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Credit: Courtesy of Kliment Halsband Architects

In his landmark survey Campus: An American Planning Tradition (Architectural History Foundation, 1984), Paul Venable Turner crystallized the paradox that still challenges campus planners: The American campus exists in “a peculiar state of equilibrium between change and continuity.” Even if the current clamor over student-loan burden and the value of liberal education to today’s job market portends stagnant or lower enrollments, growth pressures remain for the campus as students, their parents, and faculty and researchers require ever-better facilities. At the same time, college and university leaders and campus planners must approach solutions to growth in ways that continue to inscribe educational ideals within the physical campus and foster good relationships with their surrounding communities.

One solution to addressing growth is reimagining the historic campus core. In 2003, the New York firm Kliment Halsband Architects created a master plan for Brown University centered on a rethinking of this core. Brown’s historic campus, in the College Hill section of Providence, Rhode Island, had become the “place parents photograph,” says Frances Halsband, FAIA. In other words, it was a place that embodied Brown’s institutional image, but whose real academic functions were thin.

The master plan encouraged accommodation of new academic uses in the historic core and identified 1 million square feet of possible infill development, as well as 500,000 square feet of space to be renovated in the College Hill campus. Brown’s residential neighbors, according to Halsband, “were delighted and relieved to see that the planning principle was to grow inward rather than outward.” Additional planning guidelines helped ease the relationship. Appropriately scaled new buildings were to mingle with older structures. And Brown’s services buildings were to be masked from the public edge of the campus.

Satellite campuses—those new developments physically separated from the core campus—offer another release valve for growth pressures. Brown officials hope to occupy a site in downtown Providence’s Jewelry District, newly available after I-95 (which had split the city) was rerouted. In New York, Columbia University’s new Manhattanville campus, planned by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and James Corner Field Operations north of the school’s Morningside Heights campus, is perhaps the most ambitious in imagining a secondary campus within a dense developed urban core.

While planners consider ways to link such satellite campuses through transportation networks and wayfinding, the challenge of crafting a cohesive identity and sense of community remains.

The University of Texas at Austin is now looking to heal the divide that came with its campus growth in the late 20th century. Whereas UT’s west side (designed, in part, by Paul Cret, FAIA) centered on malls and courtyards, the east side of the campus (completed in the 1960s and 1970s) centered on individual buildings.

Adding to the schizophrenia, Waller Creek and San Jacinto Boulevard, a major thoroughfare, bifurcated the site. For the school, the next step has to be about reconciliation rather than merely blending.

“To heal the campus divide, the light rail is going in exactly the right place, and that transit hub can become a focus and a real unifier,” says Larry Speck, FAIA, W. L. Moody Centennial Professor in Architecture and former dean of UT’s School of Architecture, who is working on the plan with Sasaki Associates.

Planning for growth also means fostering a good, and mutually beneficial, town–gown relationship. “A good working relationship between the university and Austin has been essential to the planning and growth of the Austin campus,” says Fritz Steiner, FASLA, current dean of the UT School of Architecture. UT’s location in the heart of the Texas capital means that the university must work with state constituencies as well as local residents. To that end, the school has implemented institutional relationships for city outreach (through its Office for Diversity and Community Engagement), and its design faculty also has built relationships with the local community.

Design diplomacy, so to speak, has created a working relationship. The school gets to explore its curricular cores of sustainability, preservation, and landscape architecture, and the community reaps the benefit of good design. “It’s created a growing interest in things related to how we interface with the city,” Steiner says.

A successful planning process (which often includes dozens of public meetings) requires the participation of school officials. Obviously, they benefit from knowing what’s going on, but students, faculty, staff, and community members also benefit from knowing that “they were dealing with senior people in charge, and being treated with respect,” Halsband says. For the Brown plan, Kliment Halsband stopped counting after conducting 200 campus and community meetings.

In rethinking the historic core, shaping satellite campuses, and building town–gown partnerships, colleges and universities are planning for growth in ways that more sensitively consider their context. In stark contrast to the mid-20th-century attention to individual buildings—what Steiner wryly calls the “tyranny of small decisions”—campus planners are again aiming for visionary plans that consider the real complexity of college and university functions. Linking these plans to a clear notion of the university mission, one that connects with the historic identity but allows for change, is the next challenge for college and university growth.