(Photo by Benjamin Recchie, AB'03)

Campus’s newest building

Astronomy and Astrophysics finds a home in a trailer park.

“It’s the finest trailer I’ve ever worked in,” enthuses Rocky Kolb, Arthur Holly Compton distinguished service professor of astronomy and astrophysics and the department’s chair, as he walks through the “trailer-warming” party for campus’s latest addition—18 modular trailers joined to form the Temporary Astronomy and Astrophysics Center, or TAAC (pronounced “tack”). Built on a University-owned parking lot just north of the Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery, TAAC replaces the aging Astronomy and Astrophysics Center (AAC), which is being torn down to make way for the department’s future home in the William Eckhardt Research Center. The faculty, students, and staff in AAC moved to TAAC over Thanksgiving break; those in other buildings, such as the Laboratory for Space and Astrophysical Research, were unaffected.

While the temporary nature of TAAC is obvious from the outside, it’s not at all apparent on the interior. Peter Vandervoort, AB’54, SB’55, SM’56, PhD’60, professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics, who orchestrated the move, says there have been two kinds of reactions to the new building: “People either say, ’It’s not as bad as I expected,’ or they say, ’It’s better than I thought it would be.’” The temporary building is smaller than the old one—10,000 square feet on one floor versus 14,000 on two—but careful design has allowed for downsized versions of the kitchen and common areas of AAC. Kolb even announced a contest to name the common rooms, leading to suggestions such as the “Primordial Soup Kitchen.” Vandervoort notes an unexpected benefit of the smaller quarters: accommodating all 60 people on one floor fosters a new feeling of collegiality.

The department is supposed to inhabit TAAC for three years until their new space in the Eckhardt Center is ready. But what if the new building is—God forbid—delayed? “We’re astronomers and cosmologists,” Vandervoort philosophizes. “‘Temporary’ is just a matter of scale.”


Some scenes from the “trailer-warming” party.