Bridging Campus Districts

Northwestern University’s Mid-Campus Green
Northwestern University’s Mid-Campus Green

With Northwestern University announcing its 3 billion dollar capital campaign (yes, that is 3 billion dollars) just prior to the SCUP North Central Symposium, a lot of eager eyes and ears wanted to know how that investment will transform the Evanston campus. Northwestern’s presentation on planning and implementation initiatives focused on its south campus development. The university is addressing underutilized spaces that were holdovers from past construction activities and identifying new linkages to enhance and embrace the unique qualities of their campus.

Construction of the new Music and Communications building and associated Arts Lawn allows Northwestern to refocus energy to the south, where capital investments have not been made since the late 1960s. The 60s’ work left a construction remnant in the form of a parking lot utilized for construction staging and daily parking. This space, mysteriously converted to full-time paid parking for the last 50 years, has been recovered and is now enhancing the campus. By removing the parking lot and placing the Music and Communications building there, Northwestern has reconnected its campus visually to its southern lakefront and enhanced views of the Chicago Skyline. With the Arts Green preserving these views for the future, the south campus now has the strength to hold its own.

Redevelopment is also transforming the north half of campus, with inventive infill to the Technological Institute, and new academic buildings and an athletic complex. All this work raises an important question; how do you unite the northern academic campus with the arts campus to the south? Northwestern’s answer is the addition of a unifying campus “crescent”: a green space that will become the new eastern spine of the campus connecting north to south.

I was fortunate enough to assist Northwestern with creating a framework for implementing the first portion of this crescent: the Mid-Campus Green. This section lies at the center of the Evanston campus and begins to bridge the divergent campus uses from north to south. More than a pedestrian corridor, the design seeks to create a new kind of campus collaboration space, keenly situated between the Norris Center, the academic sciences, and the Kellogg School of Executive Education.

Working on this project confirmed for me the critical role that the campus landscape plays in supporting new capital development by bridging districts and connecting the university community. Having this unifying central space allows Northwestern to integrate its entire campus. It also lays the groundwork for future green collaborative spaces to enhance the campus fabric and serve the needs and goals of the university.