I’ve been thinking a lot about space on campus-how it is defined, what makes a space work, and what limits on space are. Not to keep harping on the Master Plan for Middlebury, but the reading I’ve done so far in this topic is as good as the pile of books I’ve checked out of the Davis Library. (And the plan is in my office, compared to the funny looks I got walking through the library in my day-glo yellow OSHA snow shoveling visibility vest). We’re getting down to the final two weeks of Turf Battle, though, so I’ll do some paraphrasing of some concepts I’m certain the Master Plan committee will be thinking of as they review proposals.

In one of the first chapters, where the authors start to lay out the plan itself, (page 25 if you’re following along…) they write how larger campuses can comprise neighborhoods, which should have at least one of three characteristics-a clear center, consistent fabric, and a clear edge. The plan they lays out the vision of the neighborhoods of Middlebury, Central (Main) campus, the South campus (Arts and Athletics), and the area we’re working in, North Campus.

Under the new plan, each neighborhood should comprise of one major quadrangle, related courtyards, and some consistent fabric of landscape and buildings. Up until about the 1940’s, Middlebury was a one quadrangle school, what we call the Main Quad, bounded by Mead Chapel and Old Chapel road. The failure of campus planning, as the Master Plan sees it, is the fact that as Middlebury grew to the North and to the South, quadrangles were not added. They write,

Two of these districts (The North and South Campuses) lack sufficient identity and are suburban in character. They are not organized by streets, nor do they have legible spaces. In other words, they have no center, no consistent fabric, and no edge. (The random landscaping does not help establish a legible structure either.)

Our contest won’t speak to Battell Beach as a quad, but let’s keep thinking about space on campus, and the hierarchy of the spaces. Most references state the main level is of course the quad, followed by secondary spaces, usually parks and courtyards.

Most define a campus park as a large tract of land that includes lawn, grassland, and woodlands. They are usually large, and more naturalistic, with large sweeping pathways and less geometry. The plan writes of the Library Park as a quad, with its curving pathways, large significant trees, and naturalized spaces around the Garden of the Seasons. They would like to add another park around Bicentennial Hall.

Clearly, the Atwater area is too small to qualify as a quad, and too geometrical to count as a park (unless your plan changes that!), so in the hierarchy of spaces on a campus, that leaves the Atwater area clearly in the Courtyard camp. And indeed, this how how the master plan refers to this space. It does an excellent job defining a courtyard, (page 57)

A court is a relatively enclosed private or semi-private open space within a building, or a semi-private or public open space within a group of buildings. Courts may be purely private or purely public, but they are usually limited in size and legible in form. Their character and uses are directly related to the functional uses that surround them.

In Campus Architecture: Building in the Groves of Academe, by Richard P. Dober, AICP, he writes of these secondary spaces

Courtyards and atriums are extended architecture, settings for campus life, configured, defined, enclosed by a building or buildings. Often neglected because of expedient cost-cutting measure, these are superb opportunities for creating significant designs-places where people can gather to participate in institutional life informally duning daily routines. Should there be a will to generate a significant surge in the quality of campus architecture in the near future, courtyards and atriums would be a productive area to achieve such effects, adding Great Spaces to Great Walls. (page 235)

The plan states that Ross courtyard is the only legible courtyard on campus. Bounded by LaForce and the start of HMKL, this space features a plaza in front of the dining hall, public art, and a large swath of lawn. It does speak to our Atwater project, though, in stating

Atwater Court should be developed north of Le Chateau. Currently, Atwater Commons does not have a courtyard, and the provision of one is difficult. Nevertheless, one could be designed with strong landscape elements that incorporate the existing rock outcrop.

So there is the gauntlet thrown. Don’t forget to read Tim Spear’s post on The Commons Factor in the Atwater Landscape Design Competition. But the space remains the same, even if it isn’t branded ‘Atwater’ any longer.

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