07-21-21 | Feature

University Atmosphere and Sustainable Design

Yale West Campus
by Aaron Schmok, LASN

Landscape architecture firm Towers|Golde was hired by Yale University in West Haven, CT to enhance the landscape and establish a connection between the six campus buildings of its West Campus. They were tasked to change the previously corporate atmosphere of the area into a thriving campus setting that focused on sustainability by enhancing parking and lawn areas with flourishing landscape, a wildflower meadow, and connective wayfinding.
This bench was used as the design standard for a previous West Campus project the Landscape Architect worked on with Yale. During that project this bench was selected as a modern interpretation that was sympathetic to the disparate buildings on this campus. Surrounding the benches are Low Scape Mound Chokeberry (Aronia Melonocarpa). Concrete unit pavers were added for the color and textural opportunities afforded by the material.
17 Princeton American Elms (Ulmus Americana) were selected for this location of the campus in part to help tie this remote campus back to the main campus of Yale University in New Haven. New Haven is known as The Elm City and Yale has numerous examples on campus
This 13'6'' tall pergola was designed for additional space definition within the Conference Center Garden and provides a distinct shaded experience in conjunction with the Cherry Tree bosque provided. The scale of the pergola relates to the nearby adjacent building. The structure itself is composed of architectural structural steel which is painted with a high-performance coating in a "dolphin" color.
The openings of the shade structure are made of Forest Stewardship Council (read more about FSC on page 90) certified Ipe wood members and were narrowed to allow a controlled amount of sunlight to pass through. The ratio of the wood members and the openings were studied to achieve the optimum sun to shade result.
Concrete unit pavers of this walkway complement the layout of the Conference Center Garden and the adjacent building. Karl Foerster's Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis X Acutiflora) line the path and are illuminated by bollard lights.
These five-sided cast stone benches, along with the cafA(C) tables and chairs, were chosen to provide sculptural elements within the Cherry Tree bosque. The furniture needed to be hardy for many types of events that might take place in the space. The furniture is placed over stabilized aggregate surfacing.
The colors of the shade structures and the site furnishings were meant to be sympathetic with all the elements in the Conference Center Garden including the materials of the adjacent building. The palette was developed between the design team and the University.
This area was previously a steeply sloped lawn with no other planting. The concept for this location was to provide a "woodland" garden that acted as a landscape transition between the three existing buildings. It was also an opportunity to provide a more secluded setting than what was found elsewhere on campus. The shapes in part were a way to flatten out portions of the slope to make them occupiable while providing a sense of mystery as you move through the space. Additionally, the garden can be viewed from above from each of the three buildings so the patterning of open space and woodland plantings provided additional interest.
Found on the West end of the campus, next to the Integrated Science & Technology Center, the plantings are comprised of three parts; a mix of primarily sedums surrounding a taller area of Blue Moor Grass (Sesleria Caerulea) interplanted with Summer Beauty Allium (Allium X 'Summer Beauty') which in turn surrounds the taller steel planters containing an Juneberry (Amelanchier Lamarkii). Rocks were added into the planters to have color and textural interplay with the surrounding plants and corten planters.

In 2009, Yale University partnered with landscape architecture firm Towers|Golde to help develop a master plan for a redesign of the Yale West Campus in West Haven, Connecticut. The university had purchased this 100-acre area that had once been a pharmaceutical company headquarters and planned to use it to create an extension of the main campus housing mainly research and science facilities. The existing site consisted of two distinct area separated by a wooded ravine and stream. The easternmost area was the most densely developed and was the focus of the Towers|Golde redesign. Part of the university's vision focused on transforming the campus from a corporate landscape to a university-like atmosphere. Due to the recession, the design was put on hold until 2016 when they decided to move forward with the project. Towers|Golde, led by Landscape Architect and senior associate Wes Wazni, focused primarily on 10 acres of the site, on which there were six buildings situated.
"We have a really good relationship with the University, not only with this project but other projects that we have worked with them on before," Wazni explained. "We have a long history working at Yale, so all the players were familiar with each other and felt comfortable working together which facilitated a very collaborative design process."

The existing site was dominated by pavement and buildings and primarily devoted to vehicles. The area was not pedestrian friendly, and the university understood the need to improve this aspect of the site.

"The exterior of this campus needed a lot of attention and the university realized that early on, that's why they got us on board. The goal was to make this more of a campus like setting; They didn't want it to feel like a corporate head quarter, they wanted a collegiate feel to the site with better walkway circulation and less cars if possible."

Due to the expanse of the parking lots in the middle of the site, there were no direct connections between each of the buildings, so the first thing the design team focused on was trying to make those connections that facilitate movement through the site and foster collaboration among the users. "That was arguably one of the most impactful things we did in the design, we introduced a that long arching walk that moves through the site connecting the five buildings, where those connections did not exist previously."

One of the things the team looked at and saw the potential of was to increase the biomass of the area while also integrating green infrastructure within the project. With this goal, the team aimed to make the site more sustainable, but there was potential to give this part of the campus a signature identity as well. The site was adjacent to a significant natural area, but there wasn't any real connection to it. The team believed that by increasing the biomass and adding considerably more trees and plants in the new design, there would be more of a dialogue with the natural part of the site.

Wazni focused on including native plants in the project, although the site did have irrigation, he wanted to reduce the necessity of it wherever he could. Moreover, the location featured very silty clay soils in areas, so the plants selected had to be able to acclimate to those conditions.

"We looked at a number of things when we were selecting the plant material, but we really focused on selecting underused native plants. We try not to use the same plants for every project we work on, we try to select the right plant for specific site conditions whether they are native or not. Some of the plants that we used which aren't so common included Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboretum), Three Flowered Maple (Acer triflorum), Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) and a relatively new form of Aronia, Lowscape Mound. It's a variety of a native plant in Connecticut that is growing in popularity."

Wazni believed that one of the most impactful things they did was reduce the impervious area of the site. They were able to reduce the amount of impervious surface by 24,000 sq. ft. which helped accomplish their goals in terms of green infrastructure and sustainability. This reduction not only lessened the urban heat island effect, it allowed much of the stormwater to remain on site, improving water quality and allowing that water to be more accessible for the plants.
As part of the pavement reduction, the team also incorporated rain gardens within the parking area where the runoff from the parking lot is collected and allowed to infiltrate into the soil for the plants to use and effectively cleaning the water before it finds its way to the drainage system. The amount of lawn area was also significantly decreased. Wazni saw the lawn as a not very sustainable practice, due to the amount of energy required to maintain and the amount of fertilizers and herbicides needed to maintain a healthy lawn. For this reason, there was an emphasis on reducing the lawn area where they could. Through their efforts they were able to turn an entire acre of lawn, in just one part of the site, into a 100% native wildflower meadow. Where lawn was incorporated into the design, a sod mix that included microclover was used which reduced the amount of water and fertilizer needed during growing season.

During the project, the team discovered unforeseen conditions below grade that proved to be challenging to negotiate with. Existing utilities uncovered during construction were found to be compromised because of age. An existing steam line running through the center of the project was leaking, causing a wealth of schedule concerns. In addition to the steam line, there were issues with the below grade roof. "When we uncovered the structure below grade it wasn't quite what anyone expected, instead of installing a membrane over the existing we had to remove it in its entirety and relace with a new one. The way those issues are usual overcome is with good teamwork and communication and flexibility and quick thinking."

As is the case with all projects, decisions made at the beginning were altered at various points throughout the design process. The earlier design incorporated a bioswale running through the entire length of the site. This was included very early so the feasibility of the bioswale was very much in question and was eventually reduced significantly in the final design.

Along with the bioswale, the extent of lawn area originally proposed was reduced in the final built work. During the earlier design phases, the owner was concerned about removing too much of the lawn and wanted to keep the flexibility that a manicured lawn affords, at least in some areas. The lawn that is there has proven to be beneficial to the project.

"I know everyone was happy with the constructed project. There were some things we might do differently, if we had to do it over again, but I think everyone was very pleased with the outcome. The two most noticeable things we observe when we visit the site are, one there are a lot more people outside than there used to be. Before you would just see students running from one building to another, but now that we've introduced these spaces you see a lot more people sitting outside and enjoying the outdoors, and two it attracted more wildlife: more birds and insects are coming into the area. It's a more congenial and inviting space. We see people enjoying it and that the greatest compliment a designer can get."

As seen in LASN magazine, July 2021.


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