As one of the country’s oldest and most distinguished institutions of higher learning, the University of Chicago has always strived to have that prestige and tradition reflected in its physical campus. Over the past twenty years, Hoerr Schaudt has had the privilege of completing multiple projects that have served to further the elevate the quality of the campus while supporting its mission as one of the few campuses in the country designated as a botanical garden.
When the Olmsted Brothers designed Botany Pond in 1903, the University was taking definitive steps to achieve this by forging a botanic identity – an aesthetic specific to the University that celebrated horticulture as a placemaking tactic.
The pond became an outdoor laboratory of sorts, enabling students to observe, study, and learn from the aquatic plants and animals living within its waters. Over time, however, classes were using the pond as a plant-study facility less and less, and though it remained a coveted place by students for studying, eating, and napping, it evolved into a grassy area with far less botanic diversity.
In 2001 when the University of Chicago received a gift to create spectacular gardens on campus over a ten-year period, the school saw an opportunity to recommit itself to its botanic aspirations. Botany Pond was among the priority settings outlined in the gift due to its central location on the quadrangles and its proximity to a primary pedestrian route through campus, and Hoerr Schaudt was chosen to lead the redesign, restoring the pond to revive its botanical splendor and enhance the quad so popular among students.
The revitalized pond is richly planted with azaleas, pickerelweed, iris, lily of the valley, a Japanese maple, and several bald cypress. The restoration naturalizes one of the pond's edges by sloping the bank gradually into the water, and further blurs the line between land and water by planting several of the bald cypresses in the pond itself. Hoerr Schaudt strengthened several sight lines into the pond area and softened the dominance of the surrounding architecture at the edges of the garden with plantings along building perimeters. New historical replications of campus lanterns illuminate the pond at night.
The historic main quadrangle is the spiritual heart of the University of Chicago. As the campus expanded, this central space remained its ceremonial heart. However, by the time the University invited Hoerr Schaudt to undertake a landscape renovation, the quad looked far from dreamy. Rumbling thoroughfares for cars and trucks had replaced grand axial walkways and plantings laid out by the Olmsted brothers in the early 1900s. Hoerr Schaudt kicked off the revival of lost pomp and circumstance by narrowing the streets into broad pathways – still wide enough to accommodate the occasional off-hour delivery vehicle. Raising the former roadbed to the level of adjacent lawns eliminated curbs, a barrier to physical accessibility and visual flow. Instead of asphalt, new masonry pavement nods to time-honored English collegiate prototypes. A dense limestone was utilized to match the surrounding neo-Gothic buildings, and a porous concrete which filters stormwater into sandy subsoil (instead of city sewers) creates a proverbial red carpet through the quad – the route where kilted pipers lead annual processions of arriving freshmen and departing graduates.
SCUP Merit Award 2012
Across from Botany Pond at Hull Court, Hoerr Schaudt was engaged to create a pocket park that took its angular shapes from the pond. These shapes improved the circulation of that area to create a more efficient quad experience. The planting palette for the project was one of the first on campus to employ a native planting theme, further augmenting the biodiversity of plant typologies found on campus. Hull Court was designed to be a place one rests within rather than a decorative element one walks past on their way to somewhere else.
As the University of Chicago grows larger, it is expanding its geographic foothold south of the midway. Woodlawn Commons, a new public-private residential hall housing 1,200 students is a product of this growth. The site plan creates a central courtyard with a mounded lawn to support a variety of student activities and functions. The naturalistic planting design softens the architecture, creates scale, and provides students with green spaces in an otherwise dense urban area with few opportunities to connect to nature. The main courtyard ties into the South Campus pedestrian connector which gives students access to the greater South Campus open space network. Along East 61st Street, a series of outdoor terraces and gardens have been provided for each of the Resident Dean apartments. Situated in an opposing bend in the mass of the building, the rooftop garden provides residents with an elevated place of respite in the Commons. At this point, lushly planted gardens envelop a flexible lawn offering students a south-facing green space for gathering during the shoulder seasons.