University of Wisconsin-Madison Alumni Park
The University of Wisconsin-Madison's (UW) Alumni Park opened in October 2017, but the first seed of the park was planted more than a century ago. In the early 1900s, UW introduced a design vision for a public open space—a green, welcoming gateway to the university for the entire community. The idea was revived in 2005, with a new campus plan that proposed an east-campus pedestrian corridor to link major campus destinations to the lake.
The Wisconsin Alumni Association brought the vision into focus, and took on the charge of creating the capstone lakefront element of that plan – Alumni Park. The fulfillment of that century-old dream would be realized in the creation of a new park that honors alumni who are living the “The Wisconsin Idea,” the University’s guiding principle that education extends beyond the classroom to improve the lives of people across the state and beyond.
The new 1.3-acre Alumni Park is anchored by the Memorial Union, Red Gym and One Alumni Place, the latter being the visitor welcome center of the Wisconsin Alumni Association, with the Goodspeed Family Pier providing access to the park and campus from the lake. Park visitors can explore “discovery points” and stories of alumni and the university, through the park design and landscape, more than 50 museum-quality outdoor exhibits designed by the museum and storytelling design firm Ralph Appelbaum Associates, and an iconic sculpture of the campus mascot by noted artist Douwe Blumberg. Visitors can enrich their experience in the digital space through an extensive website with deeper content, and social media that encourages user-contributed content.
Our team’s design includes a welcome plaza that is the park’s gateway along Langdon Street. The main organizing featured walk is called “Alumni Way”, which begins with a 30,000 pound granite fountain whose ripple effect design feature is a metaphor for alumni’s positive impacts spreading out worldwide. The main storytelling exhibits are five, 18-foot long stone and enamel panels that focus your attention along Alumni Way. The walkway bisects an elliptical events lawn and terminates at the elevated lakefront “Progress Point”. Arrayed around these elements are the “Picnic Knoll” and “Outdoor Classroom”.
An undulating hardscape marks the point at which Alumni Park meets the lake, and the Memorial Union Terrace, an active, landscaped terrace which allows outdoor activities, such as casual dining, to spill out from Memorial Union. The Park includes additional exhibits crafted from bronze, steel, and stone that further educate visitors on the achievements of more than 120 alumni, plus university innovations and traditions.
The park’s design actually goes well beyond what is seen at the surface. Supporting the park below ground is a subsurface loading dock that contains a 60’ diameter turntable able to rotate a 55’ semi-trailer 180 degrees in a tight space so it can unload deliveries and exit easily. The loading dock serves 4 adjacent buildings and accommodates nearly 400 truck deliveries per week. The inclusion of the subsurface loading dock was the critical step for the client and design team to allow building services to be seamlessly and inconspicuously maintained, while providing 23,000 square feet of unobstructed green roof park to be built over the loading dock section.
Through this design, SmithGroup, the Wisconsin Alumni Association, and UW successfully partnered to create a park that uses landscape and art to tell a story that honors and celebrates alumni while creating a public space for the greater Madison community.