The campus of North Park University sits on 30-acres in an urban neighborhood on Chicago’s northwest side, where it was established in the late 1890s. Over the years, as its educational mission evolved and its student population grew, like many expanding urban universities, North Park began facing significant challenges in maintaining a cohesive visual identity.
A stroll through the university’s campus in the 1990’s would have clearly illustrated many of these challenges. The campus was highly fragmented by city streets, crisscrossed by unsightly overhead utilities, and had a significant number of ill-maintained bungalows and two-flat apartment buildings. Further exacerbating the problem were inadequate spaces for student recreation, overgrown and unmaintained plantings, and informal paths that reflected the inadequacy of its circulation network.
In 2005, Hoerr Schaudt was engaged to create a new master plan for the campus that would reshape the University’s identity and use open space and landscape as the primary mechanism to create change. As part of this plan, the design recommendations included some bold moves. Proscribing the closure of several streets and alleys to through traffic and burying the power lines, Hoerr Schaudt erased the physical and visual barriers to cross-campus circulation. This left the designers free to delineate pleasant gathering places and walkways that reinforce the natural patterns of North Park life.
The project’s most impactful element of the design is the broad campus green that transformed the former library site. This relaxed “quad” hosts everything from intramural ballgames and fencing practices to study dates and sunbathers. Disparate buildings are linked by pathways created in consistent and practical palette of asphalt paving edged with red brick, for a “warm historic feel that isn’t tied to a specific style.” The restrained use of paving materials allowed for economy in the hardscape design that was transferred to a larger investment in the campus plantings. Multitudes of native Midwestern grasses were also introduced, an all-season chorus waving in the wind toward halls of learning.
SCUP / AIA Excellence in Landscape Architecture Honor Award 2008