New Plaza at Historic University
The open space renovation known as Cruz Plaza represents a complete transformation of the geographical core of Georgia's oldest private institution of higher learning. Landlocked by neighboring development, Mercer University recognized that accommodating for an increase in student enrollment would require an innovative design approach to physical expansion of its main campus in Macon. In contrast to the opportunities associated with renovation, the existing site bolstered unclear purpose and extensive connectivity and capacity issues. Mercer collaborated with HGOR, an Atlanta-based planning and landscape architecture firm, to enhance the university's identity through a unification medium that activates the visual center of campus.
HGOR conducted an initial site inventory and analysis to pinpoint the physical boundaries of each site-specific challenge. This process resulted in a broader, more robust context of needs and growth in terms of accessibility, circulation and transportation. New athletic facilities constructed on the southern end of campus had shifted the central spotlight to an area historically known as a physical boundary for the university. Although the site had direct interface with Mercer's main academic buildings, residence halls and athletic facilities, it lacked the aesthetic appeal and functional capacity to match daily interactions with students, faculty and staff. Key to blending the historic north quad and growing south campus was repositioning the physical elements that divided them - an abandoned roadway, parking lot, aimless walkways and underutilized plaza. In terms of accessibility, initial analysis of the site's topography revealed an elevation change greater than 50 feet across the 6.5-acre site. Previously established as a core driver of design, detailed ADA connectivity needed to be seamlessly integrated into the overall framework to ensure universal accessibility. HGOR streamlined this ADA benchmark with the re-incorporation of vehicular-oriented emergency accessibility, which was necessitated upon removal of the existing roadway. A series of multi-modal pathways capitalizes on the pedestrian experience while simultaneously addressing and muting the harsh presence of a vehicular blueprint. Visual connectivity throughout the plaza's human-scaled spaces was considered of equal importance. The pedestrian circulation also offers clear linkages between campus facilities and student life functions.
Cruz Plaza's understated design is anchored by the largest greenspace quad on campus and emphasizes a sense of arrival through plazas, gateways, boardwalk and a historic bear statue. The north and west edges are defined by a water feature and pedestrian promenade, which offers a great vantage point over the quad and campus beyond. Mercer's vision of a timeless space informed layout and materiality. Once implemented, the design details articulated a series of open spaces and movements both geometric and subtle in form. Brick patios and gathering spaces complement the surrounding architecture to weave newer development with existing historical structures - physically reflecting Mercer's heritage. The patio framing Mercer's business school also serves as the footprint for a stage, with power and AV hookups to support outdoor concerts and pep rallies. The resulting hierarchy of circulation patterns and outdoor 'rooms' supports an array of daily social, academic and student life functions.
As seen in LASN magazine, June 2020.