Swem announces plans for new patio

William & Mary Libraries is adding a new space with outdoor lovers in mind. The Libraries announced it will begin constructing a patio outside of Swem in December.

Dorothy Ibes, senior lecturer of Environmental Science and Policy, has envisioned providing more green space for students to simultaneously study and connect with nature since she arrived at W&M. Despite the beauty of the campus, she noticed it does not offer much space conducive for working outside.

“After studying the campus environment, my dream became helping develop outdoor spaces that allow students to be productive and comfortable while unconsciously realizing the benefits of nature engagement,” Ibes said. “Decades of research, including my own, has shown that time spent in nature helps restore the mind after sustained concentration.”

To help improve student health and wellbeing, Ibes teamed with faculty members Dan Cristol, Sharon Zuber and Ed Pease to develop and redesign campus green spaces. The group received grant funds from the Center for Energy and Environment to research areas compatible with outdoor learning and engagement. 

Preliminary design of Swem patio.

After deliberating, Ibes and her colleagues agreed that connecting an outdoor study space to Swem Library was the most effective solution for intertwining academics and nature. With support from Carrie Cooper, dean of university libraries, Ibes and former students Carrie Martin ’18 and Zach Meredith ’19 experimented on the best way to maximize the greenspaces around Swem.

“We put green chairs and tables around the library to see if students would use those spaces if they had somewhere to sit,” Ibes said. “It was supposed to be a pilot study for a couple of days, but it was so popular students complained when we took away the chairs. The pilot study turned into an on-going resource known now as the Swem Green Chairs project.”

The pilot study confirmed that the W&M community valued opportunities to connect with nature. To fill this need, students studying advanced architecture developed the idea of building a patio.

The Swem Patio will offer the W&M community the first time to gather and socialize in a third place, which is a public area that provides human interaction outside of work and home. Cooper said the redesigned green space will be a multifaceted area, accessible for studying, teaching and holding events.

“While we have a couple of small porches, they are kind of hidden and off the beaten path,” Cooper said. “The patio is compelling because it’s along a very busy thoroughfare that connects the Sadler Center to Andrews Hall and the Muscarelle Museum. It will be a perfect place to pull people in for studying alone, sitting with a friend, poetry reading, small concert, or other type of reception.”

Preliminary design of Swem patio.

The construction of the project is scheduled to begin over winter break. The developmental part of the process is led by Amber Hall, facilities planning, design & construction project manager, and she anticipates the patio will be completed by the end of February 2021.

Hall helped the Libraries make final decisions on the design of the outdoor space and is delighted with the ideas her team plans on executing.

“This patio is awesome,” she said. “It will have a passive water feature, which means the stream will collect rainwater in one corner and trickle it through a rock bed. The amenities we are installing such as electrical outlets for device chargers will be very beneficial. I also believe the furniture will be different and unlike anything seen on campus."

Ibes added the Swem Patio comes at the perfect time as the stress from the COVID-19 pandemic has been added on top of normal college challenges. The outdoor resource will offer students a natural way to reduce rates of depression and anxiety. It is a practice known as ecotherapy, connecting with the natural world in a way that facilitates personal, communal, and/or environmental health, healing, and flourishing

“We all need nature now more than ever,” Ibes said. “The opportunity to encourage students to spend more time outdoors will help protect them against COVID, and also improve campus mental health indefinitely.