The Getty Foundation’s Campus Heritage Initiative opens new
terrain for landscape architects.
By Frank Edgerton Martin
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
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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