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Proposed Quad redesign decenters controversial history

Katherine Hui / Thresher

By Nayeli Shad and Michelle Gachelin     3/21/23 10:35pm

The architect firm Nelson Byrd Woltz unveiled their proposed plans for the Academic Quadrangle redesign to the public on March 9. The changes included relocating Willy’s statue to the corner of Lovett Hall and the Welcome Center, adding community gathering spaces by Fondren Library and paving a curved, tree-lined path stretching diagonally from Rayzor Hall to Herzstein Hall. 

Thomas Woltz, the owner and principal landscape architect of NBW, said that the firm’s goal was to reimagine the quad and recontextualize Willy’s statue within it. 

“We’re trying to bring life and energy into the quad so that it becomes a hub of student life rather than only for the ceremonial moments,” Woltz said.

Ian Brennick, a designer at NBW, said that the firm always tries to layer multiple uses into every space they design. He said that a professor approached him about creating a small amphitheater for campus acapella groups. 

“It could be a gathering for acapella, it could be a classroom, it could be a space for yoga class or office hours,” Brennick said. “All of [that] feedback or input that you have is stuff that is creating a much richer, more diverse layer [to a] space that is really in service to university students and alumni.”

The new design proposes relocating William Marsh Rice’s statue by Sewall Hall, placing it directly on the ground. Woltz said that this will allow visitors to contextualize Willy’s statue within the university’s history while also reflecting Rice’s current values of inclusivity and community.

“​​The idea is to bring William Marsh Rice to the ground amongst us,” Woltz said. “You can stand with him … he’s no longer on a plinth looking down on the students, he’s eye-to-eye with the students.”

Additionally, NBW proposes moving the plinth atop which the statue sits off-center and back, facing the Cambridge Office Building. Woltz said that the plinth will be a platform for student activism, debates and performances to uplift many voices.

During the event, NBW provided QR codes leading to a survey open until March 23. President Reginald DesRoches encouraged all to provide their opinions.

“We intend to host future walk-throughs and community events in addition to collecting feedback via online surveys so that Rice and NBW can socialize the design concept while also keeping the best interests and desires of the Rice family at the top of mind,” DesRoches said in an email to the Thresher.”

Visitors were also provided Post-it Notes to add their opinions about the proposed plan to the poster boards. Some notes included messages such as, “I want swings,” “a lazy river [with] tubes” and “remove the proposed connection.”

Sohani Sandhu, a McMurtry College freshman, said that she likes the new path as long as the design doesn’t stand out too much from the rest of the quad’s features. 

“I definitely do think [the path]’s a good idea … I just want to make sure that it fits in with the rest of the paths that are being made and make sure that it’s not taking up too big of a space on the quad,” Sandhu said.

However, Justin So said that the curved path cutting across the quad was too asymmetrical.

“I’m not really sure about the proposed connection, like this curved path, because I feel like with the current design as it is, it makes it kind of look ugly,” So, a Baker College junior, said.

Woltz clarified that the path was chosen based on previous “desire” lines created by past foot traffic and that the curved design was selected to disrupt the angles and symmetry of the quad.

When envisioning the new space, McKinnon said the firm tries to balance both architectural significance and architectural capacity within their designs.

“We don’t know what it’s going to look like just yet,” McKinnon said. “[With] a quad with this much land in it, there’s [a] real opportunity here to make an amazing space for the students and the faculty and the next generation of students on campus.”

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