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Bricks and bulldozers — and long range plans for the campus

by Jeanette Rothrock

A university is an institution which exists for the sake of teaching and learning. It is not so many buildings. Indeed, the very early universities in Western Europe had no buildings of their own, no fixed campus, and when the inevitable "town and gown" quarrels sufficiently vexed a university it could pack up its parchments and move to a more congenial location.

Western universities today are in a much different situation. They need a place to happen, classrooms in which to teach and be taught, laboratories, libraries, gymnasiums, more and more specialized facilities to accommodate highly specialized programs. They also need student residences, cafeterias, and simple but essential utilities like water, gas, and electricity.

A modern university, has come to be dependent upon a considerable physical plant, and the more care used in planning its physical facilities the better the university can reach its educational goals.

The history of the physical campus of The University of Alberta consists of perhaps three working plans plus a long list of ad hoc decisions. The result has been a somewhat jumbled collection of buildings crammed together on a small space.

The first master plan for The University of Alberta was drawn by the Montreal architects Messrs. Nobbs and Hyde in a style they called "classical elastic." This style and "collegiate gothic" were the "in" styles for North American universities in the early part of the century. The Arts Building, Medical Sciences Building. and the old residences were all built as part of this plan, and if Nobbs and Hyde had got their way, there would have been a giant bell tower with carillon, an ambitious domed convocation hall, a large chapel, and a great many closely tied brick buildings with enclosed courtyards, occasional stone pinnacles, and vaguely baroque belfries.

After two and one-half decades of virtually no building at all the exploding post-World War II enrolments called for a much increased development of the campus. By this time, automobiles, which had not been considered in the pedestrian campus of Nobbs and Hyde, had more than come into their own as everyone's means of transportation to the University. A new, more modest plan was worked out by another eastern firm, Mathers and Haldenby, for a logical short-range development which would allow for vehicular movement on campus. Perhaps with hindsight this would seem an opened can of worms, for as the years passed the campus found itself overrun with a growing horde of motor cars.

In 1954, Louis A. DeMonte, architect and planning advisor to the University of California (Berkeley), and for many years consultant to this University presented a report entitled "Planning the Physical Development of The University of Alberta." His introduction begins, "To its students, faculty, staff, and visitors The University of Alberta presents at Edmonton a campus rich in its natural physical beauty and its architectural heritage. The spaciousness that meets the eye, the handsome permanent structures, and the well-maintained grounds present a physical environment that is expressive of the stature of the institution. If the campus were not to grow, these values could be retained with relatively little effort. However, with the anticipated growth to 6,000 students it becomes mandatory that each of the component elements of the campus be considered and planned to the end that these values can be not only safeguarded but even enhanced."

Six years after his report the enrolment had surpassed 6,000, and eleven years later, even with enrolments slackening, the number of students is more than three times the old projection. From the mid-fifties to the present the physical campus has mushroomed, though not nearly supplying sufficient space for 18,000 students, and until 1969, without any set planning guideline. Buildings were sited on an ad hoc basis, within a sort of general rationale which the Committee on Long-Range Planning and the Campus Development Committee tried to maintain.

In 1967 a Vice-President for Planning and Development was appointed, and Walter Worth. Bed '49. MEd '52, was the first man to fill this position. He subsequently resigned this position to become Chairman of the Worth Commission on Post-Secondary Education in Alberta. He was succeeded by Walter D. Neal. Professor of Educational Administration and former Associate Dean of Education for Planning and Development. Under these two men a professional planning office has emerged to co-ordinate the University's expansion.

Equally important has been the advent over the last few years of two master plans: the Diamond-Myers long range development plan, which deals predominantly with siting and construction, and the new long range landscape development plan, which takes in all facets of the outdoor campus and supplements the Diamond-Myers plan.

The long range plan, developed by Toronto architects and planners A. J. Diamond and Barton Myers, in many ways is practically full circle back to the old Nobbs and Hyde plan. Once again motor traffic is largely restricted from the main campus. Buildings, forced into near proximity by the premium on land, are linked once more, in a different fashion, but linked. Both plans, though they are architecturally very distant, give an impression of a unified University of Alberta campus.

The new plan was based on an enrolment of 30,000 students, a rough working figure which seemed reasonable in 1969. Subsequently the provincial government has placed an enrolment ceiling of 25,000 on the University; in addition the enrolment seems to have come to a plateau and the question of ultimate size is again under study, so that some revision of the long range plan is likely in the near future. However, the basic principles will remain.

The siting of campus buildings relates closely to the efficient functioning of the University. The Diamond-Myers plan is patterned after a not uncommon model used ten years before by the old Committee on Long Range Planning, that the University should follow a principle of concentric circles in which academic buildings are arranged according to their interaction with other faculties and their relevant library connections. The library and faculties and departments that perform a service function (Arts and Science, for example) would be within a central core: professional schools, further out according to their degree of independence. The Faculty of Education remains very close to the core of arts and sciences it needs, while Dentistry or Engineering, largely self-contained, would be further away. Medicine would also be towards the outer rim, a nucleus in its own right for the other health sciences. Other professional faculties which are interdependent to varying extents — Education and Physical Education, Commerce and Law — would have their facilities reasonably close together.

Buildings of interrelated departments may not only be proximate but physically linked by the enclosed pedestrian walkway system that is intrinsic to the Diamond-Myers plan. Eventually all faculties will be joined by a system of pedestrian streets, similar to European arcades or North American shopping malls but with broad views of the outside and natural lighting. The heated linkages will be a sensible addition to a campus where for five of the seven months of its regular session the temperature is well below freezing.

The pedestrian streets will be more hives of activity than simply wide corridors. Lounge space, food outlets, and other services will be located along them, as well as general teaching space such as large lecture theatres and classrooms that will see heavy use by students from several departments. Heavy traffic will thus be channelled away from more private areas like offices, seminar rooms, and study space which are located on upper floors.

Crowded as the campus may seem to those who frequent it, the planners found in 1969 that only 15 per cent of the available land was covered by buildings. The rest was taken up with an inordinate amount of surface parking and roads. The long range development plan will increase the area of the campus used for buildings to 34 per cent. The use of parking structures of several storeys, limiting vehicular access to the main campus, and more careful planning of service areas and roads, will create even more usable open space.

Uses of the open areas are considered in much more detail in the long range landscape development plan, drawn up by Hough, Stansbury and Associates Limited of Toronto. "The natural physical beauty" of the campus praised by DeMonte almost twenty years ago has fallen largely by the wayside. A disenchanted observer might guess that what beauty is left — the walk past the old residences, the green places south of the Rutherford Library, and between the Students' Union Building and Pembina Hall — was kept by accident, although the grounds people have done their best in the face of a construction boom.

Besides dealing more specifically with pedestrian and motor circulation, the landscape development plan tries to bring back some of the old natural beauty of the campus out-of-doors and to re-create an outdoor environment that will be useful as well as lovely.

The academic and recreational uses of the outdoor campus are fairly obvious — botanical study of the natural growth on the river bank, casual lectures during the warm seasons, organized sports and physical education activities, and an impromptu bit of football throwing. Yet it is important to remember that this is a winter campus; and a singularly important feature of the out-of-doors in an Edmonton winter is how to avoid it. Thus landscape design of outdoor walks, while providing aesthetic appeal in the summer, according to the new plan must provide windbreaks and shelter during the long winter.

An equally important consideration of the winter campus is the view from inside buildings, which too often now seems to be a view of a neighboring bare rooftop. The long range landscape plan suggests that as much as possible visible roofs should be landscaped as well as ground areas, used sometimes for tennis courts or extensions to cafeterias, or for roof gardens. Ground landscaping will also be designed as much for its appearance from the inside as from the outside.

People have other basic daily uses for the outdoors too: walking from one place to another or nowhere in particular, greeting people, sitting with others or quietly alone, studying or just thinking. Design of the outdoors has to accommodate these needs. Trees, shrubbery, and other plants, according to the, plan would be located so as to provide a separation of activities: dividing the few areas of motor traffic from pedestrian traffic, sheltering areas for informal lectures and dining places from busy sidewalks, creating almost private corners for conversations and tranquility. Meeting places, nodes of activity where main pedestrian routes intersect or where buses and automobiles may collect or discharge passengers, will be designed with plantings for shade and beauty, display areas, information kiosks, places for people to sit, and room for people to mill around. The plan would have the campus preserved for pedestrians, with car parks located on the periphery as they are now and drop off areas at central locations.

Much of the old natural beauty of The University of Alberta was derived from its river bank setting. The landscape development plan suggests that the natural woods of the river bank be extended across Saskatchewan Drive and into built-up areas of the campus. "Green corridors" a formal urban tree-lined promenade down 112 Street, the park-like walk past the old residences, would serve to join the whole campus to the river valley. As much as possible indigenous trees and shrubs would be planted, especially evergreens, not only for their hardiness in an Alberta climate but for the shelter they provide and for the effect of returning the University to its natural setting.

Not all or even most of the features of the two master plans are directed specifically to furthering teaching and research.

Rather they are directed to adding the element of humanity the campus seems to have lost in the process of its growth. Without this element, faculty and staff, as well as students, can become alienated; and the University, which above all else is people, is no longer able to achieve its aims.

Published Winter 1972.

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