Category Archives: Guidelines


Campus as landscape is a subject deserving a magisterial treatment. After all, Eden, the perfect environment, was a garden, not a building.

The absence of landscape on campus is as telling as a sweet smile with a missing front tooth. Some campuses are as memorable for their landscape as they are for their buildings.

Richard Dober, Campus Architecture: Building in the Groves of Academe

It’s sometimes hard to explain the difference between landscape design and landscape architecture. In my experience, one of the easiest ways to tell the difference is by topography-landscape designers work with it, while architects are probably renting D-9’s and changing it. While I consider myself a landscape designer, I have lofty goals, and like to ponder serious landscape architecture concepts. What I’ve been thinking about for the Atwater Contest, and thinking about in general in my 4+ years working here, is the concept of edge in the landscape.

An edge, at least by my definition, is any place where landscape changes. There is even an Edge Effect, according to Wikipedia. One can see this right on campus-invasive plants thrive on the edge of our forests, poison ivy grows there, and we have a much greater songbird population on the campus proper than down in the Ridgeline area. My limited research time didn’t yield any substance to the claims that humans prefer an edge, but anecdotally I’d heard this fact for quite some time. Edge is richer in habitat, and in game, and our ancestors exploited this well for dinner. I can remember when the master plan was being drafted driving around one summer day making a map of Adirondack chair locations. We were looking at land use patterns for recreation. What we discovered was that all the chairs (movable, by the way, and being at the end of the summer,  the democracy of the movement meant that all the chairs were where people chose to put them) were on the edge of lawns, or up against woodlines or trees. There is safety in an edge, in the sense of enclosure. Nobody seems to sit in the center of a great lawn, but on the edge.

Another way to think about edge is as a surround or perimeter, at least on a large campus scale. I disagree with the Master Plan on this concept, when it states

Another important, related concept is that large campuses may comprise distinct precincts, or neighborhoods. These precincts, like the large campus, may have one or more of three characteristics: a clear center (quadrangle, walk, etc.). consistent fabric (similar stone buildings), and a clear edge. Of these three, the least important, and least prevalent, is a clear edge. (page 25)

This lack of caring about an edge comes from basic designs of American campuses. Campus landscape can be thought of as either open or closed. The closed model is very European-think of the closed quadrangles in Oxford and Cambridge. Open campuses, though, keep the buildings separate, meaning reduced fire risk and greater natural light inside the buildings. Middlebury is clearly an open campus. And of our three neighborhoods, the only one that works well (main quad, the Central Campus) is because of a good edge surrounding it, that of Old Chapel road and route 125, although granted the similar stone buildings help as well.

Landscape is made of spaces and masses, and edge creates a distinctive space. In Campus Landscape, Dober writes of-

…campus landscape as a system of encountered experiences, individual landscape components that one might experience along the journey from the environs to a campus destination. Accordingly, one passes through the landscaped surrounds, arrives at the perimeter, enters the campus gateways, traverses campus roads to automobile parking or bike racks, and starts walking to the precinct and building thresholds along landscaped paths. (pg. 82)

Or think of edge in the rural landscape. I’ll quote now from another book I checked out of the library, The Nature of Landscape Design, by Nan Fairbrother. She has some pictures in her book, with captions of “A field is created by its enclosures- A country lane by its hedges.”, and in the accompanying text she states

Certainly we think of the out-of-doors as open spaces, and so it is: but it is spaces-not merely open extent but definite three-dimensional volumes defined by solids. We remember openings in the woods, for instance, lanes with hedges, fields in farmland-and these are all defined spaces. A field is a field because it has a boundary round it, and in England, where the hedges are disappearing with the new prairie farming, our dismay is by no means only at losing the vegetation of the hedgerows. For without hedges much farming countryside becomes incomprehensible: it has not structure and loses its human meaning when no longer divided into enclosures we can encompass and understand.

Woodland too, through a reverse process, takes its identity from spaces enclosed within it. Solid woodland is anonymous, a repetitive pattern of trees where one  is much like the next and the next. The distinctive places, the areas we remember, are the openings within the woods, the spaces defined by the trees.

Equally, in the consciously designed green environment the open spaces should be the essential areas of the design (the lawn of a garden, for instance), and the land forms and planting are the masses that define them. (pgs. 38-39)

A good edge makes a distinctive space. An easy example most people around here can relate to is that of Shelburne Farms. In the 1880’s and 90’s, the Webb family commissioned the famous landscape architect (OK, the father of all landscape architecture) Fredrick Law Olmstead to plan their 3800 acre farm on the shore in Shelburne. 3800 acres is large, don’t get me wrong, but the feeling while driving through the farms now is one of massive scale. The main attraction would be the inn, located on the shore. Olmstead could have easily put in a straight road from the town road to the inn, but instead he drafted 20 miles of winding paths and roads throughout the entire estate. Now, as one drives along these winding roads, the 1000’s of planted trees create walls to either side, and the trip goes from “room” to “room” along the road. Vistas open up, previous views hidden, and miles upon miles of edges reveal themselves continuously.

We have some edge on campus that works well. Think of the drive down South Main Street, Route 30, just as you pass Storrs Ave. To your left is the Main Library, with a glorious view of Library Park and Starr/Axinn, and a viewscape towards Old Chapel. To your right is the Emma Willard House, with the hint of Meeker and Munford up the way. This open landscape is enough of a contrast to the tight houses along South Main Street that an effective edge is formed- it is clear you are now in Middlebury College, not the town.

Another edge becoming nice is new to us, that of College Street driving west from town. With the new renovation to Kitchell House, and some recent landscape “editing” to Twilight Hall, we’ve created a more open landscape, with views toward the main campus. Hopefully, this is defining another edge, another entrance to Middlebury College. Look at some of our other entrances to campus, those that don’t work quite as well, such as Route 30 East, from the golf course, or Route 125 East, from the organic garden. The edge in these locations just isn’t strong enough-no boundary markers, no gateways to tell where the existing landscape ends at Middlebury College begins.

On a smaller scale, some of my favorite spots in the landscape on campus have well defined edges, and good enclosure. The back yard at the Hadley House, for example. Nice views of the golf course, but with a row of ancient Sugar maples defining an old road, and views west, framed by woodline and shrubs. Or the Forest courtyard, enclosed by the Panton stone of Forest Hall. Once the trees grow a little bit to block Old Chapel Road, the plaza at McCullough should be a little space all its own in the center of a busy campus intersection.

So how does the Atwater area make you feel? What do you think of the space directly behind Chateau? The entrance to the area from the north may be a lost cause, but I wonder about the area in between Chateau and Coffrin. Battell Beach is bounded well to the west, with a hill sloping up towards Coffrin, affording a great viewing platform for Quidditch (come back, Quidditch, we miss you). Can we pull something like that off in our area, maybe with the previously mentioned D-9 and soil harvested from the baseline improvements?

Rough Budget

We talked about the need to present a rough budget with your design proposal at the last site visit-and I promised some figures that you could use to come up with one. Don’t forget to read about the baseline improvements we’ve already planned to make to the site-and these don’t need to be figured into your budget.

Sidewalks-$10 per square foot. Don’t plan on anything less than a 6′ width. The master plan has some great things to say about walkways at Middlebury, see page 65 under the Built Systems chapter.

Patio/Plaza-On the last couple of projects we’ve been using a stamped dyed concrete to construct hard patio surfaces. Colored a dark grey, similar to local Panton Stone, this is also stamped to give a look similar to a real stone patio, with square lines and a stone like rough surface. Look at the patio at Proctor, or the one on the Old Chapel road side of McCullough for good examples. We feel this surface treatment is a good compromise between the look of a real stone patio, and the realistic maintenance and wear-and-tear issues in this well-traveled and used environment. Plan on about $20 per square foot installed. Installation on these are similar to a sidewalk, with a well compacted stone base.

Light Pole-About $3,000 each. This includes a sonotube concrete base, and wiring (assuming not too much of a run) Interesting side note here-the 30 year cost of a light pole and the 30 year cost of a tree are about the same, in the $10-12,000 range.

Gate-This is a tricky one. Nobody likes the gates we have in use now, the wire strung between two posts with a lock on each side. I was daydreaming at a Bollard manufacturer site for inspiration. Something truly nice would probably be about $10,000. The bottom of that sidewalk by Atwater A gets quite a bit of service vehicle use, so anything retractable/ removable would have to be pretty bomb-proof.

Benches-This can run the gamut, but here in Facilities we’ve been pleased with the granite stone benches we’ve been using lately. Look for some on and near the McCullough plaza. With a footing installed, they’re about $1500 each.

Tree Planting-Trees are sold by the caliper inch, which is the measurement of the trunk 6″ above the ground. Height is not as good an indicator of maturity as trunk measurement, as some trees (such as crabapples) may be as old, but never as tall. A common size sold in the landscape trade is 2-2 1/2″. This would normally come balled and burlaped, meaning it was grown in the ground at the nursery for several years, then dug up and shipped. Planted, staked, and mulched, this is going to cost about $500 each. I prefer planting a 3-3 1/2″ tree, and that is going to run about $750. Another popular size would be a 15 gallon, meaning it was grown in a 15 gallon container, and is generally about 1-1 1/2″ in diameter. This is good for mass planting, or in areas not as well traveled. We generally don’t plant trees this small on campus, at least not as individuals. Plan on $225 each for those.

Shrub and Flower Beds-Shrubs are tricky to get established when planted by themselves, unless they are quite large. Generally grown in smaller pots, or dug with smaller root balls, they tend to dry out quickly in the establishment phase unless planted in a large mulched bed. (They look better planted en masse on a campus this large anyway) This holds true for perennials as well. I did some calculating, and came up with about $7.50 per square foot on either a shrub or flower bed-the spacing of the plants equalizes the cost here. And fair warning-part of a sustainable landscape means it is sustainable economically, and we just don’t have the labor available to weed acres of flower beds, as much as I would like them. Shrub beds are not as difficult to weed, but still need some thought.

As always, feel free to contact me with questions. I’m sure I only skimmed the surface here. Luther Tenny is another great resource on pricing- he helped me come up with some of these, and any errors are mine.


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.

Plant Selection

I’ve realized that the process of picking plant varieties may be difficult, and an online search will probably yield far too much information to be of any use at all. So, without further ado, here are my recommendations for good places to start when choosing plants for your landscape design.

One of the first places to look would be the Middlebury College Master Plan, which speaks in great depth to the natural systems and communities on campus. The Natural Systems chapter (PDF) is a trove of information on native trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plant types found in clayplain forest communities. But I wouldn’t stop there.

As students of my Urban Forestry J-Term class learned, there is no such thing as a ‘native’ tree in an urban setting. Local stresses, such as root and soil compaction, wreck havoc on many of our native tree species, so non-invasive alternatives should be considered as well to increase the diversity of our urban jungle. For a couple of years now I’ve relied on a now out-dated book printed by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources called “Recommended Trees for Vermont Communities”. They’ve been working on a new addition, and I’ve gotten permission to make availible the PDF of the new version, called “Vermont Tree Selection Guide”. This copy is only a rough draft, but glancing through it this morning I’m quite impressed.

Other online tools will be of some help as well. The University of Illinois Extension has an online tree selector, as well as an online shrub selector. Another good online tree selector is hosted by the US Forest Service.

An online book availible for design help, and well worth the 7MB download, would be The Road to a Thoughtful Street Tree Master Plan, availible for download at the Urban Forestry South website. One final (shorter) publication to read would be “Right Plant, Right Place”-A Plant Selection Guide for Managed Landscapes. This has some great plant lists that are very applicable to Vermont.

For wetland plantings, or other general information, the first catalog I always grab is from New England Wetland Plants. For perennial flowers, the master of all lists resides at the wonderful Van Berkum Nursery in New Hampshire.

And if you’re still overwhelmed, give me a shout. Nothing I like better than talking plants.

A Little Light History

I’m a fool for GIS, just looking for an excuse to take a class someday. For fun, I’ve made a couple of pictures using ArcGIS of the Atwater area in three years, 2006, 1974, and 1942. The pictures all show the exact same area. I don’t know if they will be of any help in the contest or not, but a little history never hurt anyone. As always, click on the image for the full size picture. And if any geography majors know of any other aerial photos I’m missing let me know…

Atwater Area in 2006

Atwater Area in 1974

Atwater Area in 1942

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.