Four Sides of the Quad

Whatever Side You Take, There’s Something to Love About the Quad.
Students circle up for a study session on the Quad.

The Playground

Students balance their studies and recreation with a slack line on the Quad during a warm winter day.From the summer days, when new students cross paths with their soon-to-be best friends, through fall, when the trees anchor slack lines, hammocks, and campus-wide celebrations, the Quad forms a second living room. ”Whether you sit with a guitar under a tree or hang a hammock in its branches, it’s a Quad for the community,” says UNC Asheville’s Landscape Architect Melissa Acker. “I remember coming in one weekend, and students were camping in Curry Courtyard. That’s how you tell the space is a success. It’s used, or in this case it’s lived in.”

Acker has seen the Quad through some of its major changes in the past quarter century, from the addition of the iconic sugar maples in 1992 to the installation of the geothermal wells in 2012 and the cultivation of the rock garden over the past two years.

Her design-for-the-people philosophy means that while some surrounding spaces are enclosed, the Quad remains open to encourage gathering, playing and generally spending time in the sun. Plants line the edges, with trees providing some needed shade and an annual colorful display that causes campus celebration in the Turning of the Maples.

But it’s another annual celebration that’s on the mind of Acker and the 12-member grounds crew, one of whom has primary responsibility for this central campus space. The team starts planning for Commencement in February, fertilizing the grass, then overseeding it, and finally mowing it short to form a carpet for the graduation march. Sometimes, they mow it in stripes to make it look really special.

“We want families to know how much it meant to have them here,” says Acker. “We feel a part of that moment. As the students walk down the grassy path, we feel like we got another bunch through.” 

That audience has grown over the years too, now filling thousands of folding chairs instead of the three sets of athletic bleachers that used to be transported to the Quad each spring.  And the space is always ready for them, functioning as a supporting backdrop to the more formal education.

“We have so much informal education on campus, and I wanted to encourage it,” said Acker of the carefully planned space that combines native plantings with beloved outcroppings such as the yellow-berry holly and tall dawn redwoods. But it’s the maples that seem to capture all the attention. “Those trees form the backbone, so people know they are in the mountains.”

Acker was first drawn to the mountains when she applied for the building and grounds supervisor position at UNC Asheville. She a native of the South herself, having grown up in Florida and earning a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from NC State University and a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Louisiana State. Her love of landscapes and plants goes back to the age of 16, when she started working at a nursery that grew plants from orchids to palm trees. Most recently, she’s helped the university’s efforts to add more garden spaces on campus and expand the greenway. 

The sun and shade of the Quad create an ideal spot for an  outdoor study session or class meeting.The Classroom

In winter, the ground-source heat pumps buried under the Quad pulse heat through the surrounding buildings, warming the university, and come spring, the campus blooms again, abuzz with presentations of student research, when students are likely to be circling up for an outdoor class or studying the geology garden that has cropped up in the corner. 

“It’s an educational garden,” says Professor Emeritus of Environmental Studies Bill Miller, the man behind the rocks, which weigh anywhere from 200 to 5,000 pounds. “I wanted to get a good representation of the major rock types around here, and I also want to get a good representationof geologic history.”

The 20 rocks in the garden have been sourced and donated from mining companies around the region and range from the pricy pink sandstone from Nantahala to the two green boulders of olivine from Spruce Pine. Students and visitors will find a near-home “gneiss” in Swannanoa that shows the metamorphism or stress of mountain building and the furthest stone to travel to the site - the Rockingham granite that is a self-contained classroom for showing the stages of crystallization through phenocrysts.

Next on the list of additions is a Stone Mountain granite with smaller crystal formations.

“It’s a great story to tell your geology students and the public. These are two different granites with two different cooling histories, and you can see that just by looking at the rock.”

The geology garden is one of the newest features of the Quad, with mineral samples from around the state converging in the corner between Zeis and Rhoades-Robinson HallsIn fact, the story of the rock garden on campus starts as far back as 1989, when UNC Asheville hired Miller as its first geologist. Since then the Environmental Studies Department has grown from three to eight faculty members, including three geologists, and now offers concentrations in earth science, ecology, and environmental policy.

Bringing the rocks to light is part of this ongoing education, whether it’s the large boulders that now anchor a corner of the Quad or the work of breaking them down into minerals.

“What we do with the rock is we cut it into a billet or a little rectangular block.  We glue it to a glass slide, grind it to the thickness of a hair, and place it under the microscope.  Then you can pass light through all of the minerals and identify the minerals by their optical characteristics…. You can cross polarizers and it’s like looking in a kaleidoscope, but the colors all mean something.”   

Professor Emeritus of Environmental Studies Bill Miller’s areas of expertise include mineralogy, economic geology, and geochemistry, and he’s led class trips to most of the mining companies who have donated the rocks to this project. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia, and a M.S. and B.S. from Virginia Tech, and has taught at UNC Asheville since 1989. Though retired since 2013, he still leads undergraduate research projects and continues his research on the geology of the Blue Ridge and on artifacts from historic shipwrecks. Miller currently serves on the North Carolina Geology Licensing Board.

The Green Space

When UNC Asheville moved to North Asheville some 50 years ago, the Quad was an open
field ready for new growth. With more than nine native species now planted on the two acres today, it continues to serve as a green space and a place for contemplation and creativity.  

Joy Hof ’14 captures the natural beauty of the Quad in her signature artwork.

As a transfer student, Joy Hof ’14 has walked across the Quad hundreds, if not thousands of times, in the past two and a half years of her art studies. She recreated her perspective of Ramsey Library and the remaining crab apple tree, using collaged mixed media and experimental pouring techniques – a layering process similar to that of action painters in the 50s and 60s such as Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler.  It’s a technique she developed through her undergraduate research and senior exhibition on the Earth from Above. But in this piece, she envisions Memory Lane. The recent graduate calls the painting process her “quest to discover a balance between control versus chaos as well as factual versus the imaginative.”

The Tradition

Since 1966, when a class of 66 students were the first to receive four-year B.A. degrees from then-named Asheville-Biltmore College, the Quad has set the stage for annual celebrations in the spring and in the fall. 

As Nancy Dillingham, a literature major from that class recalls, “UNC Asheville was a parade of changing landscapes and faces then. In 1963, the campus consisted of three buildings. The library occupied the top floor of Phillips Administration Building, one large room with a small, glassed-in reading room. Classes were held in the Science Building and the Administrative Building. I vividly remember attending the openings of the Lipinsky Student Center and D. Hiden Ramsey Library that make up the Quad today.”

Graduation Day 1966

By Nancy Dillingham ‘66

I walk the Quad
To the Student Center
Awash in nostalgia
Memories wafting on summer breezes

I see Emily Porter, registrar
Pyramid of dark crinkly hair
Full skirt swirling
Flat slippers slapping
Walking and talking in her office
My first day on campus

Dr. Ellis Shorb flashing his mustachioed smile
As he strides across dewy grass
In short-sleeves, sandals and socks
When I arrive for my eight o’clock

Instructor Sylvia Wilkinson
Clicking by library stacks
In high heels, short skirt, black tights
Long, straight hair flying

Dr. Norman Jarrard’s balding pate
And quizzical eye in Advanced Rhetoric
Just he and I as he commands me read my play
One day when the other two members cut class

The shock of Dr. Gerald Gullickson’s
Fiery orange hair and rapid-fire delivery
His precise style and finely scripted comments
That first summer of his arrival on campus

A parade of faces and changing landscapes
An evolving grading system
To Pass and Fail from A and B
The comprehensives, Senior Thesis, the GRE

I take a deep breath, mind at ease
Walk straight ahead to the task at hand
Find my place in line
Proceed for my degree