07-21-21 | Feature

Education in Design

Texas A&M University Engineering Quad
by Christina Anderson, Coleman & Associates

At Texas A&M University the Landscape Architects with Coleman & Associates helped create a master plan focused on the reimagining of the outdoor spaces of the Engineering Quad (E-Quad) that surround the Zachry Engineering Building. They converted the area from a brownfield site of concrete into this new 3-acre campus green.
The ellipse lawn area was inspired by the shape of the space framed by the existing buildings and the need to elegantly connect each building with wide sidewalks that served the dual purpose of pedestrian movement and fire lanes. The curvature around the lawn also created interesting nodes between the sidewalk and the buildings which were perfectly scaled for outdoor gathering spaces overlooking the lawn and sculpture.
With the intention of adding education elements and the dean of engineering's goal of incorporating art throughout the E-Quad, the Landscape Architect designed the lawn to be shaped as a mathematically exact ellipse surrounded by plaza spaces of various sizes and characters. The ellipse unifies the space, connecting circulation and tangential gathering spaces in a simple, elegant fashion.
Within this configuration, the sculpture could either be placed in the lawn or in several of the spaces unified by the lawn. The Landscape Architect added Monterrey Oaks on the longer portions of the oval and Natchez Crape Myrtles on the shorter portion at the south end of the site.
Berlin artist, Olafur Eliasson, was commissioned to design and fabricate this sculpture for the E-Quad. Olafur's art was inspired by the process of learning, the art found in engineering and the necessity of what he identified as 'un-programmed space', "that place between point A and point B where one can decompress." The resulting two-piece sculpture features a small cube piece that when duplicated 12 times becomes a sphere. The location within the ellipse for each of these pieces was a collaborative and memorable process; whereby art and landscape were able to express the same story. By being placed on axis to one another across this expansive green lawn, the observer experiences the connection between the sculptures, reflect upon its relationship, and appreciate the inspiring impact of art in the landscape. In both daylight and illuminated at night, the piece is significant in impact.
The design of the seat was inspired by the Landscape Architect's time visiting Norway and Denmark in which she observed creativity of outdoor seating; seating that was versatile, providing places to sit, perch, lounge and even sleep are popular on campuses and urban settings. By also providing a fast-growing shade tree in the center of each lounger; this communal multi-functional custom furniture is often occupied by many students at once. The seats are made of Ipe wood on custom steel panel set on a concrete base. The paving is similar to that around the lawn area. The only difference is that there is a differentiation of space through the alternating pattern surrounding the lawn. The main pedestrian walkway-known as Engineering Walk-is primarily maroon paving, with concrete stripes. For the lawn area, the pattern is primarily concrete with maroon paving stripes.
Stairs leading to the E-Quad are surrounded by planters crafted with sawn limestone. To employ the design philosophy of putting "Engineering on Display", the Landscape Architect also added a raingarden with detention to both collect runoff and treat it with plant materials and high flow rate engineered soils.
The raingarden features perforated metal pedestrian boardwalks for students to visually observe the plants, soils, and gabions working in real time through the grating. Plantings that can withstand periods of inundation and drought were added to the raingarden such as muhlys, Sabal minor, horsetail reed, iris, zoomania, and canna.
A roof deck area features lounging and studying space for students. The deck is made of a Bison system of modular ipe decking and concrete paver pedestal system and features shade structures with shade sails alternating with metal slats. Custom fabricated planters at the corner of the deck double as a seat wall and contain yellow bells, new gold lantana, dwarf maiden grass and allee elm.
: Paving leading to the entrance of the Zachry Engineering Building are concrete colored in maroon and tan. Running parallel to the main path, a limestone seating section was customized by the Landscape Architects to work with the grading and adjacent ramp.

The reimagined Zachry Engineering Building and adjacent E-Quad (Engineering Quad) is a new vibrant hub on the Texas A&M University (TAMU) campus. The Landscape Architects with Coleman & Associates converted a brownfield site of concrete, outdated structures and back-of-house structure uses into this new 3.25-acre campus green serving as a dynamic hub, facilitating opportunities for students to congregate, recreate, collaborate, study, dine and relax. The design of this distinct green space demonstrates the social and ecological benefits of sustainable landscape design. Unique details, from the design of custom lounging plinths to the inclusion of favorite mathematic formulas in the paving, exemplify the design philosophy of putting engineering on display. As the largest academic building on the Texas A&M campus, the Zachry Engineering Complex and Equad has set a new bar for experiential learning and formation of campus community in outdoor space.

The Landscape Architect was involved from initial master planning and programming through construction completion. Project design focused on the reimagining of the outdoor spaces that surround the 40-year-old Zachry building and the transformation of the adjacent brownfield site into a needed vibrant hub for this part of the Texas A&M campus. They also included generating studies and detailed coordination and collaboration with the art consultant and sculptor. Outreach contributions included participation as a guest lecturer in the TAMU College of Architecture and facilitation of a Zachry/E-Quad design charrette with the universities landscape architecture students, including hard-hat site visits to witness the process first-hand.

The direction of the project was to create a new campus green (the E-Quad) and to fully integrate the Zachry Engineering Complex in an outdoor experience with the purpose of facilitating exciting new ways for students to study, experiment, recreate, collaborate and relax. To achieve these goals, the Landscape Architect worked collaboratively with the client and the architects to ensure that the interior space and indoor programs were supported by, and in many cases extend into, the contiguous outdoor edges and spaces of the landscape. For example, the maker-space and fabrication lab is expanded and enhanced by a comfortable, flexible and casual outdoor space that enables the learning experience to take place outside and be on display for the campus community to appreciate.

The Landscape Architect envisioned a design philosophy of a new landscape for this once utilitarian part of campus and to actualize the dean of engineering's directive to create a unique and exciting indoor/outdoor hub for the student body. To achieve this, the team worked collaboratively with varied stakeholders to encapsulate this new landscape. It was critical to support this philosophy by designing a landscape that demonstrated the social and ecological benefits of sustainable designs in an urban context.

It is important to emphasize the architectural transformation, as the existing building was a dated exposed aggregate concrete structure, which was "fort-like" in appearance. The building was spectacularly re-imagined to become an inspiring structure that is open, inviting and elegant. The openness and dynamic solution of this architectural achievement informed the landscape design. This included a rooftop garden on the 4th level, overlooking University Avenue and the College Station skyline. Access to this rooftop garden is open to all students. The garden features native plants with a focus on pollinators, sited adjacent to well shaded and furnished outdoor spaces, ensuring comfort in the Texas climate.


Next to the Zachry Engineering Complex building is the 3.25-acre E-Quad. The intention for both the Zachry and the E-Quad was to implement and honor the vision of the new 2017 campus master plan for this area. Concurrently the design had to adhere to the guidance of the master plan while also reflecting and displaying the culture and mission specific to the College of Engineering - putting "Engineering on Display." Considering the elements identified in the campus master plan, while simultaneously exemplifying the mission of the College of Engineering created a unique design challenge.

To achieve this objective, the major pedestrian link (the Engineering Walk) through the space was designed to utilize all of the design components defined and selected in the master plan. This tree lined, elegant and formal spine facilitates movement through the E-Quad for pedestrians, bicycles, campus facility vehicles as well as life/safety vehicles. The Engineering Walk features light fixtures, site furnishings, paver type and colors and bicycle screening solutions, also designed by the Landscape Architect.

One strategy used to reflect the engineering program and uniqueness of this project into the landscape is the flexible and fun custom lounging plinths located adjacent to the maker space. The design of these plinths was inspired by urban plaza furnishings found and enjoyed by the Landscape Architect while spending a summer in Oslo, Norway. The wood and perforated metal, for custom lighting, loungers can accommodate multiple students at once, encouraging casual interaction between students in a natural environment. The unique, dual use inspires students to think "outside of the box" of traditional benches and campus furniture to make the statement that artistic, aesthetic design, along with engineering can create an innovative way to re-envision traditional bench seating.

Similarly, the rain garden plaza features basalt-filled gabions and perforated metal boardwalks that did not meet campus standards. Our design of these elements to refine and detail them to be more aesthetic while maintaining the bio-engineering integrity was approved and supported by the Master Plan Design Committee because they were deemed a learning opportunity in the landscape.

Stormwater management is challenging on the Texas A&M campus. Because this project site area was once a brownfield, the new Zachry and E-Quad decreased the impervious cover significantly, therefore, lessening the volume and velocity of the runoff, a great environmental benefit. To again employ the design philosophy and intent to put "Engineering on Display", the Landscape Architect proposed this raingarden with added detention to both collect runoff and treat it with plant materials and high flow rate engineered soils. This raingarden also features perforated metal pedestrian boardwalks traversing the raingarden so that students could visually observe the plants, soils and gabions working in real time through the grating. Benches were placed next to and within the garden to further encourage and challenge students to understand the successes of low impact green infrastructure and bioengineering solutions in the landscape.

The dean called upon the students, faculty and College of Engineering alumni to submit their favorite engineering equation. These equations were incorporated in the Engineering Quad paver system in a "Where's Waldo" fashion. These equations etched into pavers are of the same color as other pavers; making them artfully integrated and hard to find. This is yet another tool to put engineering on display, by challenging visitors to not only find the equations but to explore what they mean.

The dean of engineering was committed to art as a significant role in both the building and the landscape. It was a requirement that the E-Quad be designed to accommodate a significant art piece. The challenge as a design team and the Landscape Architects was to design a space for a significant art piece without knowing who the artist was, what the piece would be and exactly how it would be placed in the space. The result is a mathematically exact ellipse shaped lawn surrounded by plaza spaces of various size and character. The ellipse unifies the space, connects circulation and tangential gathering spaces in a simple, elegant fashion. Within this configuration, the sculpture could either be placed in the lawn or in several of the spaces unified by the lawn.

As the first project implemented from the new 2017 Campus Master Plan, this impactful building and new open space eliminated parking spaces, driveways, utilitarian structures, unnecessary impervious cover and obsolete structures and replaced it with campus green space, functional and modern outdoor spaces outfitted with charging stations, movable furniture, outdoor controllable fans, a food truck plaza and real outdoor learning experiences. This landscape architectural design was thoroughly and completely envisioned collaboratively by the client, the campus team, the students, the architects, engineers, and the artist acts as a living example that art, architecture, engineering can not only co-exist, but can create functional beauty that inspires.

The re-imagined Zachry Engineering Building landscape improvements and the adjacent open space (E-Quad) have become a destination and source of pride for the Texas A&M campus and College Station community. By investing and dedicating valuable campus land to open space despite the temptation to build more, this project is proof that outdoor space, when purposefully planned - can measurably support the academic and social functions of the campus experience.

The vision, tenacity and leadership of the Dean of Engineering to create a holistic place -both architecturally and landscape architecturally, as a new campus hub for today and tomorrow's student body is to be commended and emulated.

As seen in LASN magazine, July 2021.


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