movie series) known across the entire world and valuated by Fortune magazine to be worth well over $40 billion.

In Star Wars, the Sith are “an ancient order of Force-wielders devoted to the dark side, [who] practice hate, deception, and greed.” The bad guys. Of course, Star Wars’ official site also describes them as being “notable for their red-bladed lightsabers.”

It’s still possible, however, that the staff of Mt. SAC’s Facility Planning and Management department just weren’t fans of the franchise or had never even heard of Star Wars. But then we still have “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” an American animated television series that Odyssey describes as “the crown jewel of children’s animation” and attributes to having spawned the modern “Cartoon Renaissance” we’re seeing today.

It wouldn’t be difficult to argue that the show itself is heavily based on Goethe’s Temperament Rose, with the genocidal Fire Nation laying claim over the color red and the serene Water Tribes and peace-loving Air Nation over blue and yellow, respectively.

The list of examples go on and on, but it’s self-evident that these major media franchises both chose the color red to represent their murderous, hateful villains. How, then, could Mt. SAC ignore all this damning evidence and keep Humanities’ walls so dang red?

Caitlyn Rodriguez, who works in Mt. SAC’s Facilities Department, thinks the reason is much more innocent than one might think.

“It’s a personal preference,” Rodriguez said. “I like the look of the red brick, and when you see building 26 you can see that it’s very old-fashioned, and right across the way you can see Design Technology, which I would say is a modern building with red brick. And then I’m older than you, so I would say I like the red brick because it’s traditional.”

It almost sounds like reasonable thought; one that might even overpower the previous arguments as to the insidious nature of the color red. But personally, I believe the prevalence of the material in building 26 is because we’re living in something I call the “Elmo generation.”

Sesame Street, the long-running American children’s television series, features a plethora of characters, many of whom are Muppets, who teach children valuable life lessons.

Grover wants to help people but often times he fails, which we learn is okay so long as he tries. Oscar the Grouch claims he wants to be left alone in his trash can, but learns that it’s lonely when he has no one to talk to. And Big Bird? Big Bird just wants to be friends with everyone.

Elmo, however, is a different story.

The problem with the little red muppet is that he’s too innocent. That’s all he has going for him. He’s innocent to a fault, and he never learns. In an article titled “Why Elmo has had an insidious effect on Sesame Street,” The A.V. Club explains that the problem with the character is that he “[acquiesces everyone] to his every, whiny demand rather than trying to shape him into a more mature, responsible citizen.”

Not once does Elmo see Grover’s attempts to better his community and try to help. Not once does Elmo, who has a large apartment all to himself, offer a hand to Oscar who lives homeless on the street. And not once does Elmo, with his large googly eyes attached firmly to the top of his head, notice that the average muppet is 4, no more than 5 feet tall, and that Big Bird is quite literally just a man in a bird suit.

What is he doing on Sesame Street? Why does he wear the mask?

You see, the problem with Elmo is that he teaches America that it’s okay to ignore the problems within our very community—that ignorance truly is bliss. Children who grow up on the Street then take these ideas, taught by the obviously red antagonist of Sesame Street, to heart. It’s no wonder that no one cares that Humanities’ walls are just too dang red.

Maybe it all is just coincidence. The fact that the color red is used is just to set these characters apart from the others and nothing more. Just intentional design.

Well then, aren’t the red walls of Humanities intentional in design, too? Otherwise, why aren’t the more innocent buildings on campus also made with the inexpensive construction material? Why are only Humanities’ walls too dang red?

The newly built Child Development Center, where parents amongst Mt. SAC students and staff alike can drop off their children for daycare, is colored a light sage green. Why? Maybe, perhaps, because we can’t have these kids eating each other alive.

Or, why also are the previously mentioned science laboratories merely accented with red brick, and not centered around them? Maybe because one can’t study the hard sciences while filled with murderous rage, something that Goethe has likely known since the 19th century.

I’ve even suffered a physical altercation over the red brickwork of this building. Earlier this semester, on a rainy day during the first week, I was in the crowded elevator of building 26D when I thought someone slipped and fell against me, pushing my face against the metal frame of the doorway and causing me to chip my tooth.

When Public Safety came and took account of the situation, however, they concluded that there was no water in the elevator – there was no evidence that anyone could have slipped, and that it may have been an honest-to-God random fall. Maybe, but I don’t know that for certain.

What I do know for certain is that right across from the elevator doors, just across the hall, is a red brick wall.

Is it so impossible to imagine that perhaps someone whose tensions were riding a little bit high due to the pressure of a new semester of school and the traffic problems posed by the storm, just snapped and pushed my face against the wall when forced into the sight of a red brick wall?

Red is just a bad choice for a building. Especially when it’s so dang red like it is. And on some level, we’ve all known this already. We now need to finally do something about it.

Unfortunately, there’s really not much that can be done.

Some of the students I surveyed said that they found the red brick walls of building 26 to be mentally disturbing, and I say that’s some too many. But in the same survey, when the students were asked whether they would mind if the school were to power wash the top layer of the now dusty-red bricks, exposing the vibrant, just-barely-orange clay underneath, none said they would.

That may just be the most reasonable solution to this problem of the walls of building 26 being so dang red.