06-29-20 | Feature

A Nod to the Past

University of Wisconsin's Alumni Park Honors Former Students Accomplishments
by University of Wisconsin Madison

A seven-year planning and design process executed by a team of landscape architects, architects, engineers, artists, and exhibit designers culminated in Alumni Park, a century-long aspiration for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Input from alumni groups, student organizations, faculty, the city of Madison, the Historic Society, campus planning/facilities staff, and state agency representatives led to compelling narratives of alumni achievements and contributions: an example of which is Alumni Park's lantern that stands at seven feet tall and is lit from within to illuminate the laser-jet cut imagery lighting up the surrounding scenery and landscape with the recounting of ten decades of university culture, and inspirational words from alumni commencement speakers.
The Alumni Way exhibit contains five panels that stretch 18 feet in length. Each panel is composed of limestone and porcelain with alumni stories carved in stone and rendered in full-color porcelain enamel.
A fountain introduces guests at the entrance of the park. Composed of 30,000 pounds of granite, this circular structure contains the University of Wisconsin crest at its center and was designed to have a ripple effect representing a metaphor for alumni's positive impacts spreading out worldwide.
The construction of Alumni Park included the implementation of energy efficient lighting fixtures that are placed in between each panel and the planting of birch trees that surround the monuments and act as a frame around the walkway.
Alumni Park is located in the Eastern campus and overlooks Lake Mendota. The park adds 1.3 acres of green space with trees, plants and shrubs to the campus and lakefront area between Memorial Union and the Red Gym, replacing the area's most recent use as a surface parking lot.
Badger Pride wall is 80 feet in length and stands at 6 feet in height. The wall was created out of COR-TEN steel. At night the backlit wall shines through the waterjet carvings of the steel.

Alumni Park at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a campus space of unique intent and transformative impact that realized a century-long vision for the school, creating a signature destination commemorating 170 years of alumni accomplishments.

Integrated Planning Process
The seven-year planning and design process played a pivotal role in realizing the university's longstanding vision for the East Campus Gateway. While the Wisconsin Alumni Foundation served as primary client and funder, the park's design and construction needed to be fully integrated with improvements to the adjacent Memorial Union, Terrace, and shoreline. The resulting process successfully connected all these high-profile efforts in an innovative and impactful way.

To facilitate close coordination between these concurrent projects, the interdisciplinary team of landscape architects, architects, engineers, artists, and exhibit designers adopted a shared building information modeling program at the outset. This comprehensive 3D model provided a seamless transition to construction documentation, along with invaluable VR review sessions that immersed decisionmakers and funders in the overall design.

Monthly stakeholder meetings generated input from alumni groups, student organizations, faculty, the city of Madison, the Historic Society, campus planning/facilities staff, and state agency representatives. Storytelling development was led by a content-and-design committee, incorporating alumni, city, state, and campus representatives who helped identify and craft compelling narratives of alumni achievements and contributions.
The degree to which the park's alumni-driven process and physical design embody UW's overarching educational mission of benefit and service to society is a hallmark of the project - a living legacy that will inform future phases of story and exhibit development.

Enthusiastically embraced by both the campus and greater Madison communities, Alumni Park has exceeded University and Alumni Foundation expectations in its design expression and performance.

Since it was first proposed in 1908, UW-Madison has sought to realize a north-south campus connector culminating in a signature waterfront park on Lake Mendota. Alumni Park overcame the funding and infrastructure barriers that had prevented this from happening, converting a backdoor-service parking lot into a front door gateway to UW's lakefront and providing a memorable arrival experience.

Alumni Park supports UW-Madison's institutional mission in a precedent-setting manner. With its high level of aesthetic expression and artful exhibits, the park invites visitors to explore UW's legacy and alumni contributions in engaging and surprising ways. The role that UW alumni played in the funding, design, programming and management of this transformative space also provides a valuable model for alumni engagement in campus placemaking.

With its beautiful views and variety of gathering and educational spaces, Alumni Park has become a highly utilized destination for campus tours, class reunions, outdoor lectures, and community events. It has also become one of the most photographed spaces on campus-with a level of social media posts and online engagement that have made it an instantly iconic representation of the campus experience.

Converting this area of campus to public open space required redirecting over 360 service deliveries per week with no feasible at-grade loading option. The solution was an innovative subsurface loading dock and tunnel system, with a 60' railyard-style turntable to accommodate trucks with larger turning circles. This innovative approach seamlessly maintained and improved building services while allowing 23,000 square feet of unobstructed green-roof park to be built over the loading dock structure. Subsurface infrastructure design also incorporates a 10,000-gallon storage tank that collects stormwater runoff from the Red Gym and reuses it for irrigation of the park's low-impact native landscape.

Identity + Sense of Place
While the Memorial Union's lakefront Terrace has long served as Madison's most popular and iconic public waterfront space, the shoreline infrastructure was showing its age, and physical and visual connections to the water were interrupted by parking and delivery logistics. Alumni Park helped fulfill the promise of UW's lakefront gateway, connecting campus and community along a seven-block East Campus corridor flowing directly to the water. The distinctive architectural character of the Red Gym, the visitor experience of the Memorial Union, and views to and from the lake have been greatly enhanced - with the symbols and stories of university legacy a seamless part of the reconnected fabric.

The Arts + Storytelling
The park's design integrates over 50 exhibits that celebrate the achievements of over 120 alumni. The design team worked closely with artists and fabricators, developing mock-ups for the park's signature storytelling features. The visitor experience starts at the Welcome Plaza's sculptural fountain, crafted from a single piece of stone. The central walk Alumni Way includes five 18-foot long stone and enamel exhibit panels highlighting themes of service, discovery, tradition, leadership and progress. Gardenesque paths lead visitors past COR-TEN walls inscribed with university symbols and stories, and playful 3D-printed and bronze sculptures. Lighting theatrically extends the storytelling onto the walkways and adjacent buildings.

"One of the longest and deepest traditions surrounding the University of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Idea, signifies a general principle: that education should influence people's lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom. Synonymous with Wisconsin for more than a century, this "Idea" has become the guiding philosophy of university outreach efforts in Wisconsin and throughout the world."

Embodying the University's mission of social impact and service was a core principal of the design program. The park's design reflects this mission throughout, literally and symbolically. Starting with the ripple-like waves emanating from the entrance fountain, the design expresses the ripple effect that UW alumni achievements have had on the world. The updateable panel design allows for new ripples of the Wisconsin Idea to be added moving forward.

Campus + Community Engagement
In addition to serving UW students, faculty and alumni, Alumni Park also serves as an accessible public open space for the greater Madison community. Alumni Park provides a town-gown social platform for ongoing university and community gatherings and special events. Classes and special lectures are hosted in the outdoor classroom area, which directly connects to the new One Alumni Place visitor center. The park's plazas and open lawn areas support a variety of programming, from yoga classes and youth "plaza hockey" to homecoming celebrations and commemoration ceremonies. The campus/community connection established by completing the East Campus Gateway is enhanced through shared use of the park.

Sign up for
LAWeekly newsletter. Get exclusive content today.