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Davis, California

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Courtyard oases

ALEXA FONTANILLA / AGGIE

Hidden study, relaxation spots on campus

As much as UC Davis students love cramming their brains in cramped classrooms and crowded study spaces, some have found that a little sunlight and nature can help their studies along. UC Davis’ numerous courtyards, conveniently tucked away in the center of or in between buildings offer benches, lush grass and carefully landscaped gardens for students to enjoy.

“It gets some of the load of studying off,” said Mick Tiago van Eck Dos Santos, a third-year environmental sciences major. “I’m not the kind of person who feels happy after spending three hours in a dark building with some artificial lights on, whereas outside there’s nice weather, some nice trees and plants.”

Though many students find studying in courtyards to be a pleasant change to their indoor routine, others are too absorbed in their studies to even consider the enjoyment. Christine Tech, a third-year computer science major, was studying inside Robbins Hall with a clear view of the Robbins Hall courtyard, but said she had never noticed it.

“I go straight from the parking lot to my class, to my next class, back to parking lot, back home,” Tech said. “Even during hours when I don’t have class […] I still have to study.”

ALEXA FONTANILLA / AGGIE

Though sometimes overlooked by the busy student, courtyards can reflect the nature of the buildings and, by extension, the studies they are attached to. Visible from the building but hidden behind a greenhouse at the end of a parking lot, Robbins Hall courtyard is a quaint, smaller space where a patio table and trellis offer a private spot surrounded by an eclectic garden. It echoes the offbeat, earthy style of the Robbins Hall building, which houses plant science classes and features mosaic columns on its mustard-yellow facade.

At Cruess Hall, a modern, quirky building that holds design classes, an art piece of chairs can be seen in the courtyard, balancing on a single leg or whimsically suspended in a perpetual fall off the roof. In front of the Plant Sciences Building, a “Salad Bowl” garden of vegetables can be found, neighboring a collection of labelled plants and a brick wall with ivy obscuring a mosaic sign that reads “University of California.” Repeating patterns of white-trimmed classroom windows surround the patio tables of the concrete Chemistry Building courtyard and juxtapose with the jumbled foliage of trees that both extend to the upper levels of the building and hang low to brush one’s shoulder while walking to class. Voorhies Hall encircles a beautifully landscaped space where a large central fountain splashes serene ripples through a circular pool, accompanied by delicate roses and trees — a sight so picturesque that entering the space gives one the impression of stumbling upon an undiscovered eden.

With such an abundance of open spaces at UC Davis, courtyards rarely have more than a few people in them at a time and allow for intimacy in a spacious setting.

“It’s normally pretty quiet,” said Katherine Kays-Hoepkes, a third-year math major, who frequents the courtyard in between the UC Davis School of Education and Sproul Hall. “That’s why I like it. It’s quiet and I can hide from people.”

The School of Education courtyard, where Kays-Hoepkes was, invites visitors to sit and relax on its wide grassy area or on the benches bordering it, with trees and patio covers offering shade from the hot sun. Kays-Hoepkes noted how the ample spacing between benches in the School of Education courtyard lent itself to quiet conversations and peaceful solitude.

Other courtyards create different atmospheres.The Hart Hall courtyard is simplistic, yet has its own charm. A lush grassy area, dotted with several trees providing shade, gently slopes towards a stucco portico painted a pale orange that contrasts the vibrant green grass. One of the more popular courtyards, students can often be found lying on the grass and enjoying the shade from the trees there.  

“There’s my friend the magnolia tree,” said Cristina Murillo-Barrick, a second-year community development graduate student, gesturing to a tree in the Hart Hall courtyard. “We hang out sometimes when I meditate.”

Murillo-Barrick finds herself outside enjoying UC Davis’ outdoor landscape almost every two hours. Her previous job had her working outdoors daily and she dislikes staying in her windowless office and stuffy classroom all day. The courtyards remind her of the world outside her office.

“It gets me out of my head and into a larger space where I can stop being so theoretical and realize I’m just a little organism in the world,” Murillo-Barrick said. “Things are happening! It’s spring, it’s summer, it’s winter.”

She has found that the courtyards not only help her, but also help her community and regional development and African American studies classes learn. She brings them outside for discussion regularly.

“I think conversation becomes a lot more organic once you’re in an open space. A lot of the classrooms in Davis are really crammed,” Murillo-Barrick said. “We discuss a lot of really charged issues […] and I think that the setting makes a really big difference. The desks are all crammed together and people can’t engage as naturally or separate if they wanted space from each other. So I think that bringing folks into a less formal space where it’s more open helps people have conversations in a more comfortable way.”

Since UC Davis’ courtyards are enclosed by the buildings where students have classes, they are convenient and easily accessible. Students like Kays-Hoepkes and Murillo-Barrick said they go to courtyards anytime they have breaks in their schedules.

However, despite the convenient enjoyment to be had from UC Davis’ courtyards, some students still find themselves too occupied with their studies to spend time in them.

Jean-Yves Merilus, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in geography, said his offices are right by the Hart Hall courtyard but does not spend time in the space very often. However, he made a remark on the benefits of being outside.

“I usually work in my office and I enjoy having two computers, but of course that’s a challenge in terms of [getting] sunlight,” Merilus said. “It feels good [to be] out and sitting on the grass — it’s relaxing.”

Written by: Kristen Leung — features@theaggie.org

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