Following a thoughtful search for a design partner that included an invitational competition in the summer of 2022, design work is underway to significantly reimagine Rice University’s Academic Quadrangle.
The university’s Board of Trustees has selected an exciting, deeply researched plan by the internationally renowned landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz that aligns with aspirations to enrich student experience, foster inclusivity and celebrate Rice’s evolution and values while respectfully recognizing the founding gift of William Marsh Rice.
Anchored by Lovett Hall and Fondren Library, the Academic Quadrangle is the university’s classically inspired architectural centerpiece. The beauty of the campus emanates from the space, which has served in recent decades as the site of commencement ceremonies.
The need to recontextualize the Academic Quadrangle became apparent during several years of conversations regarding its focal point, the Founder’s Memorial, given the founder’s history as an owner of enslaved people.
“Rice and the Board of Trustees worked diligently to honor all of the viewpoints expressed by the university community during those conversations, while also being mindful of the need for bold change that the Task Force on Slavery, Segregation and Racial Injustice emphasized in its 2021 report, ‘On the Founder’s Memorial,'” Rice President Reginald DesRoches said. “Nelson Byrd Woltz’s concept both respects our desire to create deeper thoughtfulness within the Academic Quadrangle and awakens the site’s potential to become a dynamic and welcoming gathering space for students, faculty, staff, alumni and visitors year-round.”
In keeping with the competition’s submission requirements, NBW’s initial plan includes proposals for moving the Founder’s Memorial within the Academic Quadrangle, locating a new major artwork that will celebrate the beginning of integration at Rice and reserving space for future monuments that recognize other milestones in the university’s history.
NBW principal Thomas Woltz said his firm was honored to be collaborating with the Rice community to reimagine the space. “The Academic Quadrangle is the heart of Rice and holds, therefore, the full trajectory of the university’s history which includes a demonstration of the university’s values of inclusivity and community in the 21st century,” Woltz said. “The redesign of the five acres of landscape spaces in the Academic Quadrangle offers a thoughtful example of the evolving dynamic uses and prevailing narratives in a space where minds and lives are shaped in academia.”
NBW, which has offices in Virginia, New York and Houston, is experienced in designing moving, respectful responses to culturally and historically significant sites of widely varying scales. The firm is also renowned for creating thoughtfully researched, sustainable landscapes based upon the native ecologies of its project sites. Both of these aspects of its history make the firm particularly well-suited to redesigning Rice’s Academic Quadrangle.
NBW’s recent projects include landscape designs for the Burial Ground for Enslaved People at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello; the John and Alice Coltrane Home in Dix Hills, New York; Virginia’s 600-acre Machicomoco State Park, which is devoted to Native American history and culture; the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania; and Memorial Park’s Master Plan in Houston.
This spring, NBW will share renderings of its plan for the Academic Quadrangle as it engages the broader Rice community and continues collaborating with the Board of Trustees to refine its design. Rice expects to break ground for the project this fall.