Light. Open. Modern. Already listed among the 50 most impressive law school buildings in the world, the verdict is clear: the College of Law’s new home is spectacular. The College of Law is in its new home and thus begins a new era of legal education at Syracuse.
But Dineen Hall is more than just fancy new bricks and mortar. It is the embodiment of a vision that has transformed the learning experience for College of Law students. Through the intersection of best practices and well-planned spaces for learning and faculty-student interaction, the College of Law is able to provide a superior experience for students to meet the rigorous demands of a modern law degree. Designed and built specifically for legal education, the improved facilities connect space and technology in myriad ways to help students become successful attorneys—everything from deeper desk tops designed to accommodate laptop computers, to broadcasting and video capability, to courtrooms equipped with virtual environment tools that allow students to learn to do things like recreate accident scenes.
Defining a Vision of Legal Education:
An interview with Dean Hannah Arterian
Q: What was your vision for Dineen Hall?
A: It was meant to be a place of great energy and openness and mixing. We needed a whole new kind of place to reflect the fact that it’s a whole new day, a whole new game in legal education. We wanted a place that would embrace the energies of everyone who is associated with the College and inspire them to revitalize and rethink legal education.
Q: What did that mean as you were working with the architect?
A: I didn’t want this to be what I would call a “derivative” building. You know, people have their views of what a law school should look like. When you move away from the more conventional structures, it’s a huge challenge to think about how you can create a space that’s architecturally outstanding and that, on the inside, is a place that really boosts people to do and be the best they can be…that it spurs them on.
Q: How did this impact the design of the building?
A: It means that the space had to be open. It had to be the kind of place where people would intersect in unplanned ways. Not the kind of place where people are crowding in hallways, but the kind of place where you come upon people sitting in nooks and crannies or naturally congregating in large common spaces. We wanted it to have the feeling of energy, but not anxiety. I don’t know how else to describe it. There’s something powerful about walking into the building and being able to see all the way to the other side. Most importantly, the building supports what I like to call the “lived environment” of the College.
Q: What do you mean by “lived environment”?
A: It’s something I feel intensely about. It’s not about “oh, we’ve got a classroom with this many seats, and this, and this.” It’s not about “the bathroom is here and the coffee maker is there.” It’s that this is a place where people really live. Law students are in their building all the time. This is their home. So we wanted to make it a place where they would really want to be. Where students could informally work together, be together, and just have conversations. One of the absolutes was that we had to have as much sun – as much light – as can possibly exist, coming from every direction.
Q: Why was light so important in the development of Dineen Hall?
A: We wanted the building to connect us to the world that is beyond us. Not with little peepholes, but visually wide open. The law is not an abstract science; it’s not a lab science. The law exists in the real world; it has effects on real people in the real world. It is easy to forget that. Our incredible Melanie Gray Courtroom can be seen from the street and from the interior of the building. That’s not by accident.
Q: What does the design of the building say about the College’s approach to legal education?
A: It means that we are combining a really rigorous legal education that people may think of as more traditional with the development of a professional identity for individuals. We tried to think of all the little details that would matter, such as giving students big lockers where they could hang their professional clothes, and developing all kinds of opportunities where students could get integrated with each other and start building professional networks. Our Student Life operation is second to none.
Q: What else does Dineen Hall say about the legal profession?
A: We wanted it to show that the value of a legal education has never been more visible, in terms of the importance of the rule of law, and of the utility of a law degree in a variety of contexts beyond traditional practice. We wanted to do things that highlighted our programs that are remarkably distinct. For example, the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism is housed here. The space makes apparent the real
interdisciplinary work of our students.
Q: How does the building accommodate legal clinics?
A: As we were researching the design of the building, we visited a lot of other clinics at a lot of other schools. Everybody has a notion of what clinics should be and where they should be located. Here, our clinics are housed in an incredible space. At some schools, they’re hidden. They’re behind a door where you can’t see them, or with some back entrance. Not here. This is what we DO!
Q: How do you answer people who ask why the University and the Dineen family committed the funds to build a new law school at a time when the environment for law schools is so challenging?
A: A lot of things just kind of fell into place. We had a chancellor and a board of advisors who saw that the old physical plant was being asked to do things that were very different from when a lot of us went to law school. In fact, an architect told us that we didn’t really have a building, just a collection of “building fragments.” In a lot of ways, we were struggling in our other plant because a lot of people had already become engaged in this more community-minded concept of the centrality of legal education in the much broader context of the world, and it was really hard to do that there. And then we had this family, the Dineens, whose parents had graduated from the law school long ago, under very unusual and difficult circumstances, to become one of the most prominent families in our region. Everything just kind of came together.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about the building?
A: There are many, but one of my favorites is the fact that Article III of the Constitution is displayed across the entire front wall of the reading room in the library where it can be seen from the Levy Atrium. It’s a constant reminder that an independent judiciary is fundamental.
Q: What does Dineen Hall mean to the faculty, staff, and students?
A: We’ve been given an incredible gift by our donors, and in partnership with the university. This is the opportunity. This is OUR opportunity. We’re all going to take it in different ways. We’ll do it as a community in some ways, and individually in some ways. We all have to work together to create professional identities. Nobody can do it all by themselves. We can assist. We can encourage. We can remove barriers. This building is about respect – from the Neporant café, to the library, to the working and conversational spaces, to the desktops that are big enough to handle laptops, books, and everything else students carry with them today. It’s about the respect that is required to build a professional identity.
We’ve created an environment where, both literally and figuratively, people don’t have to vie for visibility. We want to live up to this space. We want to be as inspired as this space allows us to be.