William M. Chace

Afoot in the academic village

The Emory campus is not a "pedestrian" campus: cars dominate the landscape, and persons on foot must take great care when crossing some streets. What is more, the inherent beauty of the campus is obscured, its calmness disrupted, its serenity despoiled.

It was not always so.

When Henry Hornbostel designed the campus for the new university being built in Atlanta in 1915, he did so with sensitivity to the site and the city, and he did so with both innovation and respect for the past. He designed well. Although Emory never fully built all that Hornbostel designed for this campus, his vision guided the development of every construction Emory undertook for the next fifty years.

Unfortunately, as often happens when the founding generation passes on, the plan for Emory's campus fell victim to the whims of fashion and the demands of an increasingly complex institution. Building feverishly because we needed to, we did not always build well or with a proper sense of our architectural heritage and a view to the best use of our finite acreage.

Since the fall of 1996, in consultation with the Baltimore firm of Ayers/Saint/Gross and a remarkable team of architects, designers, and engineers led by Adam Gross, we have been engaged in trying to see our campus home with fresh eyes. The consultants have met with scores of groups and hundreds of individuals, including the Board of Trustees, the University Senate, the Faculty Council, the Student Government Association, Emory Village merchants, and many interested neighbors. The team has researched Emory's history, topography, vegetation, roadways, traffic and parking patterns, classroom use and architectural hits and misses. They have enabled us to see this place anew.

Along the way, they have reminded us of certain principles inherent in that early Hornbostel plan--principles worth remembering and reclaiming.

The first principle is that our environment can go a long way in fostering a shared sense of being part of an intellectual community. That kind of community, after all, is what Emory is about.

The second principle is that the best campuses connect spaces and buildings by handsome quadrangles, elegant pathways, and green vistas--not by roads and parking lots. The campus should encourage people to get out of their cars and into the "academic village."

Third, our campus can benefit from a clearer understanding of where its central spaces and its defining edges are located. Too often visitors complain that they didn't realize they were on the campus until they'd driven halfway through it.

Our fourth guiding principle will be that Emory's architectural "language," first given its vocabulary by Hornbostel in the Quadrangle buildings, is every bit as graceful and lovely as that of the best college campuses, and we would benefit from using that language more consistently.

Fifth, Emory has, and must protect, certain "sacred" spaces: Lullwater, the Baker Woodland, our creeks and our stands of mature trees.

Sixth, and underlying all, we must develop with "enlightened frugality," so that every dollar spent on Emory's physical plan will support our academic mission. And, finally, we must be determined to implement the master plan with sustained discipline.

Our colleagues from Ayers/Saint/Gross have shown us beauties we had begun to take for granted, blemishes we had grown used to overlooking, and potential we never dreamed existed. In the summer of 1997, determined to begin making this breathtaking potential a reality, the Project Steering Committee and the University Program and Budget Committee approved the renovation of North Kilgo Circle, between the Psychology Building and the Callaway Center. Some thirty-eight parking spaces were eliminated, asphalt was torn up, and old concrete sidewalks were removed. In their place was laid a warm and inviting dark-red-brick plaza, with large areas of grass that have been planted with shrubbery and trees. The transformation, admired by many, serves as a kind of foretaste of what is to come.

As the master-planning process comes to a conclusion this spring, Emory will be left with documents that will guide development and construction for the next half-century. We will now go forward with a legacy of participation by all constituencies in the planning of one of the most important elements of our community life--our environment. We will be left with a sense of expectancy and excitement as we look ahead to implementing many of the consultants' recommendations.

In the decades to come, the transformation begun at North Kilgo Circle will spread across the campus, reclaiming green space and making Emory once again the beautiful place that our alumni have always remembered it to be. For this, we can be thankful to Ayers/Saint/Gross and to the many students, faculty, staff, trustees, and friends who have been part of this conversation.

I hope you will have an opportunity soon to revisit your alma mater and see what is afoot.

Return to Spring 1998 contents page

Return to Emory Magazine home page

Return to Emory University homepage