Gardens and Walkways in the University of Chicago’s Main Quad
Last week we received the great news that our work at the University of Chicago will be given a Design Excellence Award by the Society of College and University Planners (SCUP) at their national conference this year. The award commends several projects we completed within the University’s Main quad that illustrate both how horticultural diversity can create a distinctive sense of place and how thoughtful design can contribute sustainable solutions that enhance the image of ‘heritage’ campuses. Tradition and ceremony are at the heart of activities within this historic campus space, which was designed by architect Henry Ives Cobb in 1890.
Creating gardens within the quad introduced new diversity into the campus landscape as a way to make it more distinctive to prospective students. The projects kicked off the University’s major landscape initiative to designate the entire campus as an official botanic garden. Often campuses rely on master plans with soldierly rows of trees and monocultures that do not resonate on an individual level throughout the seasons. In contrast, Botany Pond Garden and Hull Court Garden, which are located on either side of a busy corridor in the Main Quad, are intense moments of horticulture with a level of detail designed to resonate on an individual level, such as weeping conifers and the exfoliating bark on a Paperbark Maple.
See more on the University of Chicago’s landscape initiative here.
Both gardens were originally created a century ago by the first chair of the Botany Department as display and teaching resources but no longer functioned as gardens. We drew on historic references frequently as we began restoration and redesign.
The design of both gardens involved significant collaboration with the University’s department of Ecology and Evolution. Nearly 90 percent of plantings in Hull Court are native prairie and savanna plants consisting of a matrix of grasses, forbs (broad-leaf prairie plants), and perennials. Professors in the department of Ecology and Evolution, who were deeply involved in selecting plant communities for both gardens, utilize it as a teaching resource. The native planting theme responds to a complex pattern of light and shade across a small space. Bloom and color times coincide with key events on campus such as recruiting and convocation.
The Walkways project removes vehicles from the quad to make it a more safe and pleasant environment for pedestrians and to restore the original intent of Henry Ives Cobb. To be successful, the project needed to improve the pedestrian experience while enhancing the Quad’s historic and cultural image.
Given the University’s focus on sustainability, we took the opportunity to incorporate pervious concrete into the new walkways for sustainable treatment of stormwater. To do this we combined natural stone pavers, which reference historic materials in the architecture with panels of a special pervious concrete mix that help with stormwater retention while being suitable for everyday pedestrian traffic. See more about this part of the project on earlier posts about using sustainable materials in historic areas and using the pathways to visually realign one of the historic buildings.
This is the third award from SCUP for our work. In 2008, a landscape redesign of the core campus at North Park University demonstrated the power of strong horticultural design and new pathways to revitalizing a 100-year-old campus. In 2009, the University of North Carolina Historic Landscape Preservation Plan was recognized for its innovative approach to historic and culturally significant landscapes on campuses.