Remarks by Charles Renfro at the McMurtry Building Groundbreaking
Stanford has always been known for its groundbreaking research and applied science. I, like many of my peers, thought it was a school wholly populated by nerds. Then about 12 years ago I picked up a book called Object to Be Destroyed, which chronicles the artist Gordon Matta-Clark’s irreverent approach towards art making. Author Pam Lee’s writing rocked my understanding of contemporary art practice. The fact that she was from here rocked my understanding of Stanford.
It was with this adjusted view of Stanford that, two and a half year ago when my partners and I were asked to interview for the new McMurtry building, we were a little giddy and a little scared. We would need to match Stanford’s intensity and quality. How would we get their attention: use the nerd card which Liz, Ric and I don’t like to admit we have or the artsy card which we like to flaunt.
Luckily, we didn’t need to choose. Burt and Deedee McMurtry, who accompanied us on the first site tour were intellectual but conversational, knowledgeable about art, design and architecture but insatiably curious. They are artsy nerds. We could see that they would be ideal clients — participants in the process, outspoken and opinionated, but respectful. They let us be who we are by being who they are. Much to our pleasure, we were selected. Throughout the design phases, it would be Burt and Deedee’s careful, measured comments that would have the most weight and ring most true. While sometimes seeming like parents, they are usually more like little kids – excited and indefatigable, full of joy, life and excited about the future.
Likewise, the faculty and staff of the Art and Art History department have fully engaged with us and challenged us, as we challenged them, to think more broadly, to tread in unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable territory. I promise that this building will change the way glass is seen at Stanford, pun intended.
Together with Nancy Troy and her colleagues both in Art Practice and Art History, we have designed a building that will redefine arts education but that is also unique to Stanford. It will usher in a new architectural paradigm on campus by directly responding to the pedagogical ambitions of its residents: the Studio Art and Art History programs. The new building will support traditional modes of art making and teaching. At the same time it will promote new degrees of student and faculty collaboration. It will use openness and transparency combined with indoor/outdoor work-spaces to encourage cross-disciplinary creativity and productive dialogue between the Studio Art and Art History students and faculty. The Art and Architecture Library will act as a facilitator between these two arms of study, literally and metaphorically positioned between them as a supercharged meeting ground. This will be a building that attracts not only Art and Art History students, but will become a new hub for the campus and serve the entire student body, over 90% of who participate in the arts on campus.
The sculptural form of the building is the result of a play on the simple and elegant logic of the Stanford Quad. The building, equally divided between Art History programs and Studio Art programs, surrounds an outdoor court. The two opposite sides of the court are severed, pulled upward and extended over one another in a vertical offset, making a second outdoor space on top of the first and forming a knot between the two sides. This move doubles the ground. Each strand contains a discreet part of the program: dirty Studio Art spaces in one (the Making strand), and clean Art History teaching spaces and presentation spaces in the other (the Studying strand). The two strands oppose and provoke each other while expressing co-dependence: the base of one strand forms the platform upon which the other rests. Together, they form a gentle embrace.
The siting and finishes of the building compliment those of its closest neighbor, the Cantor Center. Each strand is clad in its own material with the Making strand in vertically patterned patinated zinc in the rich earth tones of the Stanford Campus and the Studying strand in yellow stucco to match the Cantor. The Cantor lawn where we are sitting now will serve as the new commons to both facilities, with programs visible through expanses of glass and spilling out through wide-open doorways. Along with the new Anderson Collection, there will be a campus within a campus and a new creative hot spot anchoring the north end of Stanford.
I want to thank my team, David Chacon and Brian Tabolt, for their dedication; my partners at Boora- Stan Boles and John O’Toole for continuing to work patiently with us; and the folks at Stanford- campus architect David Lenox and project director Susan Rozakis for never losing faith in us as architects, thinkers and partners. We’re still all in this together.
And lastly I want to thank the McMurtrys who have given so much to Stanford, to the arts and to us. On the first day of our fact-finding trip to LA, I not only learned that Burt and Deedee hail from Houston, my hometown, but that they also went to Rice, my alma mater. We were instant family. Later that evening, Burt shared with us, all 30 of us, several cases of rare DRC (Domaine Romanee Conti) Burgundy. After learning what a DRC wine is, tasting it and feeling its effects, I realized how supremely generous the McMurtrys are. Needless to say, we’ve become dear friends and I know a little more about wine.
Working together as friends, family and colleagues over the next two years, we will witness not only the making of a new building but the making of a new Stanford, one that testifies to Stanford’s forward-looking ambitions, one that demonstrates its alignment with the arts and one that couldn’t have happened without its loyal alumnae and supporters. DS+R is proud to be part of its history – we will take ownership of our ‘artsy nerd’ moniker with pride.