March campus identity work concludes charrettes; final report coming this spring

​Experts helping CMU design its outdoor environment concluded their site visits last week focusing on areas such as campus gateways, the space between Anspach, Pearce, Brooks and Dow, and the lawn west of the library.

Consultants from AECOM hosted open houses and designed in real time, incorporating feedback gathered during campus identity charrettes the past five months. Their work also reflected input from the 2012-13 campus master planning process.

"This is an opportunity to forge an ever greater sense of community at CMU, building on our hallmark traits," Provost Michael Gealt said last fall. "By expanding our visually interesting, dynamic spaces, we'll fuel greater achievement, creativity and pride.  That's the heart and soul of higher education."

Design Presentation Highlights

Key aspects of last week's session include:

  • Movement of the Veterans' Memorial/Peace Grove to Warriner Mall. The memorial, now tucked near Kelly/Shorts Stadium off East Campus Drive, needs to be moved because of traffic coming through that space for the hotel development. Steve Rellinger, director of the Veterans' Resource Center, said creating an improved memorial will give it more prominence and allow it to be used for ceremonies and personal reflection.
  • Creation of campus gateways. Today's CMU visitors know they've arrived when they see academic buildings or residence halls. Many faculty and staff suggested during the master planning process building "can't-miss" gateways to welcome visitors. Designs sketched last week include arches and columns bearing the CMU seal. "These gateways will tell guests they've arrived — at a historical, nationally ranked university," Gealt said.
  • Development of a "Learning Commons." AECOM reviewed the Anspach, Pearce, Brooks and Dow courtyard, in response to student requests for outdoor space to collaborate, work or relax. Today, the area serves only as a maze of walkways traveled by thousands of students. New designs call for strategic walkways with lawn space, seating, trees and a tower. "This space connects the humanities and the hard sciences," said Pete Sechler, principal landscape architect with AECOM. "One side should be geometric, with man describing nature in physical terms. The other should be intuitive, reflecting the humanities' quest for meaning. It should help young people develop their thinking about the world." Eventually, the area could include a market to serve students rushing between classes.
  • Enhancement of the outdoor Library space. Students said during the master planning process that the botanical gardens and library space are two of their favorite spots. The grassy area between the walkway and library, however, would see greater use developed as a plaza with benches and tables. A patio with tables and chairs outside the library's north entrance would give coffee shop guests a cozy place to mingle and study.
  • Beautification of the "Admissions Walk." The path used by campus ambassadors touring prospective students and parents runs through the center of campus to the athletic complex, on to the Towers and back, with a view of most academic buildings. AECOM identified opportunities to hide dumpsters, plant trees and add banners. "CMU needs to have a stronger visual presence along Broomfield Road, making visitors and the community more aware of campus character and its sense of place," Sechler said.
  • Naming of the north/south walkway through campus. After working with the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, AECOM suggests the north/south path through the center of campus be called "Chippewa Trail." "I'm delighted the Native American heritage is being woven into campus, respectfully, helping students and the community understand all that it means to be a Chippewa," said Frank Cloutier, public relations director for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.

Brianna Frison, a CMU junior from Chicago, attended one of last week's open houses and liked what she saw.

"I love these ideas. I wish we could start them tomorrow, so the projects could be done while I'm still here," she said.  

AECOM next will finalize a report including complete drawings and cost estimates.

From there, the Cabinet will consider the projects for integration into the campus master plan. Funding will come largely from private donors.

Some recommendations can be implemented immediately as cost savings or cost-neutral efforts. For example, the Biosciences Building has been moved slightly as a result of the work, the road that will serve it has been better defined, and its landscaping has been simplified and adjusted.

This summer, CMU's grounds maintenance crew will simplify and enhance the university's landscaping to look better yet be easier to maintain.