The collaborative outdoor installation “Cornell: Safely Together” aims to make COVID-19 physical distancing a little more social, with mown patterns and furniture on the Ag and Arts quads.

Quad art installations make physical distancing more social

In late September, an anonymous Cornellian who goes by the name HighOkenshieldPriest asked a question on Reddit: “Why are there crop circles on the Arts Quad? Was it aliens?”

They were asking about circles mown at least 6 feet apart on the grass near Sibley Hall. These patterns were followed by a set of freestanding seesaws that materialized nearby. These curved “Seat-Saw” rockers have seats on either end separated by 6 feet. Meanwhile, across campus, a mowed radial pattern splayed out from the paths on the Ag Quad, with log seats punctuating the terminus of each spoke.

They’re all part of “Cornell: Safely Together,” a collaborative project that aims to makes social distancing a little more social.

Students and recent alumni from the College of Art, Architecture and Planning (AAP) created the concepts and designs. Architecture students Jordan Young, M.Arch ’21, and Cait McCarthy, M.Arch ’21, designed the Seat-Saw installation specifically for the project. AAP staff and faculty members and university architects advised, while AAP research associate Alex Kobald coordinated the effort. Grounds crews from Facilities and Campus Services executed the designs.

Still to come: outdoor furniture on the Arts Quad.

Here some participants share their perspectives on the project.

Mown patterns in front of Sibley Hall create awareness of physical distancing guidelines while providing opportunities to study and relax outdoors.

“After months of isolation and quarantine, anxiety and uncertainty, people are struggling to get through their normal routines. They are craving interaction with family and friends and have looked for safe and unique ways to do so from a distance, from 6 feet apart. As students began returning to campus under these conditions, they needed options. The resulting landscape spaces are an amenity we desperately need – perhaps more than at any other time in our lives.”

Margaret Carney ’81, university architect, project adviser


A student uses a recycled log as a backrest on the Ag Quad.

“As an artist who is interested in public art and outdoor sculpture, this struck me as a unique opportunity to learn about the process behind outdoor interventions. Within my own art practice, I frequently work with recycled materials, so my first instinct was to find out what was available on campus that could be repurposed. A visit to the Grounds Department yielded some logs that fit the project very well. I’m excited that a sustainable transformation of readily available materials could play a role in this process.”

Grace Sachi Troxell, MFA ’21, concept design, milled logs design


Cait McCarthy, M.Arch ’21, relaxes on a Seat-Saw, which she designed and fabricated with Jordan Young, M.Arch ’21.

One big takeaway has been the variation between how we, as designers, imagined the Seat-Saw installation being used and the way people actually use it. Of course, we expected people to rock back and forth and lounge on the pieces – but we have found that the seats have also become sites for holding seminars, doing homework, napping, eating, ‘Instagramming’ and so much more.”

Cait McCarthy, M.Arch ’21, concept design, Seat-Saw design


Log pieces on the Ag Quad were upcycled from recently felled trees that grounds crews from Facilities and Campus Services cut to size for the “Cornell: Safely Together” project.

“Our role was to provide a reality to the students’ vision. We measured and mowed the turf according to the patterns the students provided in their design mock-ups. We also provided the logs they desired for seating, according to the sizing they asked for. We have always supported student projects like this, everything from art installations to student outreach projects. I am proud of our staff first and foremost and that we were able to support this project during this time.”

Kevin McGraw, senior operations manager, Grounds Department


Cait McCarthy, M.Arch ’21, left, fabricates a Seat-Saw with Jordan Young, M.Arch ’21, in Rand Hall.

“The most challenging aspect of this project was the sense of urgency to provide returning students with interactive and engaging spaces across campus. In an effort to implement our installation early in the semester, the design of the Seat-Saw pieces went through a series of rapid iterations as we worked to minimize material costs and fabrication time.”

Jordan Young, M.Arch ’21, concept design, Seat-Saw design


The “Cornell: Safely Together” installation helps students and others on campus maintain physical distance while socializing.

“For generations, Cornell’s campus landscape has been renowned for its beauty. However, our landscape performs so many other important functions. “Cornell: Safely Together” not only contributes to the academic growth of the students who designed and created these installations in the landscape, but provides new and unique opportunities for students and our community to experience the simple pleasure and healing power of time spent in nature in a socially responsible way.”

David Cutter ’84, university landscape architect, project adviser


Chae Park, M.Arch ’21, (left) takes a break with Rondell Almodovar, M.Arch ’21, on a Seat-Saw on the Arts Quad.

“At AAP, as stewards of the built environment, we are committed to approaching the myriad spatial challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic with both creativity and responsibility. These proposals by students, recent graduates, faculty and researchers combined their design imagination with ingenuity – using limited resources to bring people together in a safe, sustainable and engaging way.”

J. Meejin Yoon, B.Arch. ’95, the Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of AAP, project adviser


Rondell Almodovar, M.Arch ’21, rests on a Seat-Saw on the Arts Quad.

“I wanted to provide students with moments of surprise and relief while they are navigating one of the most challenging semesters. As architects, we are trained to think of design problems on a variety of scales. Working on the social distancing project was an opportunity to design across scales by considering environmental impact, the campus scale, each quad, the collective group of students, and the individual student.”

Isa Branas, M.Arch ’20, design for the project concept, mown patterns, milled logs and graphics

Media Contact

Abby Butler