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Greening the American campus: lessons from campus projects: useful green infrastructure frameworks are shared from case studies at U Washington-Tacoma, U Washington-Seattle, Wellesley, and SUNY's College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Campus landscapes can serve as living laboratories for reducing carbon footprints, conserving water and aquatic resources, supporting biodiversity, and building active, equitable social communities. Moreover, as learning landscapes, such campuses actively promote sustainable design by engaging faculty, staff, and students in the design and implementation process as a part of the pedagogy of place. This progressive focus positions universities as leaders educationally and environmentally.

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) includes over 640 four-year institutions, reflecting the importance of these issues in the higher education community. Recently, AASHE launched the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS[R]) 1.0 program, which is designed to provide a guide for advancing sustainability in all sectors of higher education, from education and research to operations and administration [and to] enable meaningful comparisons over time and across institutions by establishing a common standard of measurement for sustainability in higher education. (AASHE n.d., [paragraph] 2)

Many of the AASHE-member institutions have identified offices of sustainability and green development. However, most institutions have focused on buildings (e.g., Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] standards) or on waste/facility management procedures (e.g., recycling products, hybrid cars) rather than on campus landscape design. A few institutions have turned their attention to the campus landscape and its potential as a resource and tool for both sustainability practice and pedagogy. For example, in 2009 the University of Minnesota launched the Zero + Campus Design Project to address how buildings and landscapes might contribute to reducing environmental impacts and carbon footprints. Other campus master plans and a myriad of smaller precinct plans have also addressed the call to meet sustainability goals. Such projects at the University of Cincinnati (developed by Hargreaves Associates) and Yale University (developed by OLIN) suggest the potential of teams of designers, planners, and scientists engaged in careful thinking about campus expansion within the paradigm of sustainable and green design. In the process, landscape architecture, both as a profession and an academic discipline, has the opportunity to take the lead and push the boundaries of traditional campus design and planning to engage new visions of how campus landscapes look and perform.

Acknowledging the breadth of campus design across the nation and world and the diversity of sustainable design practices being implemented, this article does not prescribe an optimal approach; rather, it suggests frameworks and practices identified in four North American university case studies. This approach fits well within the sustainable design movement, which has increasingly acknowledged the need for individual site responses. (1) It responds to current calls for specificity in how sustainability is defined and sustainable practices are described and offers a grounded framework for exploring this diversity. In turn, lessons from the cases suggest arguments that might be used to persuade leaders of the critical importance of changing how we plan and design future campus landscapes.

The institutions selected for this article each engaged a landscape architect in the campus design, illustrating the opportunity for the landscape architecture community to take a lead role in the sustainable design process. In the first two studies, at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) and the University of Washington Tacoma (UW Tacoma), professionals worked with constituents to reflect a focus on community-based design. In the second two projects, at Wellesley College (Wellesley) and the University of Washington Seattle (UW Seattle), a landscape architecture firm was selected to lead the design projects. These four projects also represent a breadth of campus scale, from the small SUNY-ESF campus to the large UW Seattle campus, and from the private campus of Wellesley to the new public landscape of UW Tacoma. Such variety allows broad discussion while highlighting shared values, methods, and outputs.

Clearly, any campus can undertake specific and highly successful green projects, from a recycling and compost facility to solar panels or a campus farm. However, sustainable design is understood to be far more than individual insertions or elements. For the cases discussed in this article, sustainable design was considered to be a framework for planning and designing college and university campuses as promoted by AASHE2 and the Sustainable Sites Initiative, incorporating infrastructural systems that might set new university-wide practices. A "green infrastructure" approach, as described in this article, provides a useful rubric for planning and designing sustainable landscape systems and elements.

A significant challenge involved considerations of the appearance of the sustainable campus. Each of the campus landscapes studied had to deal with issues of branding and campus image--what would a sustainable landscape look like? How would function and performance inform and shape aesthetics and image? There is an expectation of what the American campus looks like--green lawn quads with large shade trees, old buildings, well-manicured landscapes--and campus administrators are image conscious: how does a sustainable campus also become one that remains memorable in the minds of alumni and visitors? Traditionally, administrators and leaders of academic institutions take the long view and are appropriately protective of their institution's history and image; yet, in these projects they considered radically altering how a landscape works, how the infrastructure performs, and what maintenance is required. As sustainable approaches can yield vastly different landscapes, this remains fertile ground for design exploration. This article suggests a paradigm shift in campus design processes to facilitate the role of campus landscapes as places that inspire and model environmental stewardship in meaningful ways while also affording diversely beautiful places in which to learn.

Campus Planning as Community-Based Design: SUNY-ESF

To alter the very look of a campus requires buy-in from the larger community. As research has shown, to gain this level of acceptance, the community must be engaged from the start. While many projects focus on the outcome of the master planning process, at SUNY-ESF in Syracuse, New York, engaging the community in the initial visioning of the plan was a first priority. Beginning in 2006, the SUNY-ESF administration worked with the Department of Landscape Architecture to build on ongoing research related to how sustainable values might inform the design process and what role green technology might play in a modern campus. The university president had committed to exploring and implementing alternative energy sources, and the institution had adopted a strategic plan (Vision 2020) that included, among other things, goals for renewable materials, energy, biotechnology, and sustainable systems and communities. The school was strongly positioned to develop a sustainable campus master plan comprised of more focused precinct designs and plans.

The planning process at SUNY-ESF addressed the technical and environmental issues often associated with sustainable plans; however, the process was distinctly shaped by community interaction and engagement. The Department of Landscape Architecture included a number of faculty members whose research was in participatory design. (3) The institution's interest in and commitment to a participatory approach to articulating the vision and developing the plan framed both the process and the responses and solutions proposed.

A campus is an "intentional community" comprised of administrators, faculty, staff, and students that fosters discourse, debate, collaboration, and social interaction (Chapman 2006; Fogg 2006; Lipka 2006; Monastersky 2006; Thayer 1994). In this environment, learning occurs in multiple settings, from the classroom and laboratory to chance encounters on the quad. As defined systems, institutions have established patterns for operations and maintenance. As physical places, they project an image to the outside world (Kenney, Dumont, and Kenney 2005). Campuses also reflect changes in values as well as in politics and ethics.

Founded in 1911, SUNY-ESF is a specialized college within the state's higher education system and is one of the oldest campuses dedicated to the environment. While the institution has over 25,000 acres, most located remotely (including in the Adirondack Mountains), the main 18-acre campus, located just outside Syracuse's central business district, is highly urbanized. Like many institutions, SUNY-ESF faces an aging and outdated infrastructure and a need to expand due to growing programs and outreach activities.

In summer 2006, the administration engaged the college's Department of Landscape Architecture to help guide its planning process. After a series of initial studies, it was concluded that there were several directions the plan could take, and therefore the process was opened to the campus community. Such a community-based approach, built on local research in participatory design that took advantage of the varied expertise, backgrounds, viewpoints, and attitudes of campus constituents, offered a critical foundation for framing the master planning process (Hester 1990; Sanoff 2000; Schneekloth and Shibley 1995). (4) Stakeholder interviews were held with key administrators, faculty chairs, department heads, and staff members to get direct input on needs and perceptions as well as ideas for potential interventions. In spring 2007, the students and faculty advisors of the Community Design and Planning thematic studio (5) used the early input from the interviews as a basis for workshops targeting all faculty, staff, and students (see figure 1).

There was general enthusiasm for the process from the academic community, in large part because of the university's historical focus on the environment, which encourages a shared value of environmental stewardship. In addition, because the university has just over 2,700 students and 146 faculty members, it is able to foster a sense of shared community. The general consensus resulting from the activities and discussions was that, despite the institution's academic focus, the campus's physical appearance did not reflect its mission or values (see figure 2). Therefore, significant physical and aesthetic change was necessary to visibly demonstrate a commitment to the environment and to sustainability. This foundational idea, directly from the community, provided the framework for all subsequent planning actions.



In summer 2007, building on community input and ongoing investigations within the department, a team of faculty and students developed a report on new opportunities and potential interventions. The proposed plan addressed several issues of pedestrian and vehicular connectivity, open-space usage, and campus aesthetics and suggested several building footprints to meet future growth needs. Building on the Vision 2020 strategic plan adopted in 2003, sustainable initiatives were proposed to meet site needs and provide educational and aesthetic benefits (see figure 3). (6) These included stormwater management facilities (e.g., rain gardens and cisterns) and renewable energy production. An additional benefit of the plan was its ability to comprehensively identify a long-range vision for growth that included multiple aspects of the campus operations and that worked toward the goal of a carbon-neutral campus. The green infrastructure elements were viewed both as responsive to the community and as responsible approaches to the stewardship of the campus landscape. In addition, the proposed ideas were viewed as responding to and addressing the particular pedagogical foci and values of the institution and thus were widely supported.

The master plan is intended to be a 15- to 20-year planning document. Many of the proposed landscape projects can be associated with building rehabilitation and campus maintenance improvement projects, although some capital funding will be required for significant projects such as the quad improvements. While consultants were used on specific projects when tasks exceeded faculty expertise, the foundational ideas generated by students and faculty were maintained. The projects underway include increased plantings to make the campus a teaching laboratory and facilitate the removal of high-maintenance lawn areas; a demonstration garden of campus willow (Salix cvs.); renewable energy and innovative stormwater management systems; and green roofs comprised of New York-native alvar grassland and Great Lakes dune ecosystems plants for the campus's main entrance buildings (see figure 4).



With such a high level of community and academic support, implementing aesthetic changes would appear to be relatively easy. Indeed, the campus community at SUNY-ESF is unique among state universities in that all programs are geared toward the environment, and the student body has been vocal in its desire to have a campus aesthetic that mimics or reflects natural systems, even if these fall outside conventional norms for campus appearance. However, the image of the campus quad with its open grass lawns and rows of trees remains deeply embedded in the public's vision of campus landscapes. Therefore, care was also taken to ensure that the campus provides a compelling aesthetic for recruitment and alumni-relations purposes. For example, although selected lawns have begun to be replaced with alternative landscapes, turf has been retained where students might use it for recreational and social purposes while still minimizing its uses in out-of-the-way corners and hard-to-maintain areas (e.g., steep slopes). Alternative recommendations for addressing turf maintenance issues have included allowing grass to grow longer, maintaining it only seasonally, and adding native plants beside turfgrass. Rain gardens were welcomed as long as they did not replace the quad, and bioswales were considered a learning opportunity as long as they did not interfere with the clean-cut look of the campus. On the other hand, approaches such as the inclusion of green roofs were popular additions to the campus (see figure 5). Drawing on Nassauer's (1995) work on implementing the cultural language of design in natural systems plantings, strategic plant placement, patterns, masses, drifts, and other techniques have been recommended to suggest thoughtfully designed spaces.


Students, staff, faculty, and university leaders are committed to making a difference on campus and in the classroom. A variety of efforts have been launched to incorporate the landscape in the formal curricula and to provide opportunities for the public to engage in the efforts and monitor the results. Despite the small successes, challenges remain. The decision-making process is not easy, although everyone remains committed to a sustainable future. The shared values help to coalesce divergent views around the core ideas of the master plan and remind constituents of the important goals the university has regarding sustainability and maintaining the institution's vision as a college of the environment.

Laying a Green Foundation: UW Tacoma

As most faculty are aware, it is often students who are on the leading edge, pushing university leadership to invest with justice and to "do" as they teach, to be as green as they preach. SUNY-ESF was able to easily engage students in the process of campus planning, in part because the university community is small and the institution is recognized for its focus on the environment. On the other hand, UW Tacoma is a relatively new branch campus without an internal community that could be easily engaged. In this case, the university turned to a professional firm, Mithun from Seattle, nationally recognized for its work in sustainable design. In addition, UW's Seattle campus has a Department of Landscape Architecture with a community of faculty and students deeply engaged in studies of urban ecological design. Realizing the learning opportunities inherent in the Tacoma campus planning process, the department offered an advanced studio (7) as a way to explore a variety of potential futures. Students were thus brought into the design process as a pedagogical activity and enriched the process by offering their creative perspectives.

The plan for the Tacoma campus was initially approached by master of landscape architecture students enrolled in an advanced Landscape Urbanism studio and a seminar on Sustainable Design and Green Infrastructure offered at the UW Seattle campus. (8) The design process served as a form of experimentation by drawing on faculty research in sustainable infrastructure and a testing of theories identified in seminar readings. Students sought to expand the role of design in the development of a sustainable campus landscape and to enrich the leadership landscape architecture might offer by focusing on the campus's "green infrastructure."

In the larger profession, the definition of green infrastructure has evolved from meaning the large-scale, undeveloped spaces surrounding communities to encompass the natural urban systems that provide ecological and human services (Girling and Kellett 2005). (9) The term is also used to signify a "sustainable" or "green, high performance" approach to utilities, such as stormwater infiltration, cleansing, and conveyance, that is aimed at reducing human impacts on local and global resources. (10) At UW, these perspectives on green infrastructure are aggregated, resulting in a more scholarly definition as developed by researchers: "all natural, semi-natural and artificial networks of multi-functional ecological systems within, around and between urban areas, at all spatial scales" (Tzoulas et al. 2007, p. 6).


As the design process for the Tacoma campus was part of a larger exploration by UW faculty, the project reflects the ongoing development of a language of design that expresses the nature of sustainability and what it means to engage in this work. Drawing on explorations by UW's Green Futures Lab, (11) the students worked with a definition of urban green infrastructure that comprises five interacting systems: community and open space; low-impact mobility; habitat; water and natural drainage; and energy, food, and climate (or metabolism). In the context of campus planning, these systems engage both city-wide and site-scale systems and elements and relate to regional resources and ecological contexts. The community and open-space system focuses on social and green spaces and addresses the roles of these places in the larger municipal open-space system. Low-impact mobility includes transit access to campus, proximity of housing to campus, bicycle facilities, pedestrian ways, universal access, and vibrant pedestrian environments, encouraging lifelong active and low-carbon transport habits. The water system incorporates the full hydrological cycle and the full complement of approaches to water conservation and re-use; water treatment through natural systems; mitigation of deleterious downstream effects (such as flooding, pollution, and fluctuation); and use of water to produce energy, provide habitat, and evoke human delight. The habitat system aims at integrity, functionality, and resilience of habitat for desired wildlife (native and non-native) and the campus's relationship to the health of urban ecologies. Finally, the "metabolism" system of energy, food, and climate addresses energy conservation through building siting, cooling by water and urban forests, support of local agriculture and on-campus food production to reduce the food-carbon footprint, and local energy production. The hallmark of these green--versus "gray"--infrastructure systems is the inherent overlapping of natural and cultural systems. (12)

The UW Tacoma campus was founded in 1990 as a two-year upper-division and graduate campus designed to serve mostly commuter, community-college graduate, and adult students. UW Tacoma's permanent campus opened in 1997 in the heart of Tacoma's downtown, spearheading the successful revitalization of the city's historical heart along the shores of Commencement Bay. In 2005, the state legislature approved UW Tacoma as a four-year university, requiring that the institution's master plan for the 46-acre permanent campus be updated. The Seattle firm of Mithun was retained to plan for the needs of new freshman and sophomore residents by building on a 2003 master plan. (13) As part of this process, by manipulating the five overlapping green infrastructure systems, the Landscape Urbanism studio explored innovative and sustainable design ideas and typologies that might inform the master plan update as well as provide specific project details at a very focused scale.

As sustainable solutions are location-specific, it was essential to develop regional and municipal scales for the five systems and to assess them at the scale of the site, with its particular opportunities and constraints. Students identified site- and region-specific characteristics and affordances that might inform the developing master plan (see figures 6-10). They learned how the steep hillside offered remarkable vistas to Mount Rainier while challenging mobility and how existing light rail and bus transit supported pedestrian access while busy car traffic impeded connections to the waterfront, museums, and cultural centers. They also discovered that city stormwater was re-polluting the Thea Foss Waterway, a recently cleaned Superfund site just downslope of campus where shoreline habitat had been restored as part of a regional effort to support juvenile salmon. While learning about the site and region, students also became familiar with the university's curricula in urban planning and ecological restoration, leading them to suggest the educational potential in displaying infrastructural models and using the site as a laboratory for these programs. Students began to predict future challenges, including potable water limitations and issues that could result due to the location of the city's wastewater treatment facility, which may be inundated as the sea level rises. Understanding future energy needs, the campus's carbon footprint was estimated and opportunities were identified for reduced energy use and for the use of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind. Throughout the exploration, students argued that the plan would succeed most fully if it were integrated into the institution's pedagogy, a conclusion that is shared by all four case studies.





Graduate students worked in teams to propose 20- and 50-year master plans, tackling each of the five green infrastructure systems. Using the five-system rubric provided a structuring framework that influenced comprehensive solutions and ensured that the focus on environmental performance was not lost as students addressed the vital social aspects of campus planning. In several cases, students quantitatively anticipated resource conservation and ecological regeneration outcomes over the 20- and 50-year time spans, underscoring the unique potential that campuses have to control their buildings, landscapes, and infrastructures over time. As was found in the other university projects, without systemic green infrastructure, other sustainable elements will be hard-pressed to make a significant difference. By approaching the project as a long-term commitment, students identified unique opportunities for change. Without systemic green infrastructure, other sustainable elements will be hard-pressed to make a difference.

This preliminary design exploration built a solid foundation for campus sustainability planning, setting the tone for the ensuing master planning by Mithun and for a successive infrastructure master plan by a partnering engineering team. Most notably, the Mithun team credits the UW process for the firm's incorporation of "out-of-the-box thinking" and attention to sustainable infrastructure. (14) An analysis of the final plans shows consistency with many of the ideas found in the students' work, such as a cohesive open-space structure; distinct gateways, pedestrian connections, and innovative ADA access; site views and use of rooftop spaces; stormwater treatment, collection, and re-use based on the site's topography displayed in visible runnels for education and pedestrian quality; and on-site zero-carbon energy production with a goal to become carbon neutral through diverse strategies. Innovative water strategies were especially prominent in both the master and infrastructure plans, which recommended aggressive stormwater collection from campus roofs, ground surfaces, and contributing off-site streets as well as treatment, storage, and re-use of collected stormwater for all campus irrigation. The infrastructure plan also proposed a full graywater and stormwater collection and recirculation system to significantly reduce campus water consumption, acknowledging the educational potential of a living machine and other technologies that could bring harvested water to potable levels. Both plans prominently featured conversion of the Hood Street/Prairie Line railroad right-of-way to a pedestrian corridor that features a stormwater collection swale, an idea that was also developed by one of the students.

While green infrastructure systems can be implemented city-wide, campuses may be where these systems can be best controlled and integrated in the long term, demonstrating to the public and politicians what is possible and thus providing the type of experience that Orr (2010) advises should be in every student's university education. Orr believes students should be challenged to engage theories of sustainability in real time by participating in projects and systems where land, air, and sea become the driving force of the curriculum and provide a context for why we learn what we learn. Likewise, these systems offer excellent learning laboratories for students who can envision the modifications they would like to see in the types of environments they use daily. (15)

At the Site Scale: Design Projects for Wellesley and UW Seattle

Historical campuses present a distinct challenge for sustainable design as constituents seek to retain their historical nature, often embedded in tradition, while recognizing the new needs and opportunities of the 21st-century campus. This article now considers lessons at a smaller scale as they were learned from two specific design projects led by the firm of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA): the Alumnae Valley landscape restoration at Wellesley and the Rainier Vista concept plan at UW Seattle. (16) Both of these campuses feature historically significant landscapes by the Olmsted brothers. MVVA was challenged to retain the integrity of the original plans while reasserting the contemporary importance of their visions within renewed and ambitiously sustainable landscapes. Looking at these two projects together, one singularly formal and grand and the other informal and spatially complex, suggests how sustainable design is process-driven rather than form-driven and shows how it can be integrated into a range of existing landscape types.

These two projects also demonstrate a different paradigm in terms of those engaged to lead the process. The process at both Wellesley and UW Seattle was focused on the role of the landscape architecture firm as the primary leader and advisor. In the case of Wellesley, since the college did not have a professional landscape architecture department, its options did not include engaging such an internal group. In addition, part of the plan's focus was to address a toxic brownfield site that would require extensive professional and technical attention to be able to safely transition back to public campus space. In the case of UW Seattle, the department and faculty had been part of the campus planning process for decades, and the Rainier project was viewed as an opportunity to seek outside advice that might give a different view of the challenges and opportunities. This emphasizes that there is no one best practice in terms of developing sustainable designs and plans; rather, there are multiple ways of approaching the challenges, each of which leads to different questions and diverse results.

Alumnae Valley landscape restoration, Wellesley. The campus of Wellesley is something of a landscape-scaled work of art. Conceived by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., in 1901, the transformation of the site into a school was guided by a deep understanding of the potential for its natural configuration to inform the daily activities of Wellesley's students. Working with the existing site ecology, Olmsted envisioned a series of interconnected valleys and wetlands between crests (see figure 11). He advised the college to build on the high lands and to preserve the valleys for recreation, exercise, and open space. This plan was initially embraced but never fully realized. As automobiles became more a part of 20th-century life, their impact in the form of parking lots and roads had a devastating effect on the experiential coherence and functional performance of the Olmsted plan.


Over time, development had focused on the look of the campus overall as a college, i.e., on lawn and trees rather than on any pedagogical or green-based values system. Not until the late 20th century did institutional leaders begin to see their campus landscape as more than a setting for educational pursuits. In higher education in general, the 1980s and '90s saw a new emphasis on the need for campus leaders to engage in planning processes. Firms such as Sasaki developed extensive expertise working with both rural universities (e.g., the University of Virginia) and urban universities (e.g., the University of Chicago). With the 1983 World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) gaining attention, students and faculty also turned to their own landscapes. In the 1990s, a few took steps to consider how to establish a sustainable master plan that might reflect the goals and visions of the sustainability and green movements. As Wellesley responded to these concerns, leaders looked at their campus landscape to find that Alumnae Valley had become a brownfield. In 1998 the school hired MVVA to complete a landscape master plan. Reversing the trend of landscape decline, the new master plan integrated contemporary uses and functions into the landscape while reaffirming the original campus structure established in the Olmsted plan (see figure 12).

The MVVA master plan identified Alumnae Valley as the major missing link in the system of valleys; concurrently, academic leaders noted the potential for engaging the landscape in the curricula. Essentially putting the values of the master planning process to the test, a design was developed for the site that would reflect and engage sustainable systems and infrastructure. The site presented significant challenges, since previous decisions had transformed the 13-acre valley from a wetland meadow to a coal gasification plant and eventually to a paved-over impermeable-surface parking lot. The Alumnae Valley landscape restoration drew on the resources of landscape architecture to tie together the site's natural history, the objectives of the Olmsted plan, and the contemporaneous construction of a new student center. The landscape was considered a connection to both the past and the future. Completed in 2005, the restoration project replaced the brownfield-level contaminated parking lot with a lush wetland that filters surface drainage as it approaches Lake Waban and that provides strong landscape connections and views between the lake and the new campus center (see figure 13).


The toxicity of the site's soils required a radical technical restructuring that involved a series of approaches to clean and steward the site. A three-foot layer of manufactured planting soils and clean fill excavated from other parts of the project was installed above the toxic soils. Monitoring wells were installed to ensure that toxicity would not migrate away from the site. In addition, the master plan called for the removal of over 550 cars from the core campus area, meaning that both the landscape and community behavior would be changed. Although executed in an aesthetic of robust naturalism, the restored valley was designed to fit and function seamlessly within the Wellesley campus. As implemented, the constructed nature of the landscape is neither aggressively present nor disguised; instead, it is alluded to in the slightly too steep topography and the perfectly circular pool emerging from the wetland. The environment it creates for sitting, strolling, and gathering is subtle and open-ended while also achieving a magnificence of effect in all seasons. Beyond its visual appeal, Alumnae Valley encourages a sensory immersion in the meadow/ wetland landscape and provides the kind of experiential restoration that appeals to students as an antidote to the rigors of their studies. The valley is increasingly used within the formal curricula and is appreciated by both the public and prospective students. Within its short existence, Alumnae Valley has emerged as a core landscape for both social and academic activity on campus.

At the time of its original construction, the landscape base of Wellesley's campus was considered a challenge to the more homogenous quadrangle schemes featured at all-male universities like Harvard and Princeton. Instead of a campus as a simple spacious area of lawn and trees with major spaces defined by buildings, Wellesley's campus was in large part defined by its varied landscape and land forms. Olmsted's campus design emphasized the nature of the college's particular landscape, but also dramatized it through the placement of buildings and further topographic alterations. It was not meant to look like other schools, but to be experienced as a different type of learning landscape.


Alumnae Valley continues this tradition of challenging landscape orthodoxy not by returning to the specifics of Olmsted's master plan, but by allowing the most important experiential and ecological principles it advances to become a living part of the contemporary campus (see figure 14). It represents conscious design and policy decisions to reverse the site's decline, in which the parking lot was an outward reflection of the site's loss of ecological function and intensely polluted substratum. This project demonstrates the benefits of an integrated design approach that considers technology, aesthetics, program, and site ecology as fundamentally interrelated systems. With respect to the larger public of landscape users, Alumnae Valley shows that the ongoing decline of our shared landscape is not inevitable and that even the most dire conditions can be salvaged and transformed into beautiful and sustainable public realms.

Rainier Vista concept plan, UW Seattle. Although all universities have landscapes that are highly treasured by students and alumni alike, very few institutions are blessed with a space similar to Rainier Vista. MVVA's 2008 concept plan is based on the recognition that this is a nationally important historic landscape whose greatest strength is that it has managed to preserve its core identity as the centerpiece of one of the oldest educational institutions on the West Coast while evolving to meet the university's changing needs.

Initially hired to consider a campus plan for UW in 1903, John Charles Olmsted was called back to Seattle in 1906 as the landscape architect for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. This fair was to take place on the grounds of the university, requiring the site to be designed to meet both the needs of the ephemeral exhibition and the long-term institution (see figure 15). Olmsted studied the hillside site carefully and, after contemplation and a chance view between rain storms, chose to focus the primary axis on a view of Mount Rainier. He carved the vista out of native forest to create a direct relationship between the life of the developing metropolis and the raw nature of the mountain. It was the first time a campus had featured a sublime scene of nature as its primary view (Way 2009). More than just providing another view to Mount Rainier, the experience of the vista's signature moment lifts the spirit and humbles the soul simultaneously.



The evolution of the vista following the exposition was uneven. Underused as a pedestrian environment when campus buildings occupied only the northern terminus during the university's original construction, it became increasingly dominated by the automobile starting in the midcentury and was then eroded by a series of piecemeal changes that failed to acknowledge its overall identity, scale, and function. As with many historical campuses, the focus was often put on buildings rather than the landscape. In 1964, Japanese cherry trees were saved from destruction and transplanted to the Arts Quad, but little else was done to improve stewardship of the landscape until much later in the 20th century. (17) Rainier Vista was always revered by students, faculty, alumni, and the community, but it was assumed by many that such a magnificent view required little stewardship.

With the impetus of a new light-rail station planned for the southern end of the vista that would establish the landscape as a major pedestrian entrance to campus, university leaders sought professional advice on how best to address potential changes in the vista space and its framing landscape. The goals of the project included strengthening pedestrian connections, offering universal accessibility, improving plant collections and highlighting seasonal changes, diversifying uses, enhancing educational opportunities, and developing tools to engage "creative recognition of the historical development of the campus over the past 100 years [while enhancing] the ability to continue the representation over the next 100 years"18 MVVA was selected because it had experience with restoring historical campus landscapes as well as with developing a sustainable plan for the university's core precinct. The MVVA concept plan sought to reaffirm the simple power of the Olmsted vision while vigorously reimagining the vista as a higher functioning and sustainable landscape for the 21st-century university.

The formality of the landscape and, specifically, its iconic focus--the resource-hungry Drumheller Fountain--presented particular challenges. Rainier Vista is not only at the heart of the campus, but its view is also the most-often cited campus experience. Drumheller Fountain, located in Frosh Pond, is at the center of the vista, offering a gathering place as well as a formal landscape element within the more informal campus landscape. The fountain was a gift for the university's centennial celebration in 1961 and features built-in lighting and three banks of jets, the center of which shoots water to a height of 100 feet. The fountain pumps use large amounts of electricity, and the pond is entirely fed by potable water. The formality of the fountain and its surrounding rose gardens does not easily lend itself to ideas of what a sustainable landscape might look like, nor does the use of water and energy for the jets suggest efficient use of resources. Thus, the challenge was to insert performance and green design into this landscape without losing its historical integrity and meaning.

In response, MVVA drew on the nature of the fountain as a water resource and the drama of the vista to propose a plan that might alter the functionality of the place in order to address contemporary resource management while retaining historical continuity and integrity (see figure 16). Its concept plan proposed the integration of the original Frosh Pond into a broader system of rainwater interception, water storage, and irrigation. In addition, the plan proposed reconfiguring the surrounding Sciences Quadrangle to serve as a major meeting and events space with improved shade, seasonal plantings, paving, and opportunities to sit and thus more fully engage in the green infrastructure and systems. While still operating as symbols of the past, the pond and fountain could also emerge as symbols of the university's commitment to a sustainable future and thus be more fully integrated into the vision of the institution as a green campus.


Throughout the upper vista, stormwater from building roofs, roads, and pathways would be collected and directed to prefabricated cisterns installed within Frosh Pond (see figure 17). The cistern volume would reduce the effective depth of water within the pond from five feet to two feet, thus improving safety while creating a large storage volume to be re-used for irrigation. In the lower vista, stormwater runoff would be collected and discharged to prefabricated cisterns located within a disused and unsightly service ramp. Hydraulically connected, the cisterns would detain stormwater flows entering the combined sewer system, thereby reducing sewer overflows into Lake Washington. Stored water from the cisterns would be circulated through a series of terraced water-garden cells in the lower vista; these cells would be planted with a variety of wetland and emergent plants to filter the water and provide a diverse wetland habitat while creating a strong expression of sustainability at this major new campus entrance. The water gardens would be defined by low terraced walls, thus providing the opportunity to sit in the center of the vista and look toward the mountain, something that is not currently possible.

At Montlake Triangle, at the lower end of the project, the planned Sound Transit light-rail station would be connected by bridges directly to the vista, so that the experience of entering the campus is grounded in a landscape rather than dominated by busy roads, as it is at present. The center of Rainier Vista would be raised at its lowest point to block views of campus traffic and to separate pedestrian and vehicle traffic, thus strengthening the historical landscape vision while improving function and safety. The vista would not be merely saved but enhanced, and water, rather than a resource used with little purpose beyond decoration, would become the catalyst for changing how the campus performs both ecologically and, subsequently, pedagogically. Probably most significant is that the MVVA plan proposed and defined an emerging relationship between the vista, the campus, and new forms of mass transportation.

As with the Alumnae Valley restoration, the Rainier Vista concept plan seeks to reverse the decline of a significant historical landscape and to strengthen both the original design vision and the contemporary function while embedding sustainable infrastructure elements (see figure 18). Both of these projects, as well as those at UW Tacoma and SUNY-ESF focused on green infrastructure by weaving together a systems approach and by challenging the status quo in terms of community behavior and campus aesthetics. The prominent use of sustainable strategies in the renewal of these landscapes broadened the value of the projects to their campus communities by providing potential teaching tools, fund-raising opportunities, and operations and maintenance savings. These integrated benefits helped build support for the projects and resulted in further attention. Perhaps even more important is that the integration of academic, social, historical, and infrastructural concerns within an overall landscape vision will help protect these landscapes from becoming neglected again, a goal of true sustainability. (19)


The diversity of campus projects discussed here and on the AASHE website ( demonstrates that there are few hard and fast rules for sustainable campus design. AASHE's STARS program argues that the goals and metrics for each campus will vary depending on multiple factors including economics, location, pedagogy, and social and academic communities. (20) From the scale of master planning to that of individual design projects, campuses continue to push the boundaries of what we know and the questions we ask. Each campus will need to shape its own arguments and plans; however, all campuses can learn from each other as a larger community of planners, designers, and educators.



The campus master plans and design projects presented here each engaged some level of green infrastructure and/or high-performance approach framed by systems thinking. These approaches emphasized the need to go beyond adding isolated sustainable elements to a static campus to developing complementary, interconnected infrastructural networks. Furthermore, the bold application and expression of sustainable infrastructure reinvigorated highly formal and informal historical landscapes alike. A matrix outlining the green infrastructure practices and proposals in the four cases can be found in figure 19.

Throughout these projects, the importance of addressing the look of sustainability was evident. Sustainability has until recently focused almost entirely on performance in terms of energy use, water management, and other easily measurable forms of environmental stewardship. However, as Elizabeth Meyer argued in her manifesto "Sustaining Beauty," we must pay attention to the aesthetics of performance as well as to the efficiencies of performance (Meyer 2008; Nassauer 1995). With the tradition of manicured lawns and trees at the core of campus landscapes, identifying alternatives has been challenging. Alumnae Valley presents one aesthetic option and the plan for Rainier Vista another. While the former was so degraded that few argued against a change, replacing the sweeping lawns of Rainer Vista was highly contested. At environmentally-focused SUNY-ESF proposals for an alternative landscape aesthetic were widely endorsed, although traditional landscape elements were retained at a reduced scale. Building on the work of Joan Iverson Nassauer, Robert Thayer, and John T Lyle, as well as that of the Sustainable Sites Initiative, the AASHE STARS program, and related research, campus landscape architects have an opportunity to put green into action to manifest sustainable planning and design research within learning landscapes (Calkins 2009; Lyle 1994; Nassauer 1995).

The academy is about expanding knowledge. One of the students engaged in the UW Tacoma project expressed that "introducing innovative practices and building strategies at a university is a very sustainable thing to do--they may be experimental, but at least 'sustainable' design invests far into the future, as does an educational institution" (pers. comm. 2008). While universities rarely have access to the extensive financial resources needed to implement such ideas on a large scale, these studies suggest that the master plan can at least outline new ideas and articulate goals and objectives to shape eventual future decisions. (21) Such projects contribute to efforts to develop a new paradigm for academic campuses as sustainable landscapes by offering innovative approaches to the campus as a model for future design and planning that reflect and engage the values of the 21st century and beyond. As these projects show, incorporating sustainable infrastructure into the planning and renewal of a campus landscape potentially broadens the landscape's value to the campus community as a teaching tool, for fund-raising opportunities, and for potentially realizing operations and maintenance savings by means of reduced use of water, energy, and other additives. The master plans presented here consider a spectrum of scales and approaches that suggest the diversity of potential practices that can be employed to increase the sustainable and responsible planning and design of university campuses.

References Cited

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Fogg, P 2006. Saving the Planet, by Degrees. Chronicle of Higher Education 53 (9): A23-A24. Girling, C. L., and R. Kellett. 2005. Skinny Streets and Green Neighborhoods: Design for Environment and Community. Washington, DC: Island Press.

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Kenney, D. R., R. Dumont, and G. S. Kenney. 2005. Mission and Place: Strengthening Learning and Community Through Campus Design. Westport, CT: Praeger.

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Lurie, B., and S. Daniels. 2010. The "New Normal": How Sustainability and Environmental Stewardship is Changing Corporate Competitiveness. Taking Advantage of Tumultuous Times. Cambridge, MA: Monitor Company Group Limited Partnership.

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Meyer, E. K. 2008. Sustaining Beauty: The Performance of Appearance. Journal of Landscape Architecture, Spring, 6-23.

Monastersky, R. 2006. A New Science Breaks Down Boundaries. Chronicle of Higher Education 53 (9): A20-A22.

Nassauer, J. I. 1995. Messy Ecosystems, Orderly Frames. Landscape Journal 14 (2): 161-170.

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Rottle, N. D., and B. Maryman. 2007. Designing Seattle's Green Infrastructure for the Next Century. Paper presented at the Third Fabos Planning and Greenway Symposium, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, March 31.

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Sandercock, L. 1998. Towards Cosmopolis: Planning for Multicultural Cities. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

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(1.) For example, LEED 2009 (v3) now has a regional priority category.

(2.) AASHE "defines sustainability in an inclusive way, encompassing human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods, and a better world for all generations" (AASHE 2011, [paragraph] 2).

(3.) These faculty members included Cheryl Doble, the founder and director of the SUNY-ESF Center for Community Design Research.

(4.) See also Sandercock (1998) on related issues of community participation and engagement.

(5.) The studio was led by Professor Cheryl Doble, SUNY-ESF

(6.) For current sustainability projects at SUNY-ESF, see

(7.) Nancy Rottle led the studio.

(8.) The University of Washington's Department of Landscape Architecture focuses on "urban ecological design" defined as explorations in sustainable infrastructure, design for ecological literacy, study of human and environmental health, and culturally-based placemaking.

(9.) Girling and Kellett (2005) describe green infrastructure in terms of urban open space and its ecological function, defining it as the entirety of urban green spaces that "performs a multitude of vital environmental services in cities" (p. 59).

(10.) For example, consider the New York High Performance Infrastructure definition: Green infrastructure also refers to utilities that use natural forms and processes, such as detaining and filtering stormwater in vegetated swales and reducing impervious surfaces to increase infiltration, sometimes also called "green infrastructure" or "high performance infrastructure" (New York City Department of Design and Construction and the Design Trust for Public Space 2005, p. 1).

(11.) The Green Futures Lab is led by Nancy Rottle.

(12.) For fuller discussions of these five green infrastructure systems, see also Rottle and Maryman (2007 forthcoming).

(13.) The 2003 master plan for UW Tacoma was developed by LMN Architects and Jones & Jones Architecture/Landscape Architecture.

(14.) Mithun's project manager Brodie Bain confirmed that the students' work was inspiring to the professional teams, stating that "the UW Tacoma Green Infrastructure design studio added a dimension of analysis and dialogue to the project that proved to be valuable to our process and the final master plan solution. Strategies developed by the students focused on ecological and social concerns simultaneously, such as the use of green roofs to improve water quality and building cooling as well as views down the steep slope of the campus. The students' energy and perspective, with their passion for addressing the natural and human realms, highlighted what's most important as we strive to plan for a better and more integrated world" (pers. comm. 2007).

(15.) In reflecting on the studio, one student commented: "I felt that the scale of a college campus was ideal for engaging larger sustainable infrastructure dynamics, as well as the manifestation of these systems at the human scale. This scale of understanding and design helped me to respond to the concept of sustainability in terms of education, beauty and function ... [and] the five layers [of green infrastructure] helped me to address different systems and timescales in a step-by-step manner" (pers. comm. 2008).

(16.) Chris Matthews is a principal for MVVA, and this section has been drawn from his work on the Wellesley and UW Seattle projects.

(17.) Efforts included saving the medicinal herb garden when the pharmacy department cut all funding; restoring the old Montlake dump to the Union Bay Natural Area; restoring the Sylvan Theater landscape and columns; converting a parking lot into the Grieg Garden; and creating the Portage Bay Vista as a new signature open space. The Rainier Vista concept plan and Denny Yard master plan are more current efforts to restore historical landscapes to their former glory.

(18.) Correspondence with Kristine Kenney, UW landscape architect, 2007.

(19.) Although outside the immediate scope of this article, the concept plan played a key role in advocating the university's position in the proposed development of the Montlake Triangle. This resulted in a five-agency (University of Washington [UW], Sound Transit, Seattle Department of Transportation [SDOT], Washington State Department of Transportation [WSDOT], and King County Metro) study to prepare a revised plan that integrates the combined interests in developing a multi-modal destination at the Montlake Triangle that builds on the Rainier Vista plan. This precedent-setting project is being jointly coordinated and funded by UW, Sound Transit, and WSDOT

(20.) See STARS 1.0, which launched on January 19, 2010, after a three-year development process, is the current version of STARS. It is the first version of STARS in which participants can earn a rating.

(21.) This is an important part of the work of AASHE; however, what has been missing until now from its individual reports and announcements is the larger story of how campuses are changing in both dramatic and subtle ways. The organization's commitment to building a case studies' database is a constructive way to begin to build the needed information (see

Thaisa Way, Ph.D., is an associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington where she teaches design, history, and theory. She is the author of Unbounded Practice: Women and Landscape Architecture in the Early Twentieth Century (University of Virginia Press 2009).

Chris Matthews is a senior associate in the Cambridge office of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. He received his BA (with honors) in landscape architecture from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK in 1989, and MLA from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2001.

Nancy Rottle, RLA, ASLA, is an associate professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington where she teaches planning, design, and construction courses and directs the Green Futures Research and Design Lab. She is a former professional with over 15 years of experience and numerous professional and academic awards.

Timothy R. Toland, RLA, ASLA, LEED-AP is an assistant professor in the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Department of Landscape Architecture. He teaches planting design, construction materials, undergraduate studios, and a sustainability seminar.
Figure 19

Green Infrastructure    UW Tacoma (student)      SUNY-ESF

Community Space         Regional and campus      Nature-based
(social spaces,         open-space system;       aesthetic; improved
identity, aesthetics)   campus heart; views;     Quad; Student Center;
                        porous gateways          open-space system

Water (stormwater,      Stormwater collection    Stormwater control
wastewater, water       for cleansing,           and/or capture of all
conservation)           harvest, re-use, and     water; green
                        poetics; living          infrastructure
                        machines; green roofs    techniques; no

Mobility/Access         Bike/walking trail       Increased bike
                        connections; land        parking; enhanced
                        bridge/plaza             streetscapes; car
                        connection; street       share program; parking
                        revisions; ADA           moved to periphery;
                        pedestrian access        ADA improvements

Habitat                 Long-term revegetation   Turfgrass removal;
                        scheme; habitat walls;   plant community
                        raingardens; water       restoration and/or
                        cleansing (salmon        creation;
                        habitat)                 ecosystem-based green

Energy/Metabolism       Micro-hydro energy       Solar; fuel cell;
                        using stormwater;        biomass-fueled
                        solar aspect;            combined heat power
                        community gardens

Green Infrastructure    Wellesley                UW Seattle

Community Space         Alumnae Valley open      Historical vista
(social spaces,         space; events field;     emphasized and
identity, aesthetics)   new campus center        preserved

Water (stormwater,      Wetlands restoration     Drumheller Fountain
wastewater, water       and creation;            proposed as roof water
conservation)           reconnection to Lake     collection cistern for
                        Waban                    reuse

Mobility/Access         New ADA connections;     New bridge connection
                        peripheral parking to    to light rail and
                        encourage                pedestrian/bike
                        walking/biking           networks; improved
                                                 connection to south

Habitat                 Extensive creation of    Wetland gardens;
                        wetlands and             improved soil
                        wildflower meadow        conditions

Energy/Metabolism       Low-maintenance          Low-maintenance
                        landscape; reduced       landscape; reduced
                        irrigation               irrigation

The various strategies employed by the four cases can be
understood through collation into a green infrastructure rubric,
offering a framework for application to the sustainable campus
landscape. These fit well with the AASHE STARS program elements.
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Author:Way, Thaisa; Matthews, Chris; Rottle, Nancy; Toland, Timothy R.
Publication:Planning for Higher Education
Article Type:Case study
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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