Category Archives: History

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.