It wasn’t that long ago, as you walked along the northeast corner of campus, it was easy to miss the brutalist white stone structure of 727 East Dean Keeton. This is Townes Hall, where the University of Texas Law School is located. However, thanks to last year’s renovation of the courtyard and 14,281 square foot plaza on the north side of the building, no one is crossing this street, which owes its namesake to one of the foremost legal experts in liability, former Texas Law Dean W. Page Keeton — can no longer claim ignorance.
New signage proudly and prominently demarcates the law school from the residences opposite, and two open-air steel canopies provide a striking visual element reminiscent of a former courthouse supported by colonnades (a decidedly modern interpretation, in any event). The month of May marked the smooth opening of the first major zhuzh since the early 1980s, when Elizabeth Warren was teaching bankruptcy law on campus.
Now known as Dee J. Kelly Courtyard and Patman Family Plaza (backing donors include three current or former directors of the Law School Foundation and attorneys from Texas with close ties to UT Law and the university), it was designed by Barnes Gromatzky Kosarek Architects, the same firm behind the Texas School for the Deaf and Austin Community College’s award-winning transformation from an indoor mall to its Highland Campus. The aim was to give what was previously an unshaded, hidden (by overgrown crepe myrtle) and somewhat harsh concrete passage space a functional, comfortable and beautiful facelift.
It’s an open-air environment that, thanks to cooling and shading elements, and movable, café-style and communal seating, encourages lingering for socially distant meetings and gatherings. Coincidentally, the design is initiated for this time, when, vaccinated or not, many people prefer to gather in a comfortable outdoor setting. As Dean Ward Farnsworth says, “When we first planned this project, COVID did not exist. But these spaces have been especially helpful at a time when the virus is so difficult for everyone. ”
What was once a frontier artery more suited to those busy with memories is now an atmosphere for community building at a time when students are particularly hungry for it. The courtyard and the square have been designed with the students in mind first and foremost.
In 2019, when the project started, project manager Keith Pinkelman went to campus and set up the legs of a card table, topping it with snacks. He spent an entire afternoon in the old courtyard chatting with law students, asking them what was important to them. Some of the requests they shared were granular, convenient, like the charging stations scattered around the yard and plaza, and continuous Wi-Fi, so every place is a viable place to meet, work, study, or All the foregoing.
The redesign is highlighted by two white painted steel canopies, which not only provide rhythm and balance, but also a support system for lights and infrastructure, as well as the much-needed shade, transmuting the sun from the Texas in a softer glow. There are Big Ass branded industrial fans (the kind you see hanging from the ceilings of restaurants and gyms) in the yard, which Farnsworth calls miraculous. “They allow you to sit outside, even on a 90-degree day,” he says.
The past two years have been tragic and heavy, the quiet campus a sign of all that has been missed, relations have not been built. “These spaces had very few people,” says Farnsworth. “Now they almost always do – they’re buzzing with life. ”
Marissa Elder, a 3L (third-year law student) and president of the Texas Law Student Bar Association, hopes the new court will help things get back to normal. “Coming back to the Texas legal community, which we all want and want… it’s really a symbol of what’s to come,” she says.
Last spring, the Class of 2021 first entered the redesigned space, smiling in graduation gowns and giving the crocheted hand sign to celebrate their new law degrees. On Instagram, posing under a trellis of orange and white balloons and the old Townes Hall inscription, “So that they may truly and impartially administer justice,” most of the photos of the graduates are cropped close to show diplomas, smart business suits, proud partners and parents. You can’t quite make out the new space, but it’s not because it’s hidden away. It’s just fully inhabited.
CREDITS: Callie Richmond