ASLA Campus Planning and Design Professional Practice Network
by Judson Newbern, ASLA
Efforts to effectively establish design guidelines to be applied to the planning process across campuses seem to meet with a range of results. A clear understanding upfront of what is expected from such guidelines is critical to their success. It may be useful to differentiate between design guidelines and design standards, as the terms are often interchanged but are not identical in meaning.  

Standards serve to help when specific products or brands are preferred in order to present a consistent appearance, for economy of scale, or in order to have a better performance history on a campus. Guidelines apply best to situations where a campus has defined prioritized goals and general parameters that it wishes to push to the forefront in the design process as opportunities allow.  

Involving planners during the conceptualization phase of a capital project is essential if design guidelines are to be effectively incorporated. The failure to have a presence early enough in the process means that assumptions are established without being filtered through the guidelines. It becomes very difficult to recapture this lost opportunity later on. A champion of the guidelines must be present and in a position of impact from the onset, if such concepts are to become realized on a campus.  

a suggested

A Suggested Campus Planning Process Using Design Guidelines, courtesy Robert Sena 

Contextual Planning Aspect
At Vanderbilt, we have developed a three-pronged approach.  First, frame clear parameters customized to each capital project for building locations and site goals. Second, insure that the maintenance and operational stakeholders are looped into the process. Lastly, build appreciation and value for the campus landscape into the university culture, especially with the faculty and alumni.  

Goals and General Design Guidelines for Vanderbilt University Capital Projects 
  1. Celebrate campus edges and entrances along public interfaces.  
  2. Masse new buildings, while retaining the historic facilities to emphasize seamless linkages optimizing open space between the buildings.  
  3. Extend connectivity and site improvements beyond the scope of a capital project’s base program.  
  4. Enhance focal points and eliminating visual clutter to allow cleaner lines and natural textures to come forward.  
  5. Align internal operational practices with the design intent of capital projects and aesthetic goals for the campus.  
Principles of Vanderbilt University Campus Land Use and Development Plan 
  • Establish a unifying framework for the campus as a whole.  
  • Reinforce the vitality and functional integrity of each campus district.  
  • Foster the sense of collegiality and community.  
  • Maintain a walkable, “pedestrian-friendly” campus.  
  • Preserve and enhance the character of the historic academic districts.  
  • Enhance campus identity and visitor friendliness.  
  • Strengthen the land use relationship between the campus and the urban community.  
  • Concentrate facilities investments primarily within and adjacent to the contiguous boundaries of the campus.  
  • Commit to a predictable civic structure while maintaining flexibility for the accommodation of uses within the structure.  
  • Make every siting and design decision count toward the whole.  
Judson Newbern is Assoc. Vice-Chancellor for Campus Planning & Construction, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee. He can be reached at
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