A liminal space is a threshold of unease, a place that is somewhat uncomfortable to be in and yet could exist anywhere. Brandeis University hosts an astonishing number of these liminal spaces, and today, for all of the devoted Hoot readers out there, I will be ranking my top ten favorite liminal spaces on campus. For the true liminal experience, I would suggest exploring these by yourself at night to enhance the space.
Number 1 (least liminal on the list): The Gosman Basketball court
You enter the basketball court, feeling the glossy court surface texture beneath your feet. It is unusually dark—the lights in the room are motion activated—for a moment, all you can see is the eerie reflection of yourself on the floor. The motion sensor captures your movement, and large hanging lights switch on loudly above your head. Not all of them, not quite yet, only the few above you, as if the Gosman basketball court has commenced its interrogation of you. What are you doing here? Planning to play basketball? Or are you just a passerby—on your way to the swimming pool? (Indeed, the only way to access the Brandeis swimming pool is to walk through the basketball court.) This room feels off, wrong somehow, and yet it looks exactly as one would expect a basketball court to appear.
Number 2: The Entrance to the Faculty Club
There is a covered staircase leading up to the faculty club, darkened and dim. As a student, there is nothing specific barring you from walking up these stairs, and yet, you are uncertain. You are at the threshold between what is accessible to students and what is barred. It can be uncomfortable to walk up the stairs in the darkness before emerging in front of the double-doored entrance.
Number 3: The Sound and Image Media Studios (SIMS) Study Area
SIMS is a fantastic place to check out camera and lighting equipment within the library. And, if you walk past the desk and rows of computers and around the side of the room, the back area of SIMS has many desks and tables at which to study. You are in a compressed, silent space. Other students are also there studying – they speak in hushed tones. The sound of computer keys typing away is endless, if not unnerving. Though there may be other students, the place still feels abandoned. Nobody speaks to you. You sit at a desk, back to the wall, artificial lighting immersing you, scribbled words etched into the desk in front of you.
Number 4: The C-Store Back Rooms
Perhaps you have seen it on your way to buy a packet of chips. An open door leads to a room with a small desk and computer with the security camera footage playing live. Or, you went to buy milk, only to spy between the gaps of milk cartons, sometimes behind the milk. A room, filled with food, and yet unable to be purchased. The C-Store back rooms hold promise. You cannot go there, but you can see a glimpse of the present – see on the screens who is walking in the store—and of the future—what the C-Store will soon have stocked on its shelves.
Number 5: Downstairs Health Center
Across from the reception desk lays a staircase, its placement appearing as if its steps go nowhere. Instead, go down the stairs, and you will find old files and chicken wire and other miscellaneous items, perhaps shelved there for lack of a better space. It is unknowable in its vastness.
Number 6: Library Dungeon
Go down to the lowest floor of the library, they said. It will be a great place to study, they said. In the library dungeon, your footsteps are heard across the floor, louder and squeakier than you imagined them to be. The air here is stale, not quite in the mood to go anywhere. You will get work done down here and not quite remember how you had the drive to accomplish it.
Number 7: Levin Ballroom
The location of events such as fake ice-skating spring 2022 and ominously lit Fall Flex 2022, Levin Ballroom is truly the multipurpose liminal space of your dreams (or nightmares). From the upstairs banisters and underhangs to the backboard of the stage, there is a cursed energy that exists within the room. Walking through, you feel bothered, as if you should maybe leave and go somewhere else (anywhere else) instead. Nobody goes to Levin Ballroom unless absolutely necessary.
Number 8: Gosman staircase
Perhaps you signed up for a Brandeis group exercise class in the dance studio, or you want to run on the treadmill, or you want to use the rock wall. Today, you choose not to use the elevator, and instead, venture down the staircase. The Gosman staircase is uncomfortably eerie—perhaps due to the scuffed nature of it and its lack of natural lighting. If there was ever a staircase leading to unknowable horrors, it would be this one. Also, it always smells like Mcdonald’s.
Number 9: all of East Quad’s hallways
They are narrow, they are at odd angles… give a warm welcome to the East Quad hallways! They are a point of transition, never somewhere to linger in for long. You only walk down an East Quad hallway if you are living in East or are trying to leave the building. The white textured walls encroach on you, begging the question: was the hallway REALLY this narrow the last time I was here?
Number 10 (the most liminal): Downstairs Spingold Theater
No windows, odd rooms that could be either in an elementary school or a fallout shelter and a circular design that will make you envy Theseus’ easy route in the labyrinth on his quest to find the minotaur. Round and round you will walk, encountering the same rooms again and again (or are these rooms different from the last rooms you walked by only moments before?) Downstairs Spingold is truly the most liminal space at Brandeis University. Just like walking through a grocery store in the middle of the night, time is endless and unknowable—it could be any time of day in the world outside, and you would have no idea. I encourage you to check it out—maybe bring a ball of yarn so that you can find your way back out again.
Honorable mention: the empty Phi Psi Basement