UO Planning: Extending the Academic Campus

In September 2011, Rowell Brokaw Architects was asked to complete the University Street Study—a design report focused on the area of the UO campus between 15th and 18th Avenues, which includes Esslinger Hall, the MacArthur Court site, Howe Field, and University Street itself. We were asked to access the capacity and compatibility of a collection of program groups slated for this Study Area, including a new School of Architecture & Allied Arts (A&AA), the PE/Rec Department and Student Recreation Center, new general University classrooms, and the Department of Human Physiology. All told, the program includes nearly 750,000 gross square feet of highly motivated, highly aerobic uses.

After a cycle of design and analysis, it was clear that the project’s greatest opportunities did not depend so much upon specific program synergies as they did campus interface and context. We arrived at a simple proposal: the quality and significance of campus open space is the primary driver of the University’s academic character. To extend this identity to an area of campus historically used for athletics and recreation would require new designated open space.

This proposal proved to be a remarkable fit with both Oregon’s campus identity and the University’s planning principles and legacy. The structure of the UO campus is based around an open space framework and this hierarchical system speaks to not only the significance of academic buildings but also to the heritage of the University. Buildings and open space—working together—give form to the extraordinary place that holds the campus experience.

This study transforms the existing University Street from a high-speed parking lot into a “gateway axis” and multi-modal mall. The axis reaches the full length of campus, and would include a designated bike path, wide campus paths, plazas, green space, bike parking, a roundabout to redirect vehicle traffic away from the campus core, and emergency access. New designated open space would also also established at the new Esslinger Green, South Green, Fields Axis, and an extension of the 17th Avenue Axis—allowing for both connections to surrounding areas as well as more internalized campus open space.

Improvements to the Study Area benefit programs that locate on the site, and also strengthen the campus as a whole. The University’s southern gateway would be transformed into a grand, axial open space that prioritizes walking and biking while gracefully managing vehicle access and parking. Vehicle traffic would be redirected away from the center of campus and managed in new structured parking associated with redevelopment. New designated open spaces would frame future phases of development and structure meaningful connections within the site and to surrounding campus areas. Over time, the re-making of this campus precinct has the potential to transform the campus experience from 18th Avenue to the foot of Lawrence Hall. (Proposed development densities, open space diagrams, and conceptual street sections were also produced to support implementation.)

The final report for this project was submitted to UO Campus Planning & Real Estate in March 2012, following a final presentation with the program groups. Later that same month, John Rowell and Kaarin Knudson presented this project to the A&AA Board of Visitors during its annual meeting.