The main housing area at UMass Amherst. It houses roughly 5,400 students - approximately 55% of all undergrad students who live in on-campus housing.
Southwest was built in the 1960's-1970's, and the architectural style of dark brick-and-concrete that dominates the area reflects the building philospohy of the times: a building should be functional, low in cost, and riot-proof. To get a good picture of a typical dorm look at http://www.housing.umass.edu/reshalls/southwest.html.
Dorms make up most of the buildings in Southwest. There are two types of dorms: towers and low rises.
Towers are twenty-two stories tall. Of these twenty two stories, the 1st, 5th, 12th, and 17th are function areas. The first floor has the lobby, a security/campus mail/residence life office, the mail slots, and a few vending machines (where you can buy a tasty Coke for $1.25 - at least in 2001 when I graduated). The 5th, 12th, and 17th floors have kitchens, a large lounge area, and occasionally, a battered pool table or a gym.
The other floors have rooms, and have two hallways running down either side of the tower. Between these hallways are connections by the stair landing and elevator area, and at the lounge and bathroom. The rest of the central space is used by maintence closets and laundry rooms. One note about the elevators - the are three in each tower. Due to the low cost, cheap bastard design of the building, only one stops on every floor. This is known as the supervator. The other two stop at roughly every other floor.
The rooms themselves come in one of three forms: Z rooms, singles, and corner rooms. Z rooms are directly off of the hallways and are shaped like an L (not at all like a "Z", but this is UMass, after all). The outer part of the L has the window and is considered the "better" part of the room. The inner part bulges into the wall. Singles are also shaped like an L, without the inner bulge. The worst rooms of all are corner rooms. While the Z room provides privacy for each roommate, corner rooms are shaped like squares, and usually have bunk beds. These are at either end of each hallway, and form the characteristic concrete growths on the outside of the tower.
The following is a list of the towers, which are all named after US Presidents who were related to Massachusetts (plus Washington):
Low rises are "only" around 3-7 stories tall, depending. Architecture and layout is variable, though all rooms are either singles or corner rooms. The following is a list of the low rises, which are named after either famous people from Mass. or heavy contributers to the university:
In addition to dorms, Southwest has several additional buildings, named after counties in western Massachusetts:
Southwest is not for the faint of heart. It is home to people from all walks of life, from drunken louts to bookwormy types, with everyone else falling between. If it could be summed up in one word, that word would be loud. Southwest is very loud. All the time. A cacophany of honking cars, screaming girls, frats chanting, and the kid next door booming rap at a decibel level that seemingly makes the incus, malleus, and stapes fall apart.
One thing I learned from living there is that the law of the jungle must be followed. Take, or all is lost. This is why, two years after graduating, I still hoard things like free company coffee mugs. Because you always need a backup, especially in Southwest, were things break or disappear at a lightning pace and replacements are costly. Southwest shows that the administration of UMass doesn't care about the students, and that the students don't care about their own living areas. I've found bathroom stall doors ripped off, bulletin boards destroyed, and excrement in the elevator. Combine that with the fact that parking in a forbidden space (basically, anyway within a half mile of your dorm) and the fact that they put laxative in the chicken sandwiches so you don't get salmonella, contributes to the sense of awe and wonder I feel now at the convenience of the real world.
Still, though, I wouldn't have lived anywhere else. There were great people, and good times. It might not have been the prettiest area, or had the most "collegial" look to it, but it was the time of my life.
There are many ups and downs to living there, and many different cultures. Greek life and alcohol consumption are the twin pillars that dominate the Southwest living environment. If you like to party, then this is the place. People are generally very friendly, and not as cliquey or exclusive as other living areas. On the weekend nights, the concrete-lined areas outside are host to a variety of bacchanales. Still, in the morning sun, there's a quietness about the place.
I would recommend it to anyone who wants to go to UMass. It's something you will never forget.