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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

July 2007 Issue

Learning Landscapes
The Getty Foundation’s Campus Heritage Initiative opens new terrain for landscape architects.

By Frank Edgerton Martin

Learning Landscapes Joel Simon

College and university campuses may well be America’s best museums of landscape architecture and planning. They reflect the changing tastes of many generations while often remaining under the control of a single owner and planning authority. Yet, until recently, their gardens, lawns, drives, courtyards, and quads, so valued by alumni, have remained outside the scope of traditional historic preservation. Thanks to the Getty Foundation’s Campus Heritage Initiative, landscape architects and landscape preservationists like myself are now working around the country on more than a dozen campus landscape preservation plans.

Since 2000, the Getty Foundation has funded roughly 75 campus preservation studies of which about 15 have included a strong focus on landscape history. Joan Weinstein, associate director of the Getty Foundation, explains that the Getty has a long-standing policy of providing grants for preservation of historic buildings, including those on campuses. “We eventually realized that these buildings had to be studied and preserved in a larger context,” she says. The conclusion was that landscapes—including spatial patterns, topography, plantings, circulation, and water features—had to be part of the story.

The Getty’s first campus heritage grant in 2000 was for a conference with leading campus planners and preservation specialists organized by Robert Z. Melnick, FASLA, who is now serving as the Getty’s visiting senior program officer for the Campus Heritage Initiative. Out of that conference came a consensus that historic landscape preservation had a very low profile in much of American campus planning. Some Getty-funded projects have yielded surprising findings about the importance of prominent landscape architects in shaping campus identity. At Chatham College in Pennsylvania, for example, a Getty grant led to the discovery of a historic garden designed by the Olmsted Brothers firm in 1919 along with the fact that the Olmsted firm had created a campus master plan in the 1940s.

At Scripps College in southern California, the Getty-funded Scripps College Landscape & Architectural Blueprint focused on the exceptional landscapes and overall master plan of landscape architect Edward Huntsman-Trout, who designed the campus with architect Gordon Kaufmann in the 1920s and 1930s.

The report encouraged the trustees and administration to think differently about Scripps’s built environment. At Scripps, landscapes are now not incrementally maintained with quick fixes. Rather, they are treated as entire rooms where the overall spatial structure is important. For example, the much-loved Elm Tree Lawn, the site of decades of graduations, had reached maturity with many dying and weak trees. Rather than replacing each of the trees with small specimens as they died, Scripps is taking a bolder tack and replanting the elms as a whole. The trustees recently approved a plan to begin contract-growing replacement Princeton elms for installation six years from now. The effect will minimize the emotional effect of losing the beloved canopy. By proposing “bite-size” projects such as restoring a small garden or replanting the Elm Tree Lawn, Scripps’s Blueprint shows how a preservation plan can become a working tool that quickly moves down its list of priorities.

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