Students give McMurtry College quadrangle a makeover

It’s a new year, and thanks to the hard work and innovation of some McMurtry College students, their college quadrangle has a whole new look.

Students from the college attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Jan. 25 to celebrate the new outdoor space, which features a patio with the McMurtry College crest.

McMurtry College quad before the renovation

McMurtry College quad prior to the renovation

The idea for a new quad design was proposed in fall 2011 after many “Murts” noticed that during times of heavy rain, mud pits would form on the quad, which made it difficult to use the area.

Shaan Patel, a McMurtry College junior studying architecture, said he saw a need for more usable space “for a college that likes being outdoors.”

Gilberto Hernandez, who served as McMurtry College president from February 2011 to 2012, led the effort to create more usable space on the quad and formed a student committee to address the issue.

“I think the most important thing we can take away from this journey is that this all originated from student input at our weekly town hall meetings,” Hernandez said. “The rest was fueled by student initiative and motivation, and the results clearly show that student empowerment is of the utmost importance for a college with growing identity. I am very proud of McMurtry.”

Patel and Adam Bloom, a McMurtry College sophomore studying electrical engineering, led the committee, which was required to submit design ideas to Rice’s Facilities Engineering and Planning Department (FE&P). The committee initially proposed the construction of a wooden deck, but FE&P determined that such a structure would not withstand inclement weather and humidity.

The students looked into other options for their quad redesign and worked with Eleni Barzouka, a senior project manager for FE&P, and Mark Ditman, associate vice president of housing and dining (H&D). After months of discussion and strategizing, Patel designed a hard patio made with pavers, which met with FE&P’s approval.

Ditman noted that British architect Michael Hopkins, whom he described as one the leading architects in the world, designed McMurtry College.

McMurtry College quadrangle following the renovation

McMurtry College quadrangle following the renovation

“Shaan, as an architecture student, designed something that is as wonderful and elegant as Hopkins’ work,” Ditman said. “To put his work beside Hopkins’ and have it look seamless and gorgeous is really remarkable.”

With the design approved, Patel and Bloom needed to obtain approval from the McMurtry College government association to fully implement the new plan for the quadrangle. After a presentation to the association, the committee received unanimous approval for the plan and funding to build the patio in November. FE&P covered the cost of regrading the land in the quad and added drainage and civil engineering fees.

Construction on the structure began in December and was completed earlier this month.

“The new patio is a wonderful example of collaboration between students and staff that resulted in a beautiful amenity for the college,” said Barbara Bryson, associate vice president of FE&P and a McMurtry College associate.

“I thought that it was a great example of teamwork, and I really admire the students for their creativity and optimism, and their ability to make things work,” Barzouka said. “They were open-minded and very positive throughout the entire process. I loved working with the students. They were amazing.”

Patel called it an honor to be a part of the project and give back to his college.

“As an architecture student, (I feel that) having a built project is remarkable, and I am very happy that McMurtry and Rice have supported me every step of this difficult process,” he said.

Dereth Phillips, who serves as a McMurtry College master along with her husband, Associate Professor of Composition and Theory Karim Al-Zand, said she was impressed by the students’ initiative to make their vision a reality.

“It is hard enough for students with demanding academic schedules to get even minor projects off of the drawing board,” said Phillips, a lecturer of biochemistry and cell biology. “And yet, these remarkably creative, tenacious and resourceful students went back and forth among the drawing board, FE&P and the student government numerous times until they had both the design and funding support they needed to move forward. The result is better than anything we could have imagined. Karim and I are extremely proud of what they have accomplished.

“Sometimes we make the mistake of suggesting that student projects like these are a just distraction from classroom learning. However, the reality is that this project is an integral part of our students’ education. As we see it, the completed patio is the final exam in a multiyear course in leadership, collaboration and design. We think our students earned an emphatic A-plus.”

Peter Abraham, president of McMurtry College, said, “The beauty of the patio is it provides an open hangout space in our quad which has been underutilized. In addition, the patio has some of our McMurtry identity with the rampant lion design made out of bricks. McMurtry’s crest is only a couple years old, so it’s great to be able to include a historic piece of our college in our quad.”

Patel and Bloom are pleased with the final product and hope “Murts” will enjoy the quad for years to come.

“This project has really shown me how empowered Rice students are to effect positive change on our campus,” Bloom said. “It has been wonderful to work with Shaan on this project, in addition to the many wonderful individuals at H&D and FE&P who helped us get this project off the drawing board. Cutting this ribbon reminds me of how lucky I am to be a student at Rice. It really takes a special place to make a major student-driven project a reality. After this great experience, I am looking forward to making even more contributions at McMurtry over the next two years.”

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About Amy Hodges

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.