No visit to Tempe would be complete without a tour of Arizona State University (ASU), the largest research university in the United States and the main attraction in town. The campus wasn’t far from my hotel, so -- after my meetings ended today – I grabbed a map, donned a backwards baseball cap, and set out to give myself a tour. I started with the oldest building on campus, the “Normal” building which dates back to when the school was founded in 1885. ASU was originally known as the Tempe Normal School and the “Normal” building (pictured above) was the center of campus life.Just to make sure I was in the right place, I decided to ask one of the “locals.” More than 70,000 students attend ASU, so I sat myself down on a nearby bench and waited for one of them to walk by. It didn’t take long. A young student sat next to me. “Pardon me,” I asked, “Is this the Normal building?” “What?!?,” he asked. He was wearing a thick, red wool ski hat, complete with ear flaps, despite the 90-degree heat. “I’m just wondering if this is the Normal building,” I continued. “What?!?,” he repeated. I gave up. Something told me “Normal” wasn’t in his vocabulary. I guess we all have our cross to bear. Speaking of which, a quick glance around revealed another unusual site. A young couple was scurrying by, carrying a cross.
I decided follow them, keeping a safe distance, just to see what they were up to.
They strolled down Palm Walk, one of the main pedestrian walkways which criss-cross the 642-acre campus, passing the Health Services building, the Engineering Center and the Life Sciences building. Everything looked so clean. Even the Palm trees lining the walk on either side of us seemed brighter than the ones in Los Angeles. According to one of my colleagues, it’s just an optical illusion: the fact that the desert sky is much brighter than it is back home makes everything else seem more vivid. By now, the couple with the cross had reached their destination, a Volkswagen Beetle that was parked on Normal Ave. They hopped in and drove off into the sunset, no doubt in search of a Crown of Thorns.
I continued walking North towards the heart of the campus, past the Hayden Library and the Student Union. I couldn’t help noticing a small, cozy building which turned out to be the original University’s “President’s Cottage.” Today it’s the Virginia G. Piper Writers House, a center for creative writing where folks gather to share ideas and fine-tune their writing skills. Robert Frost stayed there twice. I'll bet these days it's a haven for bloggers.
My next stop was the Global Institute of Sustainability. This building, pictured above, proves that ASU practices what it preaches when it comes to the environment. Not only do they teach “sustainability,” but the building itself uses a set of roof wind turbines (pictured above) to generate its own power. I didn’t want to get too close – I'm told the building was constructed using recycled materials – but the whole thing makes a bold statement, I must say.
Equally interesting were the solar-powered trash cans that could be found throughout the campus. Actually, according to the manufacturer – a company called BigBelly – they’re not trash cans at all, but rather “intelligent waste collectors.” Just throw in your trash, stand back and watch in amazement as a solar-powered compactor crushes and prepares it for efficient recycling. I just hope no one sticks their arm in when the silly thing’s on!
I wrapped up the tour by retracing my steps down Palm Walk, crossing a pedestrian bridge that led to the Sun Devil Stadium (home of ASU’s Pac-10 champion football team, the Sun Devils), my hotel and the airport in that order. Tomorrow, it’s back to the Normal grind!