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Campus planner reaches new heights

July 26, 2000

Arthur Nead

In the leafy sanctuary of the Pocket Park next to the uptown campus' University Center, students are absorbed in study, animated conversation or just the steam rising from a cup of coffee. While many have admired the outdoor space for its relaxed, friendly atmosphere, Henry Fry, director of campus planning, sees the park also as the embodiment of good campus planning.

"The park is a working environment. You see people within the park, in a very intimate setting, where people enjoy being with each other," said Fry, who adds that the hallmark of successful campus planning is to produce a space that "has to work, not just be attractive."

His colleagues agree. In 1995 the Association of University Architects presented Fry with its Award of Merit for the Pocket Park project. This June, the same association awarded Fry a second Award of Merit for setting up Tulane's new process for campus planning. According to Fry, Tulane's master plan raised the collective eyebrows of the 120-member group of university architects and designers by breaking a few rules.

"The process itself is unusual," said Fry. "We violated some fundamental rules in getting it started." According to Fry, the conventional wisdom among university planners is to keep trustees, high-ranking administrators and architecture faculty out of planning for fear they will dominate the process.

Going against this received wisdom, Fry included university administrators and members of the architecture faculty as key members in the planning process. The move was a success, and Tulane has benefited greatly by having a group that has been "unusually supportive," said Fry. Campus planning at Tulane has not always worked so well.

During the 1970s and '80s, Tulane made many changes to its uptown campus, including taking down the Sugar Bowl stadium and constructing numerous academic and other buildings.

"It was obvious that although there was an intense amount of activity taking place, it lacked coordination," said Fry. "The shortcoming was that there was no overall, guiding plan. The buildings were adequate, but they lacked a sense of continuity."

This fact became so apparent that members of the university community began commenting on it, said Fry. "One of the senior vice presidents came to me and said, 'We have to do a master plan.'" There were two possible approaches to generating such a plan, said Fry. One was to hire a consultant, which would entail a large cost.

The other, for which Tulane opted, was to establish an on-campus planning office that could serve as "a permanent design conscience" for the campus. Mandated in 1991 to craft a new planning process, Fry gathered a small group to collect all the facts about Tulane that would be needed at the outset for any planning activity.

These planners conducted a number of surveys that focused on issues such as building and area usage, distribution of parking areas, lighting, security considerations, landscaping, accessibility, signage, infrastructure and others. Each of these areas emerged as key elements of the ongoing master plan.

"First you compile an inventory of what you have," said Fry. "You do a market study about where you want to be, how you want to grow. And you also study the national trends to find out how the university's going to change over that period of time. "With those elements, you project a solution," Fry said.

These projections provided direction for the master plan. Next, Fry set out to gain support for the master plan from the university's different constituencies.

"We needed legitimacy and authority," Fry said. To ensure that all the needs would be considered, Fry organized a steering committee representing a cross-section of Tulane's community, including administrators, faculty, staff and students.

The committee continues to meet monthly to review design and campus planning issues. As a result of the hard work of the committee and with the support of the administration Fry, has completed a master plan that is a set of written guidelines to establish a consistent, well-thought-out strategy. While the plan sets out procedures that all proposed projects must follow, it is fundamentally a work in progress, said Fry.

"How do we keep a dean from skirting the process and preparing a building in the middle of McAlister Quad, which would ruin one of the most magnificent features of campus?" asked Fry.

Members of the Tulane community now have a way to discuss projects before they are implemented, said Fry. This way, "we will be able to arrive at more educated, appropriate solutions."

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