Horizon Hall, at the center of George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus, was conceived as a crossroads where faculty and students in many disciplines can meet and exchange ideas. The multistory Word Wall that greets visitors in the building’s atrium embodies this vision.
“Every time I come into the atrium, the Word Wall offers something new to consider,” said College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Ann Ardis. “It absolutely sets the tone for what we want this learning space to be.”
On the ground floor, adjacent to the MIX’s makerspaces, a dynamic digital display shares a kaleidoscope of quotations, juxtaposed in an ever-changing conversation of ideas. Shifting pairs of quotes, contributed by the Mason community and representative of their fields of study and favorite texts, appear in unexpected combinations, inviting an exploration of new contexts and meaning, and offering textual windows into global human history in a 21st-century academic building.
“It’s a matrix of 12 display screens, operating to look like one,” explained Danny Collier, CHSS information technology and web development director. “They are covered with a translucent veneer that matches the rest of the wall, so when it’s turned off it just blends in.”
Most of the time, though, the wall displays illuminated wisdom collected via a web app designed by the CHSS IT team.
Collier was a member of the team that worked with Horizon architects Perkins+Will to refine the concept of the wall. The committee, which reflected the breadth of the college’s disciplines, included Rei Berroa, chair, Department of Modern and Classical Languages; Lisa Breglia, the college’s senior associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs; Chris Clarke, associate professor in the Department of Communication; Wendi Manuel-Scott, associate professor in the Department of History and Art History, the School of Integrative Studies, the African and African-American Studies Program, and the Women and Gender Studies Program; Rashmi Sadana, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology; and Garry Sparks, associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies.
“The committee came up with the idea of this never-ending conversation, which is the defining characteristic of the wall,” said Collier. “Two quotes are randomly paired. The first quote leaves, the second takes the top spot, then another quote finishes the new pair.”
He appreciates the way the random pairing of the Word Wall’s quotes come together.
“There’s something powerful in these pairings,” he said. “Not every pairing resonates, but more often than not, they combine in a striking way.”
The wall’s first citations were offered by CHSS faculty and staff, though Collier notes that anyone with a Mason login is welcome to submit their own quotes for inclusion on the Word Wall. The submission page is available at wordwall.gmu.edu, and the college encourages Mason community members to offer their own thought-provoking quotations for the wall.
“The conversation never ends,” Collier said.