Oct. 09, 2020

At first, the plan was to build a giant swing. But when Rice architecture students creating an entry for this semester’s design charrette realized the logistics just wouldn’t work, they moved on to plan B: seesaws.

The seesaws won.

“Twelve Feet Apart,” the students’ entry in the design competition, are now on display along with other playful pieces that are all part of the newest Rice Public Art installation on the grassy lawn at Alumni Drive and College Way.

With the design charrette they organized for the School of Architecture, graduate student Alec Burran, Martel College senior Lauren Ma and Will Rice College junior Juhi Parikh challenged their fellow architecture students to create something unique to our time: a temporary installation for socially distanced gatherings that would abide by COVID-19 guidelines from Rice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Both call for a minimum of 6 feet of separation, but the seesaws — as their name implies — doubled that, placing people 12 feet apart at each end of the beam.

“A bunch of teams had a week to come up with designs,” said Baker College sophomore Spencer Hotelling, who was part of the winning four-person team. “We decided we wanted to have people physically connected, but still safe.”

After winning the charrette, Hotelling and his teammates — Duncan College sophomore Peyton Chiang, Baker College junior Joseph Hsu and Brown College sophomore Jeff Xia — set about building and painting a series of seesaws at Anderson Hall.

By Oct. 1, they were ready to install their seesaws on the lawn. They spent the morning carefully driving them across campus and retouching the whimsical designs: One is painted like a giraffe, another a chicken. One seesaw placed on a deliberately tucked-away corner is cherry red with dainty white hearts.

“We call that one the companion, which is what we’d imagine a first date seesaw would be,” Chiang said. His favorite, however, is the crocodile. “I think it’s the cutest.”

In the days after the installation, the seesaws were already attracting students and campus visitors alike. And just as more public art is planned for the space in the coming weeks, the architecture students hope to incorporate additional designs contributed by the student body next semester.

For now, however, the winning team members are happy to see others enjoying their work as much as they did.

“It kind of brought us really close together, just as a team,” said Hotelling of the extracurricular time they spent planning, building and painting the seesaws. “For us personally, it just became something that helped our mental health a lot.”

He also hopes the playfulness of the brightly painted playground equipment will brighten moods across campus.

“All of our lives have gotten pretty routine lately, to be honest,” Hotelling said. “So I think this is a nice break from it.”

- By Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.

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