Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Proposals and Presentations

I’ve created a series of three blog posts on the presentations and the proposals for Turf Battle. I’ve also included some of my own thoughts on them, as well as some of the other thoughts I heard and wrote down, including discussions in our Landscape department. I’m sure I missed many good comments from the presentations, though, so hopefully the commenters will write.

I am certainly no expert. Heck, I don’t even take my own opinions with more than a grain or two of salt. I am, however, hoping to spark discussion of these three proposals in the comments section of each post, as well as comments attached to this post on possible collaboration between the plans. Many people have approached me about possible collaboration, and this is the first step. Please write with whatever ideas or comments you may have, or email me directly.

Overall, I am very impressed with all three proposals. I think back to my days studying landscape design, and how I wish we had more projects that were applicable and destined for the real world, rather than thought experiments that never left the classroom. All of these plans have their strengths and weaknesses, but any of them are great solutions for the space. I am once again amazed by the creativity of Middlebury students.

Each of the posts will link to a PDF of the proposal, as well as the Power Point of the presentation given Tuesday night. The Master Plan Implementation Committee will be meeting in the next week or two to decide on a plan of action, so any and all comments are welcome, appreciated, and needed.

The Blog Posts—

The Garden of Scholarly Delights

The Lee-Rosenblatt Proposal

The Catalano/Madson/Moritz Proposal





The Catalano/Madson/Moritz Plan

Download the Proposal

Download the Presentation

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.

The Lee-Rosenblatt Proposal

Download the Proposal

Download the Presentation

I’ll dive right in, and quote directly from the proposal-“Our proposed site plan creates several clearly defined ‘outdoor rooms’ between the Atwater building and creates a buffer between the Northern edge of campus and the Atwater parking lot and nearby residences.” As a touchstone, the plan references the original concepts of the Kiernan Timberlake proposal for Atwater Commons, and seeks to re-landscape the area meet this vision. The team uses 4 elements to meet their goal, a seasonal platform, a terrace with a surrounding ramp, a tree garden and a gravel quad. They state “the contrasting open and closed spaces complement one another as a whole and allow for a stronger awareness of the spaces”. I’ll attempt to remember and write some of the comments and concerns raised in the presentation’s question and answer period, as well as mention some of my own.

The seasonal platform, located at the present location of the retention pond on the north end of the site, references the Maya Lin elliptical in Michigan. The multi-use programming of the space is intriguing, from skating in the winter to a potential stage in the summer. Some concerns in Facilities that have been raised directly concern the pond itself. This pond is a needed retention pond, and was permitted by the Act 250 process. Changes to this pond will probably require more permitting. Personally, I also wonder about the size of the pond. While at present it would make a great sized stage, I think as an ice rink it may be much too small to be of use. Not that any of these problems can’t be overcome, however.

The ramp terrace separating the two sections of lawn is a neat idea as well, and this part of the proposal seemed well liked by the audience. This part of the proposal raises two thoughts in my mind. The first is a matter of engineering. While there is topography there to work with, there may not be enough to make the terrace read as truly separate from the ramp. Furthermore, building a ‘car ready’ ramp surrounding the terrace is as complicated as building a road, and may quickly eat into the budget.

And this brings up the second thought raised in the presentation, that of vehicular access. This plan proposes and encourages use of vehicles by students. This has its pluses and minuses. The sidewalks are planned as fire lanes, and are used as service vehicle accesses as well. But do we want to encourage students to use this as well? The team did state that at present students do enjoy being able to drive up to their dorm, but we should ask if this is part of the programming that we envision in this space. The plan calls for two usable spaces on the north and south ends of the project, a stage and a seating area respectively. Can cars safely be introduced into this type of programming?

In contrast to the urbanity of the terrace/ramp, they propose a Tree Garden, to “extend the vegetation from the east side of Coffrin Hall and plant trees to create a close environment that will contrast with the patio and terrace.” This will present an interesting landscape design challenge, that of going from a wild and unformatted tree planting next to Coffrin to a close, gridded tree layout in between two programmed sections. (I am a sucker for trees in a grid, though).

The final major part of the proposal is a patio behind Chateau. Consisting of crushed stone, this large expanse uses the entirety of the quad behind Chateau, and eliminates the problem of pathways and travel associated with this location at present.

Google Earth Image-View Axis toward Chipman Hill (upper right)

The plan talks of a major visual axis from Pearson hall to Chipman Hill north and east of the Town, and how the design of the dining hall was planned and acknowledged this axis. The stone patio would align with this axis, breaking apart the existing paths that don’t acknowledge the corridor. And as a recreational spot, this would well adapt to its present uses, particularly with the large quantities of tables and chairs placed there for language school.

Our landscape department had a discussion on the stone patio, and whether it is a sustainable solution for the site. While stone is a good choice for drainage, and would not contribute to the college’s storm water profile significantly, weeds such as crabgrass have infiltrated into similar areas on campus, and at present our only effective maintenance solution is herbicide, which granted can be organic. Permeable pavers, though, may not read right, and there might be some loss in reading the axis written of above.

I like this plan, and like the way they break the long rectangular space up into smaller, more usable rooms. They effectively broach the problem of excessive wind with the tree garden, and create two usable spaces. One commenter at the presentation liked the idea of the ramp/terrace, and had the idea of combining it with the bridge idea of the scholar garden, and this is an interesting thought. Elevation is a great element to add to any landscape.

The Garden of Scholarly Delights

Download the Proposal And Sketches

Download the Presentation

Imagine walking across campus, and coming to a Chinese Scholar Garden, a quiet refuge from the daily grind of campus life. Traditionally, these gardens were constructed by retired officials and educational elite, and would typically include 3 elements, a water feature, rockeries, or rock garden, and typically bridges and pathways. Like many Chinese landscape styles, the concept of opening views is explored, where small, narrow, and/or dark paths can lead to great views and surprises.

Unlike the other two plans entered in Turf Battle, this plan, by Leah Webster, Christine Hsieh, and Jack Maher, wishes simply to be part of a larger landscape plan, and does not speak to the entire area. This is one of the plans great strengths, and also one of its weaknesses. And this is acknowledged in the proposal, when they state “The strength in our proposal lies in its ability to further the college’s aims to promote respect and learning of other culture is and broaden the scope of building traditions on campus”.

As a garden, the plan is quite exciting. The team is using the Sichuan style of landscaping, which is a wilder aspect, with not as much upkeep as other more formal styles. They imagine the garden in the lower section of the Atwater rectangle, employing a great landscaping technique called “borrowed scenery”. Shakkei is the Japanese term for this, and it simply integrates a distant landscape into the more local. A good example of this technique is a photograph on Fine Gardening, which actually uses mirrors to borrow a borrowed view. In the Scholar garden, they address the problem of the parking lot view with a borrowed view, using a bamboo screen to block the lower views of the cars, while affording the higher view to the north.

(Side note to the fellow plant geeks…Yes, bamboo can grow in Vermont, but I personally have no experience. The little bit of research I’ve done led me to Snow Bamboo, Phyllostachys nuda. It is a running bamboo, probably invasive in warmer climes, but has potential to be controlled through specialized root control barriers.)

The garden, as explained above, is a contemplative place, and this raises a question common to all three proposals, one of programming. How do we visualize using the Atwater area? There are questions and problems of circulation in the entire area-witness the goat paths across the lawns, or the tire tracks near sidewalks. Can we make a restful garden in the center of what at present feels like an urban corridor? Or stepping back even further: are we bringing people to the area, while at the same time providing a solitary retreat? Maybe Turf Battle needs to define what sorts of groups will use the space, what type of programming will get used in the space, and see if a contemplative retreat is appropriate for the space.

There is an area on campus that is a contemplative garden, and we can draw lessons from that space. The Singer Garden, known as the Garden of the Seasons, next to the Main Library, is already programmed “as a designated spot for study, contemplation, and refreshment of the senses.” Michael Singer imagined an “alluring conjunction of nature and culture”.

Like all planned landscapes, the Garden of the Seasons needed to ‘grow into it’, which it is starting to, albeit a little slower than other landscapes. This area of contemplation suffered from a lack of context in the beginning stages. In the center of Library Park, the surrounding terrain felt too ‘open’, and not enough privacy was afforded while sitting in the garden. While the garden is several hundred feet from Route 30, the openness of the lawn and the relative lack of large trees in the area seemingly shrink this distance. Furthermore, this relatively small garden was juxtaposed to the broad expanse of the southern wall of the library, dwarfing the garden and accompanying structure/sculpture. We’ve since planted the rock swale that envelopes the garden with large shrubs and understory trees and, as this vegetation matures, the scale of the garden will seem more appropriate against the library, and should feel more private.

This, to me, speaks of the problem that would need to be addressed should this garden be chosen in amongst a greater plan. Major amounts of work around the garden site would need to be done to give this garden the proper setting. At present, there is no context of seclusion around Atwater, and this would need to be developed, if that indeed is the programming we want for the area.

Overall, this is a very exciting plan, and a great example of the point to Turf Battle, that of throwing new ideas to break up the existing vernacular of Middlebury. My compliments to the authors for a great plan.