This team states right at the beginning of their proposal what they feel is the most important problems of the site, that of space. They write “One of the biggest issues with the current Atwater landscape seems to be its vast, undefined character. While it currently provides ‘open space’ for potential recreation, it is under-used due because (sic) of its sloping turf, oddly-shaped spaces and heavy pedestrian traffic. In considering these issues, we have created distinct environments that can be used for classes, meeting, relation and performances as well as for circulation”
Five zones seek to accomplish their goals, and I urge you to read the plan. The first two can be grouped together, that of Chateau Quad and the Atwater plaza. They envision a quad of grass (more courtyard sized really) directly behind Chateau, giving a flat area for use in the summer. This meets an important goal they have of preserving the existing views. A proposed patio borders the quad on the west side. Constructed of permeable pavers, this small area affords some space for a couple of tables and chairs. Trees are planned for the north side of this space, possibly acting as a slight wind buffer, although not giving shade to the area.
One thought on this location is the size-it is drawn to be a similar size to the new patio at McCullough. This small size will give a good feeling of intimacy, but the surrounding landscape may not help this programmed context. The openness of the site to Battell Beach, intentional to preserve the view, may not aid the intimate feeling, and may make the occupant of the patio feel rather exposed, out in the open. To combat this feeling at McCullough we surrounded the area with a couple small planting beds, and some tree plantings nearby to help screen the patio from Old Chapel road. This may need to be done in a similar fashion at this location.
The Atwater area between Hall A and B is a long north/south corridor, at present merely a weed patch traveled by cars and pedestrians. One of the challenges of this site is how to direct flow through the area, such as service vehicles and pedestrians, while still allowing functional uses of the landscape and preserving green areas. This plan has two potential innovations to solve this problem, with two classrooms and a structure called “The Pass”.
The Pass is a stone wall on the southern side of the sidewalk that splits the two sections of lawn between the residence halls. The team believes that by directing flow through this area more intensively and purposefully, the green areas will be preserved, and also enhanced by the more level platform on the south end of the wall. Also, the relatively low wall provides ample seating opportunity as well. They reference the wall at Ross Commons, as well as the (now gone) wall at Proctor, as places that were well used and enjoyed.
Like the terrace/ramp idea of the Lee-Rosenblatt team, we need to be careful to keep the fire lane access open, and will need to engineer this carefully. A wall here seems to be well received, but budget concerns may be an issue. (The plan’s budget states the cost at $1400, they may have dropped a zero!)
The other way the team breaks apart the north/south corridor is by two ‘outdoor classrooms’, jutting east and west from two locations at the residence halls. Once again, this brings up the debate of programming, and the potential conflict that may arise. On the one hand, there is quite a bit of circulation through this area, and conversely the outdoor classrooms are the opposite of that, a captive stationary audience. Can an active quad co-exist with a lecture? As an on-campus reference, Discovery Court on the west side of Bi-Hall features similar low stone walls, and is indeed used as an occasional classroom, but has no recreational spaces nearby, so is afforded some privacy. I do, however, totally agree with the team about how much these spaces will be used at night and on the weekends. One of the major flaws in this campus is a lack of outdoor seating, and, even if they don’t get used as a classroom, adding to outdoor seating at Middlebury is a good idea.
(Side note-I went to UVM for Plant and Soil Science, with a co-major in Environmental studies, and I NEVER had a class or lecture outside. Imagine how distracted a bunch of plant geeks would have been sitting outside. Labs, of course, were another matter.)
If these are to be programmed as outdoor classrooms, one comment heard at the presentation was on the layout. 3 linear benches as drawn are useful for lectures, but would not function well as a discussion area. One idea is to fashion one layout as drawn, and another for discussion, possibly with the center bench being table-high.
The final zone is a no-mow zone, surrounding the retention pond on the north end. While this area is a little smaller than what I think of for the rest of our no-mow zones, I am quite excited about this. The retention pond suffers from a lack of context-it’s naturalistic planting, which has not done well, sitting amongst mown lawn, does not look right. Extending the planting around the pond, letting it sit in a larger native area, would help integrate the pond with the surrounding area better.
As with the other two plans, the thoughtfulness of the ideas astounded me. It is clear much care and deliberation went into the proposal, and I am thoroughly impressed.