Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Culture > Entertainment

Lazrus House: A Time Capsule From A Forgotten Zeitgeist

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Conn Coll chapter.

For students at Connecticut College, Lazrus House may conjure up images of crusty linoleum floors, a greasy and fluorescent-lit kitchen that can somehow never be clean, and yellow-hued hallways with flickering lights straight out of a horror film. Admittedly, I have not walked those halls in a long time. But even if you are one of the few students with an optimistic approach to Lazrus House, you can’t argue with the fact that it was ranked as Connecticut’s second ugliest building by Business Insider in their article, “The Ugliest Buildings in Every State, According to People Who Live There.” 

Today, in 2023, Lazrus House sits distant from the other campus dormitories, both physically and almost spiritually. Even in appearance, Lazrus House stands alone: contrary to the uniform graystone of the typical academic and residential buildings on campus, Lazrus is sheathed in cherry wood and what looks like rusted metals. I would interpret the students living within to be not only residents of a presently-dilapidated dorm, but also inhabitants of a liminal or timeless space. But I would argue that these qualities are not necessarily bad things. For it is my opinion that Lazrus House is (maybe) still as glorious now as it was at the time of its construction; we just don’t understand its history. 

Yes, just as Jesus brought the biblical Lazarus back from the dead, so too will I raise a different Lazrus for the students of Connecticut College. To the unfortunate residents of this least-liked dorm, you have the honor of living in a time capsule of Connecticut College’s cultural zeitgeist of the 1960s, and the responsibility of giving it the same life as other students did so long before you. 

For context, Lazrus House was designed by married architects Edward and Margaret Hunter, and was constructed between 1963 and 1964 on the steep hill behind the Warnshuis Health Center and Windham House. According to the Buzzfeed article on Connecticut College architecture, Lazrus House originally “served as a cooperative house where students performed one hour of chores each day in exchange for reduced room and board costs.” These chores consisted mainly of “planning, preparing, and serving meals, cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms, vacuuming the common areas, and preparing weekly supply lists.” Considering that “reduced room and board costs” are not even a luxury that Connecticut College affords their RAs (a position I can attest requires more than one hour of work per day), it is safe to say that Lazrus House was built with the needs of the student body in mind. 

What is more significant than its original purpose as a “cooperative house” is the modern style of residential architecture adopted by Connecticut College for the first time. The house is distinctly modern, as evidenced through its utilization of mass-produced materials, its stark and asymmetrical geometric outlines, its prominent use of glass and curtain windows, and its apparent lack of adornment. But I would definitely not argue that Lazrus House was avant-garde in its modernism. If anything the college was way late to the party, but they can have a participation trophy for trying their hand in a very cool modern architectural style: regionalism. 

The dorms that make up south campus (Jane Addams, Freedman, Harkness, and Knowlton) are beautiful; but they are placeless and lack distinction. I have encountered many first-years who could not tell them apart, and some upperclassmen who never even bothered to learn which one was which in the first place. They are architecturally vague, and could easily be interchanged with other greystone residential dorms from other NESCAC campuses. Lazrus House, however, could never up and move to another campus (no matter how much the residents might wish it would). 

Regionalism was an architectural movement around the 1930s and 1940s aimed towards building structures that represent elements of the culture or region that they occupy, and specifically serving the needs of that community. It was largely a response to modernism, in which architects designed structures in an international or global style, which can be viewed as impersonal and cold. Lazrus House has some key features that lead me to believe its style was geared towards regionalism instead of modernism. As I mentioned earlier, Lazrus House is situated on a downward slope. In order for the building to accommodate and accentuate this landscape, there are elongated rectangles present throughout the dorm. For example, the green trim lining the top of the building creates a horizontal presence, and the white exterior with slitted windows creates vertical interest. As opposed to the other dorms on campus, which have three or four stories, Lazrus House stays close to the ground and only features two floors, which demonstrates the architects’ continued focus on a strong horizontal axis. I previously wrote that Lazrus House uses cherry wood. The use of this material is also consistent with regionalism as it allows the building to blend in with its surroundings: trees and wooded areas!

Additionally, Lazrus House was built to encourage independent living and accountability among students, which indicates that (at least during its construction) Lazrus House embodies regionalism’s emphasis on serving specific communities through design. For example, according to an article on Conn architecture in the Digital Commons at Connecticut College: “One highly publicized aspect of the building’s design was the inclusion of three study rooms on the upper floor. These soundproof cubicles were housed in an elliptical projection above the common room with each given a domed skylight to flood the workspace in natural light.” When I first read this sentence, I will admit that I re-scanned it several times to make sure I read it right. I have asked several residents in Lazrus House if this feature still exists. The consensus was that either it is well-hidden or it no longer exists. But the point is that it was there at one time! 

It is clear to me, from doing research for this article, that Connecticut College no longer prioritizes the cultural zeitgeist they curated by utilizing modern architecture. Modern architecture aimed to embrace functionality, transparency, and new technology of the time, which are all qualities that liberal arts colleges likewise embrace. Lazrus House is now dilapidated: dorm rooms were split in half, common rooms became dorms, the kitchen is outdated, several curtain windows are covered by overgrown foliage, and the emphasis on independent living has been lost. 

Nevertheless, it is for you, dear inhabitants of Lazrus House, that I wrote this examination of your building. As you turn on your eleven different lamps in order to get the same amount of light in your room as a single open window would provide in a room on south campus, and as you sigh in gratitude that the cold weather will relieve you of the need to run seven different fans at once to stop you from breaking a sweat just by sitting at your desk, remember that you are part of a historic and cultural movement. Your sweaty, dark, and crusty dorm room is what demonstrated, nay, allowed Conn’s movement forward into modernism and beyond. Just think, shortly after Conn’s acceptance of modern architecture in the early 1960s, the administration became so modernized that we opened our doors to men in 1969! 
So embrace your highly economized and efficient modern lifestyle made possible by your shoebox room, and embrace your newfound family made possible by overcrowding in the dorms and literally too many cooks in the communal kitchen. And do all this in defiance and recognition of where you are! You will probably have a better lottery number next year!

Hello! My name is Catherine (she/her) and I am a Classical Languages and Art History major at Connecticut College. I am also completing a Museum Studies Certificate Program here. I work as a curatorial and archival intern at the New London County Historical Society, and I love visiting museums and spending time around good (and bad) art.