Author Archives: Tim Parsons

Baseline Improvements

As has been stated previously, a budget for the Atwater Landscape re-design has already been approved. This will include some baseline improvements to the Atwater site, items that we in Facilities feel need to be done to address some serious issues. This will also give the potential designer a good reference point, or at the very least less things to consider in the plan.

One major area of concern we’ve had is the area along the sidewalk next to Atwater A, the building to the west. This area has seen many washouts in heavy rain events, and creates a hazardous condition for pedestrians. We plan to add an additional storm drain just south of the intersecting sidewalk that runs east/west between the two halls, tying into the existing storm drain line already in place. Careful site grading in the two sections of quad will also help alleviate some of the drainage issues. With this storm drain in place, the reinforced turf area can be addressed, and the surrounding lawn fixed.

Speaking of lawn, in the three main sections of quad between the two dormitories and to the south of Chateau, we plan to remove most of the thin, shallow topsoil in place, and blend this with imported soil, to create a uniform 6” topsoil layer in all quads. The poor condition of the lawn and surrounding plantings can be traced directly to the soil beneath them-a thin, rocky, compacted soil at an insufficient depth to promote active plant growth.

At the upper end of the quad lie two gravel pathways. These were put in by Facilities Services a year or so ago, after being turned into pathways by student popularity. Whenever I see these pathways I think of Keene State, where, after building several dormitories, let the students walk across bare ground, no sidewalks, for several months, and then choose sidewalk locations based on the democracy seen in the dirt. These two gravel paths, not included in the original plan for Atwater, will be formalized with concrete.

The blacktop path leading down to the Atwater Dining Hall, while ADA compliant, can and will be made better with a re-design.

As has been stated before, while these baseline improvements are planning to be made, they are by no means “off the table”. Should you come up with a better solution to solve the problems presented, feel free to include them in your plan.

Urban Thoughts

While on the site visit last November, the group was very fortunate to be joined by Professor John McLeod, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Architecture. At the end of the tour, we were standing down by the Atwater residence halls parking lot, next to the retention pond there, and, looking up toward Château, Professor McLeod remarked how the space had a very urban feel to it. I was intrigued, and asked him to elaborate. Below is his wonderful response back to me-I even learned a new word (fenestration, trying to find an excuse to use it today).


I made the comment at the site walk-through in November that the Atwater space is in some ways more urban than rural.  This observation was based primarily on the proportion of the space–that is, the height-to-width ratio in the space between Halls A and B.  I don’t know off hand what those dimensions are, but they give the space the feel of a street, at least to me.  While a Vermont village green is sometimes longish and rectangular like this space, it is usually bordered by a number of buildings collectively making up the edges, and varying somewhat in height, materials, relationship to the sidewalk, fenestration, etc.  The open space of the green between the edge buildings tends to be much broader than it is high in proportion.  Whereas a good street tends to feel not too wide, yet not too canyon-like.  In the case of Atwater, even with the bends in the two buildings, the ‘street edge’ created by the facades is more hard, planar, and consistent than a typical village green.  You get the sense of being on Main Street in Middlebury in the block between Merchants Row and the Battell Bridge.  Or possibly on a cross street in uptown Manhattan, or a Parisian boulevard.  Speaking of Paris, the Atwater space also has a Renaissance axial quality to it, terminating at the Chateau at the south end and opening to the landscape to the north.  In this sense it is similar to Thomas Jefferson’s design for the Lawn at the University of Virginia–itself a space with urban qualities–with the Rotunda (library) at the head and once-open views to the mountains at the opposite end.  Finally, the entrances and communal spaces on the ground level of Halls A and B, with the dwelling spaces on the upper levels, again reminds me of the Battell Block in Middlebury or a street in New York City.

Sustainable Sites

There are a myriad of ways to determine if a project is sustainable, LEED certification coming immediately to mind. There is, however, a new model, started by the American Society of Landscape Architects and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, since joined by the United States Botanical Garden. This project, called the Sustainable Sites Initiative, has published a document on rating just how sustainable a landscape project is, from design through construction. Experts from across the country are developing sustainable benchmarks for all aspects of landscape projects, from design to construction. This is landscape specific, and goes far beyond LEED certification, which is all-encompassing for green building in general.

I can’t imagine we will be scoring the project based on these guidelines, but I highly recommend reading, or at the very least skimming through the Sustainable Sites document (PDF, large!) for ideas and inspiration. Even the website itself is a trove of information, with good pages on Hydrology, Soils, Vegetation, Materials, and my favorite, and perhaps the most important to our project, Human Health and Well-being. Given some serious constraints of the site I think we’d be hard pressed to ‘score’ well on some of the construction guidelines, but we’ll do our best.

Middlebury even has a connection to this project-Jose Alminana is on the technical steering committee. He’s a principal of Andropogon Associates, who’ve done extensive landscape design work here, and is a parent ’10. And an all around nice guy.

An Early Holiday Present

In the middle of finals week (remember that?) I received an email from Sarah Jane Simmonds, ’11. For Professor Andrea Murray’s Architecture and the Environment class she looked at the Atwater Design Project as part of her course final, and she sent me some JPG’s of the site plan analysis and solutions she submitted. These are an excellent resource, and I thank her profusely for providing them for us.

Shown below are the JPG’s of the project. Clicking on the picture will load the full size version, but be forewarned, most are about 3MB, so if your connection over break isn’t as fast as campus you may want to go get some eggnog. I thought about it, and decided not to post the overlays of the solutions. While they were excellent, I didn’t want to prejudice anybody’s thinking on the project. I am sure if you are stuck or looking for inspiration she would be more than willing to email them to you.

Atwater Site Plan and Analysis

Zone 1 Concerns

Zone 2 Concerns

Zone 3 Concerns

Zone 4 Concerns

Help is Available

I’ve done several site visits now, and have corresponded with others, and everybody is asking about help.

We are here for you.

While we do want finished plans for the space, something significantly better than a little sketch on the back of a torn envelope, we also aren’t expecting anyone to produce buildable CAD documents either. (Although, feel free!) The guidelines for what we are looking for can actually be thought of in simple terms-you are selling you’re idea to us, the Master Plan Implementation Committee. Your plans need to clearly and thoughtfully get across the ideas you have for the space, and be accurate enough to prove that they will work.

Bente Madson has graciously offered help, she helps run the Architecture Table. They have a dinner meeting every Thursday from 6:30-7:30 in LaForce Seminar Room 121. If you can’ t make it, you can always email

Also don’t forget the list of advisors. And I’m available as well-while I don’t have a slow time of year, it’s quite a bit easier for me to meet now that the growing season is over. I’m also a little speedier by email now as well.

Atwater Commons-Original Landscape Plan

The landscape architects for the Atwater Commons project was Andropogon Associates, in Philadelphia. Working with KieranTimberlake, they drafted the landscape plan for the entire area, from the roof right down to the path to the commons house at 275 Weybridge. Their excellent work and attention to ecological details can be seen in the landscape drawings for the project, which we have made available for download below.

So what went wrong with the landscape, why does it not reflect the plan? We believe the main problem was that of a changing environment. As is readily apparent walking the site, a significant amount of blasting had to occur to place the buildings where they presently sit. This blasting fractured the bedrock, creating fissures, taking the groundwater away, and this dried out what was previously a fairly moist location. The plans called for extensive swale plantings, and utilized plants suitable for a moist environment throughout the commons area. These plantings could not adapt to the dry conditions found there at present, and the plantings now languish.

Much of the theory, however, and some of the plantings still remain relevant today. In particular, look to the retention pond east of the dining hall, next to the Atwater loading dock, as a very successful bit of both landscape and engineering. The roof as well, although tricky to get established, is the most northern green roof we know utilizing such a broad variety of native plant material. Both retention ponds, as well as the rubble walls at the north end of Johnson parking lot, are part of the permitting for the site, and must stay at their present location.

The overall drying of the site, as well as changing use patterns on campus, now dictate a change in use for Atwater Commons. Do you see a very urban setting as seen by Professor McLeod on the site visit? Do you see a town green, like traditional Vermont towns? Can you do both?

Atwater Commons-Beginning Plans

In the spring of 2001, KieranTimberlake was selected by Middlebury College as the Architect for the Atwater Commons project. They presented a Schematic Design Presentation that laid out the vision for the Atwater Commons project. We’ve reproduced some of these pages for the design competition and compiled them into a PDF.

This document is worth a careful read, as its design goals and intentions are still valid today, and could be a model for your entry. They envisioned “the core buildings form an outdoor ‘room’ with the two north/south ridges flanking a grass green…” with “…the perception of this section of campus is of buildings set in the landscape – broad lawns, sparely populated by a variety of trees and Adirondack chairs – with landscape continuity into the distance. The new buildings reinforce and participate in this setting.”

Or read the vision of the rocky ridge as seen from Coffrin: “Behind Coffrin is a path which is one of the wonderful, and we think undiscovered, moments of Middlebury College. A found space created by the building and the ridge it nestles against, the path has a contemplative, almost eastern garden serenity about it. Rock clefts afford moss and leaves to gather. Trees grow from the clefts. Birches and firs border the path providing natural cover for other fauna and flora. The path tumbles down the slope to the north, ridge to the east, building to the west, providing rooms with views into this space. This is one of the landscape moments that new architecture, in the Atwater context, might offer the core buildings and the College landscape at-large.”

Another post by Tim Spears will talk of the new role of the commons in the Middlebury community. Even the Master Plan calls for the decentralizing of the school, with each commons having a separate dining hall, and its own outdoor common area. Under the new economy, maybe this is no longer feasible, but still the landscape can speak to a commons area.

Site Visit-and some pictures

12-15 hardy souls joined us in a cold, November rain last Friday for a site visit around the Atwater Commons project, along with several faculty and staff, and even an alum (nice to meet you, Philip!).

First, a mea culpa. I’m hoping I didn’t scare anyone off of the project by expanding the scope unnecessarily. We did a soup to nuts tour, starting all the way down in the Johnson Parking lot, crawling all around the bottom (east) side of Atwater Dining, and somehow ending up in the residence halls parking lot. It’s a big area, and I feel like to get to know a site, you should also know the area around it. How you approach a site, the route you take, or what you see for views, or what views are blocked, or where the water goes: all of that is important information in drawing a landscape plan for the area.

But you don’t have to worry about it. I mentioned, for example, the pathway leading to the Commons house, 275 Weybridge. Yes, it could stand some improvement, but not a biggie. Focus your project on the commons area, between Hall A + B, and the front of the dining hall if you like. Like all things in this project, it is up to you–should you want to expand the scope and include some of the outlying deficiencies we discovered on the tour, feel free.

Last week, before the site visit, I took a scattering of pictures of the site. I’ve since posted them on the web for your viewing pleasure. They are geotagged as well, so a map next to the picture will show where I was standing when I took the picture.

Atwater Landscape Contest Pics

The Atwater Area Maps

The resources page lists some maps that are available to be downloaded concerning the site.

Obviously, the first map to look at would be the boundary areas of the project itself. The aerial photograph is from a larger version taken in the summer of 2006. The boundary line, to an extent, is somewhat flexible. For example, we’ve not included the Atwater parking lot. Past experience with a planting island there was poor at best and the planting was eliminated. But do you have a better idea? Make a case and include it! Conversely, you may not need to design the entire area, or may want to leave an area untouched. Spaces that should be left out of the design competition are simply the Atwater Dining Roof (a work in progress, but starting to come into itself) and the wood line to the north of the project boundary, as this is a very important buffer zone with the neighbors on Murdock Court.

The most important maps for this project, however, are the Campus Base Maps. The underground of the Middlebury campus is a teeming mass of steam lines, electrical power, communications, storm drains, sewers, even some old lines on the older part of campus that ran a bell system. No project on campus begins without a trip to the campus base maps. A key is provided at the base of each one and questions about them can be answered by Luther Tenny. Also listed are two older revisions of the base maps. These include topographic lines, left off of the newer revisions for clarity. Both maps should only be used for reference. (Those of you who are GIS-inclined may email for rectified versions.)

Another map included is part of the campus tree map. A larger version of this, with more tree information, is available here.

Other maps and resources may be included in upcoming posts as well. If someone finds a really cool geological map of the area, let me know.

Competition Guidelines

In September of 2004, Middlebury College completed construction of an area of campus known as Atwater Commons. In the process of construction, several basic natural systems in the area changed, and the extensive landscape plan was never fully realized. We would now like to re-landscape the space, and turn the area into a more functional, educational, and enjoyable space for the Middlebury College community.

The Atwater Design Contest is open to all Middlebury College students. Designs are due no later than Monday, February 7, 2011, and are to be submitted to the Office of the Vice President of Administration in Old Chapel 207. The winning plan will be will be implemented over the spring and summer of 2011 by Facilities Services.

Scope of the Project

The area we consider “Atwater” is a quad formed by the two dorms, Atwater Hall A and Hall B, the Atwater Dining Hall, and the back sides of Chateau and Allen. When redesigning the landscape, however, many factors outside of this quad also play a role as well, and may be considered as part of the design requirements. The map below shows what we would consider when looking at a landscape plan for this area, but, as with many parts of this project, you may change or modify this as you please. Please note that while the Atwater Dining roof is still a work in progress, it should not be considered in the redesign.

As Tim Spears wrote in his introductory email, we have in mind plans for improving the landscaping, planting additional vegetation, and creating recreational opportunities. At present, the Atwater landscape seems like a vast unfinished open space. We would like to see the landscape become almost a livable outdoor room, an area more welcoming and usable to the campus population. The project will need to be sustainable, both environmentally and  institutionally. Any design should follow Middlebury’s Master Plan, as well as our Sustainable Design Guidelines as they may apply.

Facilities Services already has some plans for renovating the area next summer–a baseline of improvements that need to be made to fix the area. These include pouring two sidewalks that are only crushed stone at present and fixing drainage along the west sidewalk next to Atwater Hall B. These baseline improvements will be spelled out in another post. And don’t forget, like other parts of the project, this may be modified by your design if desired.

Requirements & Expectations

The Master Plan Implementation Committee (MPIC) is looking for a landscape design plan to guide the development of the project. This should include a master overview drawing, as well as detailed drawings necessary to complete the project, including sectionals or elevations if you consider them appropriate. A brief, 1-2 page narrative of the project, including an overview of the plan and design goals, should accompany any drawings. Furthermore, a material list and rough budget should be provided as well.

Plans should be either hand drawn (no larger than 11×17) or electronic in PDF format. The contact information form should accompany the submission. A select group of projects will then be invited to present their plan to the MPIC, so a brief presentation (5 minutes) should be prepared.

The MPIC will choose no more than 3 finalists to present their plan at a Campus Forum to be held in early February. A winner will be chosen by the MPIC based on strength of design, sustainability, and feedback from the college community.


Many people on campus are available for help and questions. These include Tim Parsons, Landscape Horticulturist in Facilities; Luther Tenny, Assistant Director of Maintenance and Operations in Facilities; Pieter Broucke, Professor of History of Art and Architecture; and John McLeod, Visiting Assistant Professor of Architecture. See the Resources page for the complete list.

Next Steps

A site visit to launch the project is scheduled for Friday, November 5 at 4:00 pm beginning in front of the Atwater Dining Hall. Tim Parsons will be there to walk through the site, discuss some of the history of the landscape, and address some of the deficiencies. A one-on-one meeting can be scheduled if you are unable to make the site visit, but this will have to take place during regular business hours.

This blog will also host more information on the project. See the Resources page for maps of the area and advisor contact information. Future posts will detail the history of the present landscape, deficiencies of the site, the master plan as it relates to Atwater, and more. The Middlebury Landscape blog will also host some posts on this project, more general in nature, with topics that not only relate to the project but to our landscape in general.