Animating the Campus Landscape

Pop Rocks on Koerner Plaza, the University of British Columbia image: Dean Gregory

Pop Rocks on Koerner Plaza, the University of British Columbia
image: Dean Gregory

Earlier this year, the office where I have worked for 5 years—Campus and Community Planning—was restructured to include a new division called Campus Programs and Animation. This group of people is responsible for supporting the University of British Columbia’s strategic priority of making our Vancouver campus more vibrant. My first reaction was “Hmmm—I thought we (the landscape architects) were doing that!”

We absolutely are doing that—creating the spaces and landscapes that are essential to a vibrant campus. But we don’t do it alone. Making the campus more vibrant involves leveraging public space, campus landscape and infrastructure investments with cultural and social assets to develop strong community programs and create extraordinary campus experiences. Real success requires a concerted effort by many individuals. With the goal of creating unforgettable and extraordinary campus experiences, landscape architects do create the platform and unique opportunities for meaningful intellectual, social, and cultural experiences and interactions. The design and programming contributions of other professionals, staff and the users themselves help us fulfill this goal.

Following are a few images—and a really fun video clip—showing the fruits of those efforts here at the University of British Columbia.

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Landscape Architecture on Campus

Li Ka Shing Center at Stanford by Tom Leader Studio image: Tom Leader Studio

Li Ka Shing Center at Stanford by Tom Leader Studio
image: Tom Leader Studio

This post was originally published on Land8 with the title “The Power of Landscape Architecture on the American College Campus” on April 3, 2014.

Landscape architects—and I include future ones in this group—seem obsessed with cities these days. Urban projects are all over the place at conferences and in design magazines, and even more predominate in related social media and the blogosphere, to the point that it makes me wonder if we all really just want to be urban designers. Of course there are legitimate and good reasons for this focus, such as the fact that more work is becoming available in cities as people migrate back from the suburbs, and high profile urban projects give landscape architects greater exposure on the media map.

Even so, I do worry a little that this preoccupation with big city landscapes may limit the perspective of students and young professionals to just how vast and diverse this profession really is. Although I won’t address all the possible career paths for landscape architects here, I do want to point out a specific and important segment of landscape architecture that rarely gets much attention: the campus landscape.

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UBC Campus Landscape Architect

The Main Mall at the University of British Columbia image: Dean Gregory

The Main Mall at the University of British Columbia
image: Dean Gregory

This article is republished from the February 2013 Sitelines newsletter, published by the British Columbia Society of Landscape Architects. The original version of this article can be found in the Sitelines archive.

Perhaps it is just the passing of 20 years but I don’t have much recollection of the campus where I got my degree in landscape architecture. I have happy memories of plant identification tours around the University of Guelph campus with Professor Lumis – but not any strong memories of what it looked like or felt like. This contrasts with my fond memories of the University of Toronto campus where I received my undergraduate degree – its ivy-covered buildings, the broad lawn of King’s College Circle and the quad at University College to name just a few. My recollection of the important role that the campus landscape played in creating positive and memorable experiences now helps inform my role as Campus Landscape Architect for the University of British Columbia.

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Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ image: Cathy Blake

Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
image: Cathy Blake

Sometimes it helps to step back and actually think about what we are doing – in our profession and at our schools and universities.  Landscape Forms periodically hosts landscape architects to do just that.  This year I participated in a group that went to Arizona and discussed the issues facing our campuses and their landscape future.  Sharing with peers is certainly one way to test and take stock of what we routinely do on a day to day basis.

The result of the meet-up was a White Paper on Campus Planning.  The themes addressed included the following:

  • Sustainability:  Addressing energy use, resource conservation, maintenance, and adaption of structure and spaces over time.
  • Preservation:  Renovating and repurposing existing structures and spaces including “places of memory.”
  • Growth:  Accommodating institutional growth and high-cost, space intensive research facilities.
  • Technology:  Providing infrastructure for new learning and innovation made possible by universal access.
  • Collaborative Learning:  Creating spaces that support collaboration within and between disciplines, among individuals and across diverse populations on campus

While one and a half days was not enough time for great depth in any one of these subjects, it was enough time to share different experiences and impressions about the present and ultimately the future, to agree, to disagree, and to possibly learn something new.  The world of technology is changing the way business is done so quickly, it stands to reason that our need for information exchange should try to keep up.  Maybe one way to do that is simply more “old fashioned” talking.

This and past roundtable reports can be found on the Landscape Forms website.

If you have specific problems or issues that you or your campus is struggling with, I encourage you to think about organizing other round table discussions, either in person or electronically.  I would venture to guess that if you are grasping at how to find the new paradigm, so are your peers.

by Cathy Blake, Chair of the Campus Planning and Design PPN

Sustainable Campus Landscapes: LEED or SITES™?

The Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens on the Duke University campus image: Rick Fisher Photography

The Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Duke University campus
image: Rick Fisher Photography

For those of you who have been contemplating the connections between sustainable campus planning and landscape design; then wondering how the rating systems relate…this is for you.

Mark Hough, ASLA, Duke University, has written an article that is posted in the April 2013 issue of College Planning & Management that discusses the differences between LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), their strengths and weaknesses relative to campus work, and their potential for the future.  I for one had never really taken the time to understand what Mark has so easily laid out.  While my focus still continues to be on whole campus planning, systems, issues, and sustainable problem solving – as opposed to site-specific thinking and scoring – I agree that there is much to be learned from both LEED and SITES.

Creating Sustainable Campus Landscapes by Mark Hough, ASLA
(this links to the entire magazine.  To quickly jump to the article, click the title in the lower right hand corner of the cover)

by Cathy Blake, ASLA, Stanford University


As a major pedestrian route the ‘Curtin Corso’ is scheduled for urban renewal bringing much needed focus and activity to the centre of the campus.  image: PLACE Laboratory

As a major pedestrian route the ‘Curtin Corso’ is scheduled for urban renewal bringing much needed focus and activity to the centre of the campus.
image: PLACE Laboratory

Curtin University, in Perth, Western Australia,  has embarked on a massive urban renewal project focused on creating a “knowledge city”.  Code-named Curtin City the project will deliver a new population of students, researchers, and residents of up to 70,000 people living and working in Perth’s newest knowledge economy.  Connected to the city by the MAX light rail transit, Curtin City will be only minutes from downtown Perth, enabling the rapid exchange of business and research ideas.

The Curtin City project is a bold step for the University as it plans for a new future of high-density research and living within a strong landscape urbanism framework.  Building on existing distributed energy systems and green infrastructure networks the campus will be transformed by 2030 as Perth’s urban population grows to 3.5 million.

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Nature Explore | The Outdoor Classroom Project Leadership Institute

Outdoor Classroom Project Leadership Instituteimage: Chad Kennedy

Outdoor Classroom Project Leadership Institute
image: Jeff Lindstrom, Associate ASLA, Nature Explore Classroom Designer

Earn PDHs / CEUs while learning design principles for creating effective nature play spaces.

Arbor Day Farm, Nebraska City, NE, July 21-24, 2013.

With the heightened awareness of nature deficit disorder and biophobia, it is important for landscape architects and designers to connect children with nature through the design and construction of effective outdoor play spaces. Study our research-based principles for designing environments that encourage whole-child development and positive relationships to nature.

Please join us for this four-day institute, held at Lied Lodge’s world-class facility, surrounded by the natural beauty of Arbor Day Farm. The Institute will be led by experienced designers and educators from Nature Explore and The Outdoor Classroom Project.

Earn 13 Professional Development Hours for the Landscape Architecture Continuing Education System. Visit the Nature Explore website to learn more and register.

by Chad Kennedy, Officer for the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN

Annual Meeting Highlights from Campus Planning & Design

ASU Polytechnic Campus

ASU Polytechnic Campus, Mesa, AZ
image: Cathy Blake


We had another great ASLA Annual Meeting this year.  For those of you that couldn’t make it to Phoenix, the following are some of the campus highlights:

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SCUP: Landscape Design and Planning Award Winners

Buchanan Faculty of Arts public courtyard

Buchanan Faculty of Arts public courtyard
image: University of British Columbia Project Services

Campus Planning and Design PPN—welcome to our new blog site!!  Launching full bore later this summer, this is a preview of a new way that our members can communicate with each other.  As our inaugural post I would like to offer congratulations to those landscape architects, teams and campuses that are winners in the 2012 Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) Campus Awards Program in the Landscape Design and Planning categories.

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