A wooden observation deck looks out over the Class of 1918 Marsh.

Campus life is managed tumult — whether a full-throated football game at Camp Randall or a live band on the Memorial Union Terrace on a summer evening. But there are coves of unexpected calm and seas of serenity on campus that can paradoxically quicken one’s life with quiet. They can, that is, if you know where — and when — to look.

1. The Class of 1918 Marsh (shown above)

Not far from University Hospital, this swamp might look static, but it’s actually inching through a slow-motion restoration to its former marshy glory. The best way to enjoy it, short of pulling on a pair of waders, is to catch a looping trail at Parking Lot 130 near the entrance to Picnic Point, then walk to a weathered-wood overlook. Sit on the bench and ponder this panorama spiked by a forest of cattails, and tune in to a soundscape layered with the conk-la-ree! of epauletted red-winged blackbirds nesting along the edge.

Rooftop deck with wooden trellises and patio tables


2. Nancy Nicholas Hall

The third-floor terrace of the School of Human Ecology’s home on Linden Drive lets you sit on lacy wrought-iron chairs that are bathed in — you choose — dappled light beneath an arbor or full-bore sun, all graced with deep green ground cover. The wide- angle view sweeps across a swath of rooftops, including the terra-cotta tiles of Agriculture Hall next door. In the distance, you can even see a slice of Camp Randall Stadium.

People practicing yoga on wooden deck on the shore of Lake Mendota during sunrise


3. The Memorial Union Terrace (early morning)

It doesn’t just matter where you go, but also when: The Union Terrace is crowded at brats-and-beer-and-music time, but the morning after is the flip side of the Terrace’s split personality. And it’s glorious. The water is like blue, exquisitely rippled glass, and the nautical woods of sailboats sway at anchor. A jogger glides by — pad-pad, pad-pad — accompanied by birdsong instead of bandsong. The iconic sunburst chairs are lined up in long rows, composing a rhapsody of yellow and green and orange backlit by the rising sun.

Several people gathered at patio table on outside deck at the top of Education building


4. The School of Education Building

Make that a double order of third-floor terraces with a view, because the School of Ed on Bascom Hill has one, too. This view features Muir Woods, Lake Mendota, and an edge of Helen C. White Hall. The terrace offers up wooden furniture, sun umbrellas, two big sumacs, and ground cover dotted with yellow blossoms, plus the nearby Crossroads Café. The seamless integration belies a striking fact: the terrace is just an architectural kid, having opened in 2010, 109 years after the first students walked into the then-named Engineering Building.

Two students work on laptops while seated on red cushioned outdoor furniture on patio


5. Elizabeth Waters Residence Hall

Overlooking Lake Mendota, this dorm hides a rear courtyard complete with tables and chairs and birds and trees, suffused with a large measure of silence. You’re cocooned by the hall behind you and the woods, sky, and lake before you. On a sunny summer morning, there may even be a sense of Italian villa in the air. This, you decide as you sip a cup of coffee, is how a courtyard can turn tense into tranquil.


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