imposing order on chaos

GDP-photo-webThere it stands ”“ right on your campus. That one building that is just in the absolute wrong place. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but no one seems to remember why.

Or  those broken and cracked asphalt service drives that crisscross the campus, scarring the beauty of the pedestrian landscape. The priorities are clear, namely, ease of access for every service vehicle imaginable, from plumbing to garbage collection.

Or maybe it’s  those ugly parking lots that must adjoin every faculty office building and student residence? So much for the campus’ wellness program and green initiative.

These are just a few of the architectural and human planning challenges every campus inherits and, alas, dynamite is not an acceptable design solution.

Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia campus is a unique expression of genius and opportunity. No dynamite needed here. But most campuses are not created and maintained with such a strong, enduring, and singular artistic inspiration.

Campuses evolve. Born in pragmatic steps, the greater vision often disappears over time and leaves us with nothing more than a belated attempt to impose order on chaos. The curse of campuses is that they are a sequential evolution of multiple administrative and artistic minds that never met or exchanged a single word of shared intention.

This leaves us with the dominant story of American college campuses, one of reaction and adjustment, and seldom unfettered creation. Thus emerges the significance of the art form of landscape as it repairs, unites, and revises the campus. The campus landscape actually can impose order on chaos and reveal the genius within the place.

The power of the campus landscape is that it can be the overriding element that has the potential to unify the hard and the soft, the constructed material with the living. Existing opposing, and sometimes unappealing, buildings divided by differences of design and the inevitable purposeless voids that stand between one structure or another, can all be overcome by the campus landscape.

Landscape can transform voids into places and destinations ”“ moments that bring pause and reflection versus passages to hurry through. Axial lines of concrete become meandering stitches that softly sew together spaces, revealing turns of color, light, and sound in gardens along the way.

With an intentional plan and design for your campus landscape, moment by moment, the campus emerges as an intentional whole. The building that cannot go away is presented in a new light. Access to facilities for service and maintenance is both reconceived and prioritized. And faculty and students are gently reminded of the relationship between educational theory and practice.

Whether it is the appropriate use of the right plant materials, the reflective powers of water, the perfect placement of a gathering place to ensure its use, or the music of the aesthetic counter point (soft to hard and straight to curved), the campus designer is an artist who sees the entire campus as one landscape  ”“ one campus ”“ one experience ”“ a canvas of the whole.

This is the art form of landscape architecture applied to campus planning ”“ the art form that merges the found elements of an existent campus with a vision of revision.