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Oxbow on the Crum

Student-built cabin is striking addition to campus architecture

Perched on the edge of Crum Woods is a 10-by-10-foot cabin with a view of a particularly striking oxbow (U-shaped bend) in Crum Creek. Built by Jonathan Molloy ’14 as his senior art project, the aptly named Oxbow Cabin is the result of hard work and a little serendipity.

The College’s first special major in architecture, Molloy arrived on campus as Randall Exon, the Sara Lawrence Lightfoot Professor of Studio Art, offered Turning Corners: Drawing Architecture, a new course for students interested in that discipline.

“Working with Jonathan has been a combination of showing him skills, but mostly talking about drawing and design and helping him understand where he wants to go with his ideas,” says Exon.

As Molloy started his senior year he began to envision a structure in Crum Woods as his culminating project. Molloy found inspiration in the writings of Henry David Thoreau and Outermost House by Henry Beston—fueling his desire to give students a place to reflect and leave behind the stress of coursework and social obligations. In a preconstruction mission statement, he described the cabin as “a contemplative retreat located at the end of the Crum Woods that aims to encourage students to commune more often and more intimately with the solitude of the woods.”

As the academic year progressed, Molloy had a concept but no building materials. Then Stu Hain, vice president for facilities and capital projects, offered him a treasure trove—building supplies from the squash courts that were being dismantled to make space for the new Matchbox. Recycled ceiling beams furnish the cabin’s walls; the floors are made of salvaged plywood; and the windows are tempered safety glass.

“The building could have only come to fruition here, at Swarthmore, and nowhere else,” Molloy explains, citing “the wood and glass from the squash courts, the roof tiles from Parrish, the tools from facilities, the labor from the community. All of the materials are locally sourced or from the salvaged buildings on campus, and I’m benefiting from the knowledge of our local craftsmen—facilities employees.”

Hain not only offered building supplies but help with construction as one of several Swarthmore community members who invested sweat equity into the structure, often on weekends.

Alumni and professors, such as Kieran Reichert ’13, John Pontillo ’13, Exon and Assistant Professor of Studio Art Logan Grider, also offered to nail a board or just encouragement.

“We’re getting a ton of help from the facilities guys,” Reichert noted in mid-April, as he helped the cabin take shape. “A different one stops in every hour and teaches us or helps out with something.”

Exon viewed the cabin as not only a learning experience for Molloy but a reminder of the opportunities Swarthmore can provide its students.

“My role [in helping Molloy], as with every student here, is to help them set and then achieve their goals,” Exon says. “His happened to be pretty ambitious, but that’s what’s great about a small college and a place like Swarthmore.”

Situated near the new Matchbox, the cabin is another striking addition to campus, although not yet in its final form. This fall, as Molloy works on applications to architecture school, he will return to campus to complete the floor, build steps, landscape, and, ideally, build furniture for the interior. Once it’s done, both Molloy and Hain hope to be able to offer members of the Swarthmore community the opportunity to reserve the space.

“This has been Jonathan’s vision all along,” says Hain. “To offer the Swarthmore community a reflection space to paint, write, or simply sit.”