Academic journal article Change Over Time

DRAWING IDENTITY FROM CHANGE: Planning for Haverford College

Academic journal article Change Over Time

DRAWING IDENTITY FROM CHANGE: Planning for Haverford College

Article excerpt

American collegiate campuses are studies in adaptation. Policies and pedagogies are in constant flux, and each fall a new class of students - different, even if slightly, from those that came before - arrives on campus. Over time, existing structures are stretched beyond capacity, new buildings are built, and vacated spaces are adapted to new uses. Repeated many times over successive generations, this process can add rich layers of meaning and complexity to the campus and, by extension, to the institutional identity it embodies. Sometimes, though, changes dilute the sense of place, rendering the campus less coherent and the image of the college less distinct. (Maybe this is why colleges so frequently initiate a campus plan right after a major building boom.)

By considering the campus as a whole, planning can suggest ways to accommodate significant change while reinforcing the physical qualities most closely and positively linked to the college - without nostalgically invoking the architecture of past eras. Urban design mapping and diagramming methods can help discern the overlaid patterns, systems and relationships that form the unitary campus and suggest potential frameworks for future development. This paper considers the relationship between these drawing methods and the planning process, using as an example Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates' (VSBA) recent plan for Haverford College.

Preface to Planning: Some History and Process

Why Plan?

Haverford College is a small liberal arts college in Philadelphia's western suburbs. Its leaders sought a plan to "serve as a living document and decision-making tool . . . [and to] balance [their] ambitions for academic and institutional development with [their] commitment to sustaining the physical beauty of the campus."1 Recent buildings, planned project by project, had diminished the campus' beauty and cohesion and necessitated the removal of old-growth trees. Also, by drawing activity away from Founders Green, the college's historic center, new development had weakened the connection between Haverford's most iconic spaces and the intellectual exchange at the heart of its mission.

Planning was initiated as a new college president began his term and coincided with an academic assessment that set the direction for the college's strategic plan. The assessment recommended additional faculty and increased student-faculty research that would stress the capacity of even recently expanded academic facilities. Living and social spaces were also at capacity. A gradual increase in enrollment - 150 students since 1980, for a total of 1,169 students - had already required conversion of social space to student bedrooms. Places for people to gather, one-on-one and in groups, were few. Even so, the new administration wanted to consider possibilities for incremental growth of the student body by up to 400 students.

While the need for additional space was a catalyst for the plan, the college's Steering Committee was committed to preserving the historic buildings, arboretum landscape, intimate character, and wide vistas integral to Haverford's identity.

Process and Participation

In keeping with its Quaker heritage, the college sought broad input and consensus on the plan. Nearly four hundred members of the campus community - faculty, staff, students, alumni, and township officials - participated in a series of meetings conducted at the outset and at project milestones. The plan was steered by a committee of faculty, staff, students, alumni board members, and administrators, who met monthly and conducted informal interim meetings with peer constituents.

As principal-in-charge, the author led VSBA's team of architects, planners, and consultants, using methods that Denise Scott Brown and others in the firm developed over many years. Initial planning included a "once-over-lightly" - gathering preliminary data to get a broad view of the college and campus area, from the school's aspirations, issues, problems, and opportunities to its setting and context. …

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