Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Open Space Preservation: An Imperative for Quality Campus Environments

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Open Space Preservation: An Imperative for Quality Campus Environments

Article excerpt

The Need to Create a Quality Campus Environment

Higher education leaders should reshape their priorities to include the creation of attractive, engaging campuses that are conducive to both activity and tranquility. A felicitous plan delineates outdoor space in which buildings, fences, monuments, walkways, and plantings would be placed in well-proportioned spaces that take the natural terrain into consideration [7, pp. 2-4]. The mass as well as the placement of structures must be balanced to create harmonious spaces [7, p. 11]. Combining these planning concepts with good architecture and professional landscaping can approach the laudable goal of making a campus a work of art [7, p. 119]. Aesthetic richness is most fully realized when the planners take advantage of attractive campus surroundings and provide visual surprises [7, pp. 116-20].

A campus should convey visually a sense of place, purpose, order, and quality [8, p. 8]. After passing through gateways that establish the college as a special place apart, the entrant should feel that the campus expresses a high level of involvement through a thoughtful, effective physical layout that facilitates the execution of campus functions in a comprehensible, people-serving manner [8, p. 8; 26, pp. 1-2]. These objectives cannot be met unless an organizing element exists that draws the campus together. Open space in the form of an oval, mall, middle path, walkway, lawn, or commons frequently constitutes the unifying element [8, p. 7].

At the turn of the century when the modern American university was emerging, the Beaux Arts approach to campus design, then in vogue, dictated the use of a carefully drawn master plan to create unity out of the disparate functional needs served by a campus [21, p. 186]. Whereas the early American campus often consisted of a few buildings in an informal arrangement, planners now sought to "produce visual harmony and order" [21, p. 186] when siting structures such as libraries, gymnasia, dining halls, dormitories, administration buildings, and laboratories to serve more diversified functions [21, p. 186]. The design of open space constituted a prominent, integral part in these turn-of-the-century plans, because the classic Beaux Arts plan arranged buildings along axial boulevards and around city squares [21, p. 182]. Only carefully designed open space on a large scale could bring the "many disparate buildings or parts within a unified overall pattern" [21, p. 167].

Beaux Arts architects came to a consensus around 1900 that the most suitable campus plans should lay out a large open space, an essential part of the American tradition, around which buildings could be set to create open spaces in different forms [21, p. 188]. Many of the lawns, ovals, malls, and open space courtyards and quadrangles in our existing campuses are attributable to the Beaux Arts tradition's emphasis on city planning, which became the foundation of the "City Beautiful" movement in America [21, p. 167]. Extended rectangular space with a dominant building at one end and subsidiary buildings arranged along the sides, Thomas Jefferson's single axis design for the University of Virginia, which was rediscovered around 1900, became a popular campus pattern. Jefferson's plan was modified to include secondary axes and subsidiary groupings of buildings to provide greater variety and to accommodate the full panoply of university functions [21, p. 191]. A perpendicular axis could be added at the open end of the campus, as was done in Henry Ives Cobb's 1899 plan for American University [21, p. 191].

To accentuate architecturally noteworthy buildings, Beaux Arts planners created open space malls to afford long vistas of these buildings [21, p. 209]. The most desired site for the university's main academic building often became the highest campus ground, because a vista looking either up or down a hill provided additional drama. Situated at the top of a hill, Bascom Hall, the symbolic heart of the University of Wisconsin, is the focal point of an open space mall, which is terminated in the opposite direction by the State Capitol [28, p. …

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