Cotton Wood Trees

URI’s College of Engineering is home to the inventors and designers of the future. The College excels at teaching the inner workings of all things manufactured. And yet, surrounded by URI’s eight engineering buildings, is the Engineering Quad, a delightful pocket of natural beauty. At the center of this place, where students learn to engineer the artificial, stand three rare cottonwood trees. Clearly distinguishable from the surrounding buildings, they stand out against the man-made landscape.

Trees of such a tremendous size require a large volume of water. This water is supplied by an underground river that runs beneath the Engineering Quad. The stream spills out into an oasis-like pool just behind the library and travels steadily on down the campus. As we walk across campus, the pool and the cottonwood trees serve as reminders that far more is going on beneath our feet than we realize.

Enduring for more than fifty years, the Engineering Quad and its cottonwoods have been symbols of fortitude, as they are anchored to URI’s history. However, it has recently been decided that five of the buildings in this historic College have outlived their utility. The University has made plans to take down those buildings and replace them with a new, state-of-the-art Engineering Complex. The new building is designed to meet Bliss Hall, coming together to form a U shape around the existing Engineering Quad. Dr. Raymond Wright, the Dean of Engineering, is a major force behind the project and he hopes to have it completed in 2019. Dean Wright recognizes the importance and beauty of the Engineering Quad. Preserving its natural and historic charm is a key feature of the new Complex’s design. It is unclear how the new construction will affect the cottonwood trees, but the Engineering Quad as a whole will remain a captivating space for the URI community to discover and enjoy.