Observations from the Society for Campus and University Planning (SCUP) Awards Jury

by James Moore, ASLA

MIT Outfinite Corridor / image: courtesy of Hao Liang for Reed Hilderbrand

Over three days in late July, attendees gathered to discuss a wide array of issues at the Society for Campus and University Planning (SCUP) Conference in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. There were many great sessions including keynotes focusing on leading institutional change and addressing threats to inclusivity. This year, I had the opportunity to serve on the SCUP Excellence Awards jury along with Jason Forney, Thomas Fortier, and Marilia Rodrigues. Together, we reviewed over 130 awards across categories including Planning, Landscape Architecture, and Architecture. Marilia and I presented the awards at the conference and spoke about seven trends jurors observed across the entries. These were:

  1. Integrated planning process
  2. Holistic approach to student spaces
  3. Impactful campus landscapes
  4. Community access and engagement
  5. Career and technology-focused spaces
  6. Sustainability and integrated design
  7. Renewal and adaptive reuse

Though our presentation was balanced across the disciplines, in this article I will highlight jury observations specifically regarding contributions that landscape projects made in these categories.

Georgia Institute of Technology EcoCommons / image: Nick Hubbard

Integrated Planning Process

There was a wide recognition from designers and institutions of the value of an integrated planning process. In the best projects, crafting the planning process was an act of design itself. Jurors noted the Georgia Tech EcoCommons was an exemplary landscape project embodying integrated planning. It was first envisioned in the 2004 campus landscape master plan. This produced strong principles, which are still guiding projects like the EcoCommons park almost 20 years later. The park includes a layered landscape that supports native ecosystems, spaces for research, spaces for recreation and play, and even spaces of memory. [See this previous Campus Planning & Design PPN post for more on the EcoCommons, and if you’ll be at the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in Minneapolis, check out the session Rolling Back the Lawn: Reinvigorating Ecological and Social Function at Georgia Tech’s EcoCommons.]

Holistic Approach to Student Spaces

Many submissions demonstrated a broader and more holistic approach to student spaces. Projects included places for learning, socializing, recreation, and wellness. The North Campus Housing and Denny Field project at University of Washington was full of meaningful spaces for students that extend beyond the building to the landscapes. These spaces support a range of activities, from academic to recreational. The Universidad de Lima Recreation, Wellness, and Student Life Center is a LEED Gold complex which packs a variety of student-center programs into a stunning building and rich landscape. These services include dining, student services, recreation, nutrition, physical therapy, and event spaces.

Grinnell College Kington Plaza and Learning Spaces / image: © David Sundberg/Esto

Impactful Campus Landscapes

Throughout the categories, jurors were impressed with projects that demonstrated the importance of the landscape. Several projects were large investments in the landscape independent of buildings. MIT’s Outfinite Corridor was one of several projects that converted vehicular streets into pedestrian focused landscapes with layered, sustainable performance improvements. The Landscape Approach to Enhancing Student Life at Duke University showed how a series of smaller projects can unify a campus over time, with improvements to accessibility and visual cohesion. Grinnell College Kington Plaza and Learning Spaces demonstrated how universities can create a variety of outdoor spaces to support their educational mission.

Community Access and Engagement

Many institutions were engaged with questions of community. Who is the university community? How does an institution build bridges with its neighbors? The Cleveland State University Campus Master Plan, covering 85 acres in a space constrained campus, provided an inspiring vision for creating urban campus spaces that invite the community in. George Mason University’s Wilkins Plaza found an opportunity in a significant utility project to improve a tired campus space. The new plaza includes elements like a “student expression” chalkboard wall and memorials to civil rights leaders and the enslaved people from the university’s past.

Career and Technology Focused Spaces

Several projects elevated nontraditional students or trades with great design and integrated planning. Other projects focused on providing specialty spaces to support the ever-growing need for professional education in the university setting. Jurors applauded projects like the Bombardier Centre for Aerospace and Aviation at Downsview Campus. A great example of adaptive reuse, this college took a former manufacturing hub and revived it into a space for hands-on learning. The Georgia EcoCommons included sensors in its landscape to support ongoing research.

Cornell Tech Campus / image: Barrett Doherty

Sustainability and Integrated Design

Across entries, jurors who had participated in past SCUP reviews noted that what was once a “stretch” goal for sustainability has become a baseline expectation. This year, several projects pushed the envelope and included sustainability as part of the design, rather than a technology to be applied. The Cornell Tech Campus exhibited an approach that integrated architecture and landscape. Buildings designed according to LEED, Net Zero, and Passive House principles open onto a landscape designed with high performance goals.

Renewal and Adaptive Reuse

Renovating existing structures and landscapes is one of the most significant ways to mitigate environmental impact. We saw many projects that focused on finding new life for buildings and landscapes. The University of Arizona’s Student Success District took several buildings and their exterior spaces to combine them into a revived district that supports the contemporary needs of students. They “transformed walls into windows” and used site elements like canopies and shade structures to activate exterior spaces and unify the district.

I hope to see even more entries into the landscape categories next year. With 21 projects submitted, there is room for growth in this essential category. These awards are a great way to engage institutional leaders that do not follow some of the professional awards. The SCUP call for entries will be announced this November with the submission deadline following in February 2024 for the fall conference in Philadelphia.

Prior to the SCUP call for entries announcement, the ASLA Campus Planning & Design Professional Practice Network (PPN) will be discussing observations and themes in higher education planning and design from the 2023 SCUP Awards in Minneapolis at the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture for this year’s PPN event:

Campus Planning & Design PPN Meeting
Sunday, October 29, 10:15 – 11:00 a.m. CT
Practice Basecamp on the EXPO floor

We hope you can join us in Minneapolis for ASLA 2023! In addition to the PPN Meeting, several campus projects will be recognized during the presentation of the 2023 ASLA Professional & Student Awards at the General Session on October 28, including:

James Moore, ASLA, is University Landscape Architect at Vanderbilt University. James was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. He graduated from the University of Chicago with an AB in Public Policy and a concentration in Urban Studies. His interest in design and the built environment grew as he pursued a Masters of Planning at Harvard and a Masters of Landscape Architecture at the University of Virginia. James first practiced as a landscape architect and urban planner at Waterstreet Studio in Charlottesville, incorporating sustainable design into projects ranging from private estates to public institutions. In 2014, James joined Hawkins Partners in Nashville where he worked on and led a full range of research, planning, design, and construction projects. He grew to love working with historic institutions through his work at Cheekwood and Vanderbilt University. With Hawkins Partners, James was a project manager for the West End Neighborhood transformation at Vanderbilt, which removed a network of roads and alleys and replaced it with a dynamic campus landscape. In early 2020, James started his current work as the University Landscape Architect at Vanderbilt. There, he offers a full range of design and planning services to the university community; advocates for excellence in landscape and public space; and directs the maintenance and growth of the arboretum.

In addition to his work at Vanderbilt, James also serves on Nashville’s Downtown Code Design Review Committee and is an active member of the American Society of Landscape Architects, including serving as a PPN leader for the Campus Planning & Design Professional Practice Network (PPN). In his free time, he enjoys playing music, hiking, biking, and working in the garden with his wife and two boys.

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