On Monday, Sept. 23, at solar noon (12:48:37 p.m.), students, professors, people of the New Paltz area and even the SUNY New Paltz President Donald P. Christian, gathered in Wooster Hall at SUNY New Paltz to observe the Fall Equinox.
Glenn Geher, a professor of evolutionary psychology, brought his evolutionary psych class to observe this occasion and speak about the science and intent behind the design of Wooster.
Wooster Hall is what Geher considers to be one of the best buildings on campus because of “the really cool solar element involved.”
Geher explained that Randy Croxton, the world class architect who designed Wooster, thought to place the main staircase at True North (also referred to as geodetic north).
According to Cristen Conger, in her article “How to Find True North,” on howstuffworks.com, True North “is a geographical direction represented on maps and globes by lines of longitude.” True North differs from north on compasses, which points to magnetic north. Conger explained that magnetic north is “a point in the Arctic regions of Canada that continually shifts location based on the activity of the Earth’s magnetic fields.”
Croxton decided to place windows with four openings at the top of Wooster Hall’s main staircase.
“[The] windows are designed such that every day of the year, when solar noon happens, the lights from there will hit this particular staircase right along the North/South trajectory,” Geher said.
Geher went on to share that Wooster was meticulously designed so that “during the two equinoxes, when the Earth is in perfect balance with the Sun, the lights will go dead onto the bars [at the base of the staircase].”
Seasons changing and equinoxes occuring have a significant anthropological impact, notable to the evolution and history of humanity. President Chris Joe Diamond, of the Anthropology Department, examined human cultures from disparate parts of the world, including areas in South America, India, Africa and various parts of Europe, who have created things like the design of Wooster Hall to mark the seasons changing. Geher highlights the relevance of systems such as these.
“You can think from a nomadic perspective, if you start having evidence that the days are about to get shorter, that’s probably a signal that you might need to move,” Geher said. “If you’re an agriculturalist, or a post-nomadic society, that’s probably a sign that you’re going to want to start thinking about how you’re going to grow your crops differently as a function of the days getting shorter and the days getting longer.”
Equinoxes and season changing plays an imperative role in how humanity operates. After explaining the science behind the beams of light, Geher began to play his Solar Playlist, which included songs like “Here Comes the Sun,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “Kashmir,” “Santana” and others. Everyone in Wooster watched as the rays lined up with the bars on the ground, and experienced the Northern Hemisphere of the Earth shifting into fall.