I teach my 10:50 am class in Hertzstein Hall, one of the buildings on Rice’s impressive academic quad. It was built in 1914, and the interior betrays the building’s age. The hallways are filmed with the distinctive, sweaty residue of physics-student stress. But its age also means that it’s filled with unexpected and delightful architectural details, including wide marble staircases and glazed tiles.
Once I got over the annoyance of teaching a communications course in the physics building, I began taking some time to look around. Some of my favorite details of Hertzstein — aside from that dense clutch of consonants in the middle of its name — are the doorknobs. I enter the building by pushing down on a carved snake head, and the door behind the professor’s desk in my classroom features two cranes with intertwined necks.
Rice is a campus that rewards poking into corners, strolling through unfamiliar buildings, and taking the long way. While I love American University, my alma mater, its campus isn’t terribly collegiate. AU’s claim to architectural fame — at least when I was enrolled as an undergrad — was the Kay Spiritual Life Center, which the students lovingly dubbed the Flaming Cupcake. But Rice is a nice blend of brick-and-ivy and unexpected quirkiness. The arched hallways along the quad, lit with heavy hanging lamps, are supported by stone columns crowned with laughing faces, perching owls, berried branches, and the occasional charging football player. The sewer covers feature the bug-eyed, Hellenistic owl that also adorns the school’s official seal.
Any reader of this blog knows that I have mixed feelings about staying at Rice post-hooding ceremony. Ideally, I would have marched off the stage in the Shepherd School last May and into the Future, and I still wince inwardly when I walk through the foyer of that building at least twice a week. What am I still doing here?
But if the fates have determined that I’m here for now, Rice isn’t a bad place to be. And not just because of the architecture. I’m teaching. I have time for research, if I could just take advantage of it. For an academic writing professor, I have an enviable degree of freedom when it comes to the content of my classes. Next semester, I’m teaching “Writing the City.” Fun!
And, if I’m ever feeling down, I can spend a Friday evening nursing a beer outside Valhalla, the grad student pub, gazing up at a small dentist giving a dragon a root canal carved into the masonry above my head.