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Largest UC Green Space Opens

Date: Oct. 20, 2000
Updated: Oct. 23, 2000
By: Mary Stagaman
Phone: (513) 745-5685
Photos by: Lisa Britton and Chris Curran

Cincinnati -- Hailed by architecture critics and educators as a model of enlightened building, the University of Cincinnati Master Plan came a giant step closer to completion this month with the opening of Campus Green.

campus green dedication

Formerly a vast, surface-level parking lot, this 6-acre site is now a green quadrangle, serving as the social and recreational heart of the University and providing a unifying pedestrian path through this once-disparate urban campus.

The Master Plan was initiated in 1989 by University President Joseph A. Steger and his Cabinet and developed by George Hargreaves and Mary Margaret Jones of Hargreaves Associates, Cambridge and San Francisco. Reversing the usual priorities, Hargreaves Associates treated open spaces and pedestrian walkways as primary components of the campus and the buildings as infill. While accommodating the construction of some 2 million square feet of academic and research space-including buildings designed by master architects such as Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman, Henry N. Cobb, Michael Graves, David Childs, Leer Weizapfel Associates, and Thom Mayne-the master plan has developed 23 sites throughout the campus as vital, active open space.

campus green

"Campus Green is the largest open space element of the Master Plan," notes George Hargreaves. "It also occupies the very first site the University addressed when it began to assess its need for space in the late 1980s. That effort led directly to the commissioning of the Master Plan. Now, after a decade of work elsewhere on campus, we come full circle by realizing this key project."

"This is the crowning moment of the transformation of open space on the campus," says Mary Margaret Jones, "the project that most amazingly changes an entire quadrant of the University. Where before you had asphalt-surfaced parking for 700 to 1,000 vehicles, you now have open lawns, gardens, and trees."

Campus Green may be described as a non-traditional quadrangle, in which a flat lawn is framed by three elements. The first is an international arboretum: a series of earthworks that serve as pedestals for trees such as black cherries and apples, which have been selected because they are found in many parts of the world. Second is a conical landform with a fountain and water stairs, built out of limestone to represent the area's geological deposits. A gateway wall arcs out of the landform, marking this as a major entry point to the campus. The third element is a series of three raised, triangular gardens, with benches and flowering trees framed by hedges. These gardens form quiet spaces along one side of Campus Green, where people can enjoy a more intimate, contemplative space at the edge of an active quad.

campus green

Running through the space are paths that follow the "force-field lines" that Hargreaves Associates discovered on the campus: routes that people have chosen for themselves between important sites. These geometric paths are intersected by a more organic, braided walkways, which runs more or less diagonally through Campus Green. This braid follows the route of a stream that once ran through this part of the campus. Alongside it, Hargreaves Associates has built a stone runnel, which will gather the water that drains off the quad, re-creating the stream and allowing the walkway to flow with both people and water.

"The first of the open spaces we created was McMicken Commons," George Hargreaves notes. "It's a simple, green quad framed by the campus's most historic buildings. Then we went on to what we call object-spaces-Library Square and Sigma Sigma Amphitheater-where the open space functions like a building facade. Library Square, which is primarily paved, is about the unfolding of knowledge, embodied in a spiral. Sigma Sigma Amphitheater is a convocation space for students, faculty, and alumni, and its message is expressed through a light tower. With Campus Green, we return to the theme of the quadrangle-only this time, the quad has been folded a couple of times, so that other themes come into play. They give Campus Green more character than simply a green space with some trees."

"While McMicken Commons is the heart of the academic campus," says Mary Margaret Jones, "Campus Green is the social and recreational heart. This is where many different uses and users come together. The business school, the alumni center, the residences for married students, Sigma Sigma Amphitheater, and University College are all adjacent. The basketball arena and bookstore are nearby. So Campus Green has to embody the idea of community."

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