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07-21-21 | Feature

Redesigned Campus

Brings Students Closer to the Landscape
by Rachel Orn, ColeJenest & Stone

Landscape Architects with ColeJenest & Stone created the design around the Talley Student Union at North Carolina State University. The landscape architecture features brick paving with a concrete, sand-blasted linear striping pattern cross walks. 'Emerald' Arborvitae lines the side of the building with 'Shenandoah' Switch Grass between.
Three rain gardens were placed outside of the cafA(C) of the student union. Plantings of Bordeaux Holly, Prairie drop seed, sweet flag, red twig dogwood, Henry's Garnet Virginia sweetspire and blue arrow juncus were placed within the garden to create a bioretention system. Concrete bridges, intersecting the rain gardens, are intended to allow students and visitors through and as close to these elements as possible.
Plants were grouped based on the slope of the planting area with the shrubs being on more level portions and the grasses on the sloped and low-lying areas.
Seat walls were provided to better control how stormwater enters the bioretention areas and provide more seating opportunities along the edges.
The Landscape Architects added various levels of planting in front of the south building entrance. The trees are columnar European hornbeams and the grass near the street are big blue liriope. The grass under the trees are blue sedges and the shrubs between them are vintage jade distylium. The height of each wall was designed with the intention of providing seat walls along the brick path that are roughly level with the elevation of the ramp as it crosses the site. The steps were designed to allow for the high level of traffic coming from the south end with larger monolithic stadium seating areas against the building. The handrails on the left side of the steps are set 5' apart which is a building code requirement for egress routes, allowing for a wider spacing for the remainder of the step width.
The main path is made of NCSU standard brick while the seating areas at the building face are concrete pavers in a 70-15-15 (light tone, middle tone, dark tone) percent mix.
The lawn area is intended to be open program space and is separated into three sections by concrete sidewalks. Plantings bordering the area were selected to mimic the rain garden plants, but do not have bioretention properties. These plants are Sangria nuttall oak, kousa dogwood, big blue liriope, pink muhly grass, Shishigashira camellia, and doublefile viburnum.

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.

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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.

Filed Under: EDUCATIONAL DESIGN, LASN
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