By Agata Michalak
Although recently named the seventh “Ugliest College Campus,” many Stony Brook University students agree that the university’s Staller Steps are an exception.
“It’s a great place to relax and congregate with other students,” said Caitlin Finn, an art student who disagrees with the rating given by Complex Magazine. “And it’s pretty.”
Of all the places on the Stony Brook University campus for students to connect, Starbucks and the Staller Steps are the most adored.
“It’s a really cool place to just hang out,” Stony Brook freshman Nicholas Monter said. “There’s a lot of different people and there’s a person flying a kite right behind me. It’s a place to express yourself and talk to people.”
The Staller Steps is the only place in the university’s Academic Mall that has a large, open space. The steps are 70,000 square feet in size, with seven tiered lawns.
The steps were a gift to the University by the Stony Brook Foundation, a public charity. Since its establishment in 1965, the foundation has invested more than $235 million in the University. The Staller Steps opened in May 2005 during former Stony Brook University President Shirley Strum Kenny’s term and became popular after her State of the University address the following fall semester.
“The terraces provide a pleasant space for students to enjoy,” Kenny said. “They will also provide an amphitheater that can be used for a variety of purposes, with the patio in front of Staller as the stage.”
The amphitheater at the bottom of the steps, normally used to host smaller performances, caused controversy at the University’s annual “Back to the Brook” concert this September. Students shoved one another down the steps and ran past the police to get closer to the stage. This could endanger future concerts hosted on the Staller Steps.
“I don’t think it was dangerous. I mean, students wanted to be close to the performers and the Steps kind of gave them that chance,” said freshman Sabrina Shea.
Alan Inkles, the current Staller Center director, had a different take on the situation.
“We have to find a way to control the area and work with the police if we’re going to do big events there,” Inkles said.
The architecture firms Beyer, Blinder, Belle Architects & Planners LLP, Damaz, Pokorny & Weigel and Gruzen & Partners, along with main designer Ervin Galanty, were the early campus architects.
The groups started transforming Stony Brook University in the 1960s, when they designed the Student Union, the Administration building, the Melville Library, the Fine Arts Center, (renamed the Staller Center in 1988 after a generous donation from the Staller family), the Physics building and many of the other older buildings on campus.
Galanty and Damaz collaborated on the Fine Arts/ Library area of campus. In the 1960s, when the school was undergoing these huge construction projects, the Staller terrace area was just a giant concrete pit. It stayed that way until 2005.
“The Staller pit was great for whiffle ball games, but a lot of dirt and garbage collected down there,” Inkles, who is also a graduate of Stony Brook, said. “Sometimes they would do some concerts down there, but it wasn’t really usable — it wasn’t a very attractive space.”
Inkles embraced the idea of renovating the area into grassy steps. The design would open up the Staller building, make it more inviting and give the center an opportunity to build a marquee.
“Not only do we have classes out there on a nice spring day, it’s also a captured audience,” Inkles said. “We’ve got the marquee, you can’t help but look up.”
Inkles’ enthusiasm is shared by Stony Brook’s students.
“I come here almost every day, I’ve juggled here before with my friends, I’ve practiced doing handstands and flips with my friends and I read a book sometimes,” Monter said.
One of the Staller terrace’s most unique achievements was last winter’s “Harlem Shake,” where dozens of students danced with the University’s mascot, Wolfie.
There’s also one new campus trend that began on the steps which cannot be overlooked. On warm days, usually during campus lifetime, campus fraternities set up Slip’ n ’Slides at the top of the terrace.
But even with so much student traffic at the Staller Steps, they hardly ever look dirty or unkempt.
Carlstrom & Ritter Inc. is Stony Brook University’s maintenance crew. Because their storage location is in the Staller Center, it’s convenient for them to keep the area tidy.
“We keep the grass strong and clean,” said Juan Carlos Rodriguez, who has been with the maintenance company for five years. “We pay a lot of attention to this place, because everyone comes and chills here.”
Devon Esposito, a senior at Stony Brook University, appreciates the grass-tiered steps.
“I don’t have to be cooped up in my concrete room all the time.”