At the conclusion of last semester, I left Williams giddy with anticipation for what awaited us in the fall: a new quad. No longer would science folk be the only students with a habitable quad on campus. Soon, I thought, us humanities kids would have a neat, new spot to discuss important philosophical conundrums and poems and the orthogonals in Piero della Francesca’s paintings.
Sure enough, I arrived on campus for my final year at the College, and there it was: a quad … of sorts. The cynic in me wanted to write a scathing review of the construction. I would have teasingly drawn parallels between our metamorphic assemblage and that ancient Athenian agora. I would have jokingly inquired whether a truck transporting large slabs of marble might have crashed near the site, inadvertently landscaping our new quad. The opportunities for negativity are endless. But that’s all low-hanging fruit, jokes that have been made a myriad of times since the start of school.
The production of the new quad has a few collaborators: there’s Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the practice responsible for Sawyer, Hollander, Schapiro and the Apple Store. In the context of this review, however, Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects (SSA) is equally, if not more, important. The firm is responsible for projects at institutions like Amherst, Bowdoin, Harvard, Northeastern, UMass Amherst and Yale. Essentially, SSA crushes landscape design for higher learning institutions and prep schools in New England.
Now that we’ve identified the party most responsible for the design of the quad, I could haughtily suggest that that SSA conned the College into paying for an overabundance of marble, only to lazily disperse it about the new quad. But, after hearing positive feedback, and taking the time to think critically about the quad, I’ve found that such a suggestion would woefully miss the point. I have to admit that I’ve grown fond of this heap of marble.
My appreciation for the quad did not develop overnight. First, I had to do my due diligence. And by that, I mean to say that I had some other people do my due diligence. Namely Jeffrey Rubel ’17, rock extraordinaire. He, along with the rest of the geosciences department, confirmed that the rock upon which we will so comfortably sit is indeed marble. Could you imagine if the College had provided us with simple creek rock to serve as the foundation for our contemplation, our conversation, our genius? Luckily, those slabs are, in fact, marble, hailing from the famous Danby Quarry in Vermont. Rubel went further, enlightening me about the marble’s unique breaks and rough-hewn nature, pointing to those qualities as further evidence that these blocks were likely remnants from the quarry. If the likes of Danby, Vermont as the origin for our dear marble is not enough to make the Williams student feel dignified, Jeffrey noted that this marble is commonly used for monuments all over the country, proving that our rock is both sturdy and of repute.
So why do I like this new quad? In 1844, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It would be no small advantage if every college were thus located at the base of a mountain.” Of course, we all know that Thoreau was referring to Williams College, and, of course, he is right. Our location is immensely advantageous in nearly every regard, except for getting food later than 2 a.m. and seeing the sun for more than a few months per year. But time and time again, we point to the mountains as underpinning Williams as we know it. It makes sense, then, that SSA’s project is “conceived as a new green with uniquely crafted spaces that relate to [Williams’] roots as a mountain school …” according to its website. Individually, the marble slabs function as ledges upon which we can perch and do scholarly and sociable things. As a whole – especially if you’re facing Frosh Quad – the slabs begin to work off of one another, transforming the quad into something of a mountain itself.
The shape that the rocks take is a rather simple, albeit poignant, feature to point to. There are, however, a few other qualities that I appreciate. Setting aside aesthetics for the moment, I’d like to highlight a walkway that now exists, which cuts across Paresky lawn toward Sawyer. After three years at Williams, I’ve seen my fair share of new sidewalks. Generally, a new sidewalk will spawn wherever students’ walking tendencies have made natural paths in the snow and, in the spring, the grass. For three years, however, there has existed an unmistakable footpath across Paresky lawn is now a bona fide sidewalk, and a nice, wide one at that. A simple improvement such as a new walking path will make a world of difference this year.
I’d also like to touch on a more subtle use of our beloved Danby marble. If you’ve got your head down, you’ll likely see those familiar slabs of marble embedded in the ground. It may not seem like much, but I feel the need to applaud SSA for the more conservative, yet stylish implementation of the marble. In and around the quad, there are several contrasting ground surfaces: there are the large, speckled slabs of cement and gravel that form the walkways around the green, there are the rectilinear pieces of light grey solid stone that lead the way to Bernhard, and there is packed dirt and gravel that has a darker hue to it. The smooth, milky marble offers another, more radiant, hue, and provides the quad with even more textural variety. The overall effect is a wonderful medley of colors and surfaces that’s pleasing to the eye.
In closing, I simply hope that this quad gets the love I feel it deserves. I urge everyone to engage the space – go there to enjoy a meal with company, and be sure to consider it from a variety of angles. I hope that then it might make sense, if it did not already. And if all that fails, go to Sawyer, stand in front of the entrance, and face Paresky and Frosh Quad. You’ll see an immense mountain looming in the distance, peeking out from behind the two buildings and filling the negative space between them. Now, if you look down, where the new quad sits, the marble should echo the slope of the mountain range in a truly remarkable way, punctuating the green and grey that surrounds it. If that view doesn’t work, then perhaps you’re better off in Science Quad.