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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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