In recent decades, California Institute of Technology has grown and developed with little appreciation for how small projects impact the overall campus. The architecture and landscape do not reflect the scientific and technological leadership of the university. In an effort to break this pattern, landscape architects developed a sustainable landscape master plan to inform the future development of the campus.
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Before creating the master plan, landscape architects analyzed the site’s historical significance. Landmarks and lost landscapes, such as the orange groves from which the campus was carved, the Italian Cypress Allee from Bertram Goodhue’s original plan, and the original Rose Bowl Field, were identified to ensure the rich cultural history of the campus could be preserved and celebrated.
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After careful analysis of existing plants, topography, and soil hydrology, the landscape architect separated the campus into four distinct microclimate zones. Each zone is characterized by a dominant tree species. By identifying distinct boundaries of each zone and developing a working plant palette, future development can preserve the site’s historic landscapes and enhance its bio-diverse ecosystems.
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A tree inventory identified that there is an over reliance on non-native species, which require more water and maintenance. The master plan highlighted areas in which non-native species should be replaced with native species over time.
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Landscape architects surveyed the campus to identify all the lawn space on campus, which requires constant water, maintenance, and fertilizer. Landscape architects suggested maintaining lawn used for formal ceremonies, recreation, and casual uses to preserve the campus feel. However, they encouraged transforming all other low-use lawn areas to more sustainable native landscapes.
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In Southern California, water is scarce. The master plan aims to expand the campus’s capacity to capture rainwater rather than relying on city storm drains. Rain gardens and vegetated swales, which will be implemented throughout campus, have high capacities to absorb water and allow it to filter slowly through the earth. This low impact strategy helps recharge the aquifer.
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Creating outdoor social spaces is a priority of the master plan. Landscape architects propose expanding an outdoor dining terrace at The Red Door Café to bring it closer to San Pasqual Walk, the main pedestrian route through campus. This change would create new opportunities for informal student interactions and facilitate the exchange of knowledge and ideas.
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Since the development of the master plan, Caltech built the Annenberg Information Science and Technology building. The master plan informed the design of this landscape. Lawn space was minimized, instead using low-maintenance native grasses and trees to surround the building. This drought-tolerant landscape requires no irrigation and creates habitat for local birds and insects.
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