Due to the amount of time Pratt architecture students have spent within the walls of Higgins Hall, most of us would claim that we know every inch of it. Perhaps unintentionally, as if it were an overplayed song, we’ve memorized the lingering smell of Zap-A-Gap, the strange pacing needed to descend the Pit’s stairs, how many pieces of chipboard we can squeeze through the vestibule without getting stuck. However, despite the hours we’ve spent hunched over our desks and crammed into brick corners, we probably know much less about Higgins than we think we do. Laced with tragedy and intertwined with Pratt from inception, each chapter of its convoluted history is simultaneously legible, and we have yet to read them all.  


In 1863, two decades before Pratt was founded, philanthropists and teachers Aaron Chadwick and Dr. Edward S. Bunker opened Adelphi Academy at 412 Adelphi Street in Fort Greene. As the school expanded, it outgrew its tiny townhouse, so in 1867, three philanthropists donated the funds to build a new Adelphi Academy, including our very own Charles Pratt. Enlisting the help of architecture firm Mundell and Teckritz, they commissioned the first wing of the new Adelphi Academy, what we now know as Higgins Hall North. The south wing, which would become Higgins Hall South, was designed by Charles Haight in 1889.


The buildings epitomize a subdued approach to Romanesque Revival, favoring molded arches and unfluted columns over bold turrets and spindles. Though the school’s benefactors were wealthy, the architecture fits a nineteenth-century definition of utilitarianism, delineating a clear orthogonal plan with generous circulation and high ceilings. Its flourishes are refined, filling the gaps without creating the gaps that need to be filled.


After Adelphi Academy’s enrollment dropped from a peak of 1200 to near 300, they relocated to Bay Ridge. The old location on St. James Place somehow ended up in the hands of John Higgins, an architect and Adelphi Academy alum. In 1965, after his death, his wife donated the buildings to Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture.


Things carried on as usual in Higgins until mid-1996 at four AM. The fire is thought to have started in the basement, somewhere near North’s boiler rooms. A fierce windstorm likely spread the flames up through Center and into North and South; the details are foggy, however, because Center collapsed into the basement and prohibited any beneficial investigation. The archives were destroyed, leading to a gap in Pratt’s School of Architecture records that has yet to be patched. Fifth-year thesis work took the brunt of the damage, though every year suffered. Classes were relocated to Main Campus, final presentations were suspended, and Pratt reeled from its losses.


Rogers Marvel Architects had already been working in Higgins, focusing on conservation and remodeling projects, but their efforts immediately shifted from dusting off cornices to ensuring the building would not cave in. As they sifted through rubble, they noticed something: During the midcentury’s fondness for a complete lack of ornament, people had shrouded Higgins in plywood, gypsum, and plaster. These sheet materials burned away during the fire, revealing the masonry behind it relatively untouched. They discovered archways over entrances, capitals atop columns, and stunning brickwork. Nestled in this old brickwork, they found burn marks that could not have been left by the 1996 fire, meaning that this was not the first devastating fire that Higgins Hall had seen.


After rummaging through records and analyzing the scars of the first fire, Rogers Marvel’s team determined that in 1889, the same year Haight’s South Hall opened, Adelphi Academy caught fire. Most details, including the cause and intensity of the flames, remain unknown. We do know that the damage was so severe that classes temporarily relocated to an apartment building owned by Charles Pratt while William Tubby, best known for designing Pratt’s library and student union, led the repairs and remodeling.


History aside, there was a hole in late-nineties Higgins. As Rogers Marvel focused on revitalizing North and South, Pratt commissioned starchitect Steven Holl to redesign Center. Holl himself led the design team, using the misalignment of the floors in North and South to drive an exploration of dissonance, presented in the duality of the facade and the bent floors connecting the buildings. In typical Holl fashion, calibrated light diffuses over studio desks, and sawtooth skylights illuminate that lucky studio of grad students.


Higgins Hall Center sits atop six concrete pillars that emerge from the hole created by the old Center’s collapse. This hole was merely finished off and called the Pit, now a pinup space and entrance to the auditorium. The rubble excavated from the Pit would become the new front courtyard and build up the back viewing deck above the auditorium that no one has ever seen used. Some consider this a clever reuse of otherwise useless material; others find it eerie, taking their classes beneath the charred bones of a building that existed before they enrolled.


Meanwhile, the Rogers Marvel team continued their revitalization efforts. Their original plan, set into motion before the fire, was completely reinvisioned; a project meant to take a few years ultimately took ten. In addition to restoring their architectural discoveries, Rogers Marvel dealt with the holes in the floors. As the fire had burnt through entire portions of the buildings, they decided to leave most of these as double-height spaces.


Most notably, between the fourth and fifth floors in South, the historic cast-iron staircase gives way to a nearly precarious steel staircase dangling between the floors. When the original staircase burned away, South’s fifth floor became entirely inaccessible, so they built the new stair from scratch to remedy this. They tried to use salvaged materials in as many ways as possible: They repaired windows, replaced lighting, and reconfigured classrooms to better compliment Steven Holl’s Center. Though many associate Holl with the revitalization of Higgins, Rogers Marvel Architects did most of the heavy lifting. Without them, the buildings would not have survived to see Holl’s addition.


Today, Higgins Hall is an X-ray. It depicts each stage of its existence in one way or another, from the cornerstone placed in 1867 to the latest basswood stick accidentally Lock-Tited to the floor. 3-D printers lean against Adelphi Academy’s original blackboards. Steel beams from an astronomy class’s telescope glide over a crit space. The students of Adelphi Academy have etched their names into the walls aside the burn marks from the fires and nicks from stray Olfa blades.


Because of this, Higgins Hall might be the best place to learn about architecture—it is a timeline with thousands of points that have yet to be added, both those that have been lost to time and those that we haven’t created yet. However messy, disjointed, and scarred Higgins may be, its secrets offer solace: Even on our worst days, we couldn’t possibly tire of its emphatic chaos.



My Seeing Eye Dog in training, Crista and I walk on the sidewalk on our way home. She pulls extremely hard, and I try my hardest to keep her under control so she doesn’t end up dragging me. I keep giving short tugs on the leather leash, but all it does is give me painful blisters, so I stop her and have her sit. 

At first, Crista rejects by trying to jump up. I sternly tell her “no” and correct her into a sit. I wait a few seconds until she’s calm enough, then say “forward,” and we continue towards the house. Shekeeps pulling, and I keep trying to get her to stop. When we get back home, after I immediately crash down onto the couch with exhaustion, Crista happily brings a bone to my feet. I watch her loudly gnaw at the bone and sigh. I’ll try again tomorrow.

The Seeing Eye, formed in 1929 by Morris Frank, is the oldest guide dog school in the country and operates out of Morristown, New Jersey. Only dogs that come from this institution can be formally called Seeing Eye Dogs. The Seeing Eye has four different types of breeds: German shepards, golden retrievers, yellow, black, and chocolate labrador retrievers, and poodles for those who have allergies. It’s also common to see golden/lab crosses as well.

Seeing Eye Dogs, along with guide dogs under other organizations, are classified as service animals. This means that they are specifically trained to perform tasks to ease a challenge faced by their owner, like performing a medical alert on someone who has seizures or reminding someone to take medication. 

I’ve been a Seeing Eye puppy raiser for nearly seven years now, and I am currently training a six-month-old black lab named Crista. We receive the puppies at seven weeks old and raise them in our homes until they are 16 months old, with the hope that they will complete the rest of their training at the Seeing Eye and be paired with a blind person.

As a puppy raiser, it’s my responsibility to make sure that my puppy is able to successfully perform their job. I prepare by taking them to different locations like malls, restaurants and other high-traffic areas. I also go on several club outings such as to the Liberty Science Center, on a train ride to New York City and attending plays. If I’m not with my club and am going into a building with my puppy, I have to make sure to either call ahead or ask as soon as I arrive if I’m allowed in with my puppy. I also have to keep a form of identification for the puppy on hand in case I’m stopped and asked why I’m on the premises. 

Training a Seeing Eye puppy comes with challenges. We work hard to make sure each puppy has the qualities needed to become a guide, and we primarily focus on obedience training. From a young age, we housebreak them and teach them to “park” on command. We teach basic commands like sit, down, and rest so that they perform the command as soon as it’s spoken. If a dog refuses to do one of these commands, we help them to perform it by gently using repetition. 

We also focus on walking our dogs. Seeing Eye Dogs need to be able to lead, so they have to always be in front of their human. I’ve had a great deal of challenges in this area, like training dogs who balked, didn’t like specific surfaces, and dogs who pulled too hard. We use several commands for this type of behavior: “hup hup,” which tells the dog to speed up; “easy,” which tells them to slow down, and many others. We also use quick, short tugs on their leashes for both correction and pacing, and keep our left hands firmly on the leash to keep the dog at our left side. 

At club meetings, we perform the basket weave maneuver with the dogs to teach them to ignore other dogs or distractions. We also perform the “come and sit” command, which is when we walk forward, then walk back while saying “come,” go forward again, and have the dog sit at our left side. This is often used as a way to reposition a dog if they are misbehaving. However, it’s important to note that we aren’t trying to make our dogs perfect or knock out their personalities. When their harnesses are off, they’re just regular dogs who love to play and snuggle. All we’re doing is teaching them how to behave and work in public places so that in the future, they can successfully do their job and help someone.

When our time with our puppies is up, they get taken back to the Seeing Eye to finish their training. Not all dogs pass the program, whether due to fear, behavior or medical reasons. In fact, there is currently only a 30% - 40% success rate due to a lack of students during the pandemic, and the rate is normally 60%. If the puppies do fail, we call them a “career changed” to signify that they went on to do something else, like police work in the K-9 unit or breeders at the Seeing Eye. Most commonly, their raisers can choose to adopt them, or they go to someone on a very long waiting list who wants to adopt a dog. 

Saying goodbye is always the hardest part of raising. You’d think that I would have been used to it by now, but I’m not. When the time comes, a white Seeing Eye van pulls up to my house, and out comes our area coordinator, Katie. We talk and are given some time to say goodbye, but then we have to put the puppy into the crate in the van and watch them drive away. It’s heartbreaking every single time. Yet, beneath all of that sadness is the hope that my puppy will eventually get to provide a service for someone who needs it. And if not, then I’ll take them back in a heartbeat. I’ve had to permanently say goodbye to two of my dogs, yellow labs Diva and Holgate. Diva was adopted by another family close to Morristown, and I don’t know what happened to Holgate.

I currently have two of my career change dogs living with me permanently: Dutch, a yellow/golden lab cross, and Fav, a yellow lab. I have only had one dog pass the program: my yellow lab Trina, who's currently in Missouri working as a Seeing Eye Dog. But who knows, if she retires and her current owner doesn’t want to keep her, then there’s the possibility that she can come back home to me.

Training a dog sounds like a piece of cake, but it’s not. It can get very stressful, especially if your dog won’t do what they are supposed to. However, we do the best that we can, and it pays off when we get to see our dog succeed. Right now, that’s all the motivation that I need as I train Crista.


2020 felt like a time warp. Quarantine days melded together, the months flew by, the hours felt like they lasted days; reality didn’t seem real. Now that vaccines are rolling out to the majority of the population, and COVID-19 cases are decreasing, it feels like there’s light at the end of the winding tunnel. Maybe time will feel linear again.

We’ve all had monotonous days, but the pandemic has made the monotony numbing and infinite. Pre-COVID, I could end my boredom by calling my friends to go see a movie or wandering through local thrift stores. There were ways to escape too much alone time. Once all of those escapes were taken away, time seemed to stop indefinitely, along with any sort of natural, comfortable social contact or future-planning. Therefore, every day started to feel like a reflection of the day before, until, suddenly, it became another year.

After talking with peers, friends, and family, I was comforted by the fact that everyone felt this weird, rapid and creeping pandemic time warp. I remember the last week before everything changed so vividly. My partner drove to Pratt to pick me up, and we then spent my spring break traveling to Maine, visiting various lighthouses and adventuring at Acadia National Park. Once our nature getaway ended, we headed back to Brooklyn where he was supposed to drop me off and drive back home himself.

But as we neared the end of the trip, we realized he wasn’t just dropping me off at my dorm—the end of spring break became the start of Tetris-ing all of my belongings into his Honda Civic and driving 10 hours back to my hometown after the dorms were shut down. Shortly after arriving home, we were confined in a lockdown and plunged into uncertainty of “when” things would go back to “normal.”

In my head, that vacation now seems like two different experiences. There was one trip where we had an amazing week-long adventure, and another that included the panic-filled moments leading up to packing my education and Brooklyn-life into a suitcase and relocating it to my childhood bedroom. Despite this, both experiences feel like they were month-long endeavors from an eternity ago.

This phenomenon relates to the “holiday paradox,” which is an idea coined by journalist, author and psychology lecturer, Claudia Hammond. The holiday paradox states that, when you are on vacation, time seems to go fast as you experience new things and create new memories; when you’re home and looking back on those memories, it seems like you’ve been away way longer, as those memories create timestamps in your brain to gauge time. Since I had such memorable moments leading up to being confined in my home, my brain holds onto those memories and makes them appear longer than they actually were.

Kevin LaBar, head of the Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience Program at Duke University, explains, “When you’re in a constrained environment, your brain is not getting as many squirts of dopamine that keep it engaged and excited, and the brain ends up in this idling mode.” Essentially, being confined to our homes during the pandemic has left us drowning in monotony. Our brains don’t have enough stimulation to create new memory-markers; therefore the days blend together in one chunk of never-ending time.

Emotions also have a large impact on the way we experience time. We have neurons in our brain that act like a metronome, keeping time in a steady beat. Heightened emotions, such as anxiety or fear, can disrupt its rhythm, making the metronome beat quicker. In a study conducted by Sylvie Droit-Volet, a French professor of cognitive and developmental psychology, Droit-Volet and her colleagues presented three types of videos to their students and gauged their reactions. One video induced fear by showing clips from various horror movies, another evoked sadness by showing clips from dramatic, heartfelt movies, and the third showed neutral videos, like the weather forecast or stock market updates. When the students estimated how long each video lasted, it was evident the one that evoked fear seemed to last longer.

The brain uses more of its resources to process negative emotions, so the memory sticks with us longer. The pandemic has filled us with such feelings. Stressful events unfolded socially and politically all while we handled work or school from home, sending us into a pit of self-reflection. We looked inwardly to handle the uncertainty of being in a pandemic while searching for a sense of normalcy. During a time of forever-churning reflection, LaBar explains, it can seem like you’ve invested longer because you just re-engage the same thought processes.

While anxiety and stress can make time feel slower, the lack of memory-markers adds to that sense of endlessness. Although, I’ve heard many people say that each day may seem like it flies by. Ever since my trip to Acadia, I’ve spent most of my time focusing on homework, working, cleaning my room, going on walks; all of these daily tasks give my brain something to complete. Then, achieving each task rewards my brain with a sense of accomplishment until suddenly it's the next day and the cycle repeats. While we are stuck in familiarity, routine is propelling our day. Repeating cycles can make it seem like time is going quicker, which muddles time even more in our brains as the feeling of slow time contradicts quick time. For example, quests in video games often feel like they’re going quick because you’re constantly motivated by the next step, even if each step involves the same process of walking and collecting to advance. Similarly, we live every day with small victories that help speed up time: getting up and brushing our teeth, feeding our dog, making a cup of coffee. These little moments help speed up the day, but since they’re repeated in pandemic-time, the lack of truly exciting moments slows that time back down when we look at it on a month to month basis.

All of this is to say that you’re not going crazy for thinking this last year has been a time-warp. This unexplainable phenomena is actually explainable. Though it will be a bit different for everyone, given different circumstances or the ways someone processes emotions, all of our brains have never experienced something as stressful as a pandemic. While I’m tired of taking things “a day at a time,” we can’t stress over the things we can’t control, or else time will go even slower.

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Art by Noelani Fishman

There is a kind of pasture. It is a delicate, inviting place. The scene is bucolic, crepuscular, and…humid. Perhaps we are in the South, somewhere near Baton Rouge. Fireflies emit their flickering signals with poignant delicacy. They are of one mind. Perhaps there is some August plantation home, foregrounding a purpling sky and the silhouettes of magnolia trees. The sound of whippoorwills. On the wraparound veranda, there is a man with little to say. This is how John Fahey’s instrumental guitar opus, “Sunflower River Blues,” begins.

The vaguely plaintive, lackadaisical strumming of suspended chords inaugurates “Sunflower River Blues,” and so begins a representative excursion into Mr. Fahey’s style, the first of its kind in a genre named, by Fahey himself, “American Primitive Guitar.” American Primitive Guitar is, as its name suggests, a kind of guitar playing which eschews the harmonic complexities and requisite education of classical guitar. While performed in a similar way, American Primitive is more rooted in the “untrained” tradition of blues and folk music (that is, outside the purview of European conservatories). It makes use of the repetition, propulsive rhythms, melodies, and precise fingerpicking of the Mississippi Delta, and often melds those qualities with the reserved, wistful moods of certain European folk and classical pieces.

But this is selling Fahey short. Fahey was a true synthesist, pulling from whatever genre appealed to him. Despite his ostensibly untrained background, the possibilities of the acoustic guitar are on full display in Fahey’s idiosyncratic recordings. He borrowed from the blues, Indian ragas, flamenco, Celtic folk, and even recorded some Christmas albums. Fahey was a musicologist in the most proper sense of the word, and the product of his curiosity was a truly timeless art form.

What does it mean for art to be “timeless?” Is it a piece’s expression of some universal feeling? A feeling which belongs not to some particular ethnos, nation, spatial/temporal locality, specialization, or tribe, but to humanity as a whole? If so, it’s easy to see why Fahey’s work might be labeled as such. Setting aside the music itself, something about the “primitive” aspect of American Primitive Guitar is associated, for me, with timelessness, some antediluvian state of harmony with Nature which transcends modern notions of in-group and out-group.

Such an association is problematic, and no doubt the result of an internalized “noble savage” mythos. However, Fahey himself was quick to dismiss any such lofty interpretations of his coinage. In a 1980s interview, Fahey says, “All I meant was, one, that I don’t have a name for it, and two, the closest you could come would be to call it primitive, in the painting sense. A primitive painter is one whose untutored. That’s all I meant. But other people got hold of it and gave it other connotations.”

Here. Fahey seems to have understood that his utilization of traditional forms was not dialectically opposed to musical innovation and progress. He was not attempting to go backwards in time to some pastoral age, to some recondite Truth lost in the cumulation of technology. Rather, Fahey was looking ahead, and not just as a pioneering artist, but as a thinker.

“Timelessness” can be thought of, literally, as the lack of time, or being outside of time. That which is truly “timeless” is eternal, and Fahey’s recognition of eternity is unmistakable. His penetrating religious sense seems to have bolstered his understanding of the Great Beyond. In a letter to writer Jeff Broome, Fahey explained, “The life of faith is not something we do in cute little catch words, biblical references, bumper-stickers, clubs, cheap publicity, biblical literalism, etc. Christianity is something you do in your closet, ie., unobserved, unadvertised. It is not just one more thing advertised cheaply among other things & of, consequently the same nature & same class as those other things.”

Fahey’s religion is noncommercial, individual, nonsectarian. In true Christian fashion, the joy of certain Fahey pieces, such as “Sunflower River Blues,” is offset by a fair bit of apocalypticism elsewhere. In “Wine and Roses,” the opening track from the album The Dance of Death and Other Plantation Favorites, Fahey evokes a plague-ridden funeral dirge, sounding at times like a 17th century John Dowland piece, albeit whittled into the blues. It comes as no surprise, then, that Fahey would say, in an interview, “I think we're in an apocalypse and it's pretty bad and getting worse.”

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Image via Getty Images

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