06-27-22 | Feature

Place Building: Hardscape Lessons For Campus Design

Creating a sense of curiosity with open or visible spaces
by Emily Moed, Unilock

By implementing a shared-street design approach, the University of Pittsburgh designers were able to maximize the beauty and utility of the roadway, enriching the student experience with a safe and vibrant travel route on campus while playing to the rich history of the campus in its design.
The transformation project at Rowan College in Mount Laurel, New Jersey established a new quad to enhance student life using Umbriano?(R) pavers simulating granite. By using different combinations of paving materials the designers were able to create unique pathways improving way finding throughout the campus.
The corridor among the academic buildings of the Columbus College of Art and Design utilizes different paver colors and patterning to identify intersections and provide a visual cue for pedestrian crosswalks. Color blocking, transitioning from a light to dark paver design, signifies the approaching intersections. Meanwhile, pixilated directional lines in a contrasting color create the designated pedestrian crosswalks.
At a college campus in Amherst, Massachusetts, Landscape Architects created an eye-catching programmable courtyard among the residences that features amphitheater-style seating. This energetic space can easily be converted into an alternative learning space or a venue for student events. To achieve the desired paving pattern, two distinct colors of Hex Paver were used.
At Mount St Mary's Seminary, in Cincinnati, Ohio the construction of a new residence greatly disturbed the neighboring courtyard. This presented an opportunity to reimagine the use of that space. The decision was made to create an outdoor piazza, defined by a broad semi repeating paving pattern, that easily lends itself to hosting outdoor classes, socializing, and relaxing.
The plaza at Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois replaced a block of North Kenmore Avenue, closing it off to vehicular traffic. The new plaza was designed to allow pedestrians and bicyclists safe passage between the southern areas of the campus while building upon the University's commitment to sustainability. Featuring native plantings, a new stormwater management system, and Eco-Priora?,,? permeable interlocking pavers, the striking design reduces flooding not only on the campus but in the immediate neighborhood.
The design intent of this engaging public space at Michigan State University was to evoke movement through the space, embracing the relationship to the Grand River which is only a block away, while providing areas of respite in downtown Grand Rapids for students, faculty and visitors.
Most academic expansions include extensive outdoor spaces that can transform the campus with a cohesive design. The Craig and Nancy Schnuck Pavilion in St. Louis is an addition that houses dining options, the Environmental Studies Program and the Office of Sustainability. Bringing the environmental values outdoors, permeable plank pavers lead students to the exterior dining area that seats up to 100 people.

The transformation and demise of the classroom, libraries without books, lectures without halls, and the necessity of collaborative team-based learning, culture, and connectivity have generated a paradigm shift in academic design. And this didn't just happen because we have endured a global pandemic or technological advancements in the last few years. These changes started well before but were accelerated out of necessity. Combined with increased attention to the causes of climate disruption and you have the perfect recipe of influences for change.

Decreased enrollment in academic institutions in 2020 and 2021 as a result of the pandemic and related financial insecurity has generated questions and uncertainty for many colleges and universities worldwide. However, there is no replacement for in-person learning and experiences that can only happen on campus. Creating a sense of curiosity with open or visible spaces, promoting team-based learning, creating a sense of uniqueness, community, culture, and belonging, creating spaces that are multifunctional, flexible, or hybrid, and reinventing spaces with classic but now outdated definitions have become imperative for the modern campus' and spurred immediate funding for transformation.

As we think about the approaches that can be taken to improve schools, increase enrollment and promote resiliency, design professionals must think holistically, from outside in. Great outdoor spaces have always been part of the good campus design providing an opportunity for connectedness, culture, learning, and interaction. As part of the design resources for academic projects, advancements in hardscape technologies provide unique finishes and capabilities to achieve the design vision. Distinct paving materials and retaining walls help to transform and elevate existing, underutilized outdoor spaces and rooftops into beautiful and functional, synergistic outdoor rooms.

Walkability and Wayfinding
Walking is the fundamental method of travel for students to navigate their campus. Unmaintained walkways, building entrances, and plazas can present a challenge to site users and damage the brand image of a school for current and prospective students. Updating and improving walkability can be done easily with concrete unit pavers. They offer the durability and flexibility required for enhancing or adding new walkways for people navigating campus on foot or bike, while capable of vehicular traffic for integrated emergency vehicle routes.

Necessary wayfinding and delineation in hardscaped surfaces are very easy to accomplish using pavers while accommodating diverse uses of pedestrians, vehicles, and cyclists. Features such as shape, color, and finish, as well as the pattern in which they are laid, all contribute to the definition of spaces and facilitation of movement on campus. Techniques such as color blocking, graphics or directional arrows, and divisional or directional lines with concrete pavers can improve walkability and spatial flow.

Outdoor Rooms, Amenities & Learning Spaces
Outdoor gathering spaces and flexible learning spaces can be the key differentiating factor when enticing top student talent to enroll at a college or university. Thoughtful design and investments made in these types of outdoor rooms help students thrive by prioritizing mental health and well-being. Providing a meaningful change of scenery in the form of plazas, or outdoor amenity spaces allows students and faculty to get outside, walk, socialize and learn while fostering an authentic and collaborative environment conducive to academic excellence and creativity.

There are a variety of hardscaping materials that are used in the design of outdoor amenity spaces, classrooms, amphitheaters, and plazas. Concrete paving stones and slabs provide an array of design capabilities to create beautiful yet functional spaces. Whether updating an old plaza to bring vibrancy to campus or adding new outdoor spaces, concrete pavers can aid in placemaking and the creation of programmable spaces for student life.
A significant benefit of many concrete pavers is their face-mix technology which provides long-lasting durability and colorfastness that will ensure the paved surface will not wear and look faded over time. Other products are also manufactured with stain-resistant technology, offering integrated surface protection from spills, dirt, and other debris to ensure ease and reduced cost of maintenance. In campus settings where space is a limiting factor, amenities can be created on an underutilized roof. Retrofitting buildings with rooftop amenity spaces can completely transform an urban campus.
Segmental retaining walls can be another great design element for creating outdoor benches or amphitheater-style seating, forming a division of space or creating new spaces where topography challenges designing, as well as adding outdoor kitchen areas for student residential buildings or gathering spaces. There are wall products on the market that allow for exceptional design flexibility with texture and color options that help harmonize vertical hardscapes with the existing architecture.
Retaining wall material choices can also dictate the applications in which they can be used. Some products have the flexibility to construct outdoor kitchens, bar tables, and seat walls, as well as structural walls. However, some products are specifically designed to address grade changes with structural systems to carve out new space for amenities.

Sustainability by Design
Finding the right materials to execute sustainable landscape design is essential as our world pivots to prioritizing resiliency - that is adapting and redeveloping our communities to reduce risk and improve human and environmental health. While there is no single method of resilient landscape planning and design, hardscaping materials are an excellent tool that designers of schools and campuses can take advantage of. Permeable pavers can be used as part of a system for stormwater management, pavers with high solar reflectance can aid in the reduction of the heat island effect, and recycled materials in pavers can help reduce carbon emissions, all of which foster site sustainability.

When choosing materials for the design of outdoor spaces at college and university campuses, a key criterion is the material life cycle and life expectancy. Many products can look great when they are first installed, but after time the difference shows. Opting for quality products that exceed industry standards for compressive strength and water absorption ensures a longer life expectancy of surfacing materials. Products manufactured with face-mix technology have the added benefit of using high-performance minerals like granite and quartz on the surface for extended beauty and durability.

Campus Harmony Through a Cohesive Design Language
At the core of new campus construction or the reimagining of an existing one, is the implementation of a cohesive design language, a framework for crafting visual harmony throughout a site and its surrounding community and environment. Tying in colors, textures, shapes, or patterning of architecture into the landscape design are a few ways that this can be achieved. Concrete pavers, as part of a hardscape design strategy for creating new outdoor campus spaces, provide enough product options to seamlessly match or coordinate with other design elements on campus. Whether you are looking to incorporate permeable or traditional pavers, roof deck slabs, or structural and non-structural retaining walls, the design possibilities are endless.

About UniLock:
Unilock has been bringing innovative, leading-edge styles and technologies to the paver and retaining wall market for 50 years, allowing designers to create a state-of-the-art campus that will leave a lasting impression.
In addition to these transformative rationales in academic design, climate change and the urgency to reduce carbon emissions have come front and center as evidenced in the increasingly severe weather events including record-breaking temperatures, more frequent heatwaves, storms, and floods.

While there are many actionable steps in the renovation and creation of new buildings, the landscape canvas on which they sit plays an equal or more vital role in the creation of solutions. Landscape architecture and design are capable of retrofitting our communities with multi-layered systems of protection that can positively shape how quickly our environments recover from these extreme weather events, mitigating devastation and damages in the process. Adapting schools with sustainable systems and materials is not only a step in the right direction for addressing our climate crisis and creating resilient campuses but a learning opportunity and education tool.


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