Emory Report

 November 10, 1997

 Volume 50, No. 12

Firms unveil conceptual
plan for Oxford campus

"Oxford College represents what is ideal about an American college, with its equal and serene balance between buildings and open spaces," said Adam Gross of Ayers/Saint/Gross, the firm charged with developing the University's master plan. "But some of that serenity is compromised," he noted, showing a slide of the campus' quadrangle surrounded by cars and parking spaces and topped with overhead power lines.

Gross spoke to members of Oxford's Board of Counselors at their fall meeting Oct. 17 and presented the conceptual plan that his firm and Robinson Fisher Associates, a landscape architectural firm, have developed.

"This concept plan emerged out of a highly participatory process that involved many people, both on and off the Oxford campus," said David Rowe, Oxford's director of development. "Its real genius is that it truly seems to reflect a consensus which emerged from a broad field of opinions. This concept is not the first part of a planner's plan, but the first part of Oxford's plan for itself and the University's plan for Oxford."

As on the Atlanta campus, Oxford's master plan began with a set of guiding principles. Oxford "is a 'community of learning' whose approach to education is derived from a unique combination of interpersonal relationships, its historic heritage and natural environment, its campus and its community," the planners wrote. "It is reinforced by creating spaces that provide opportunities for contact in a variety of formal and informal situations. In this regard, Oxford College should be a collection of meeting places that promote teaching and learning through human interaction."

Emory College's original campus sat on 50 acres. Oxford's holdings now include 300 acres, not all contiguous to the main campus. The 150-year-old campus "was incrementally built," said Rob Fisher of Robinson Fisher Associates. "It took 70 years before the quadrangle was defined on all four sides."

Fisher spoke of the campus' "character-defining elements." Campus buildings don't conform to a particular architectural style, he said, but "what holds the campus together is its spatial value and trees." The college is surrounded by the town of Oxford on three sides and a natural forest on the other. It's pedestrian friendly-it takes only five minutes to walk from Seney Hall to the Old Church. Students can navigate their way to classes in less than three minutes. "That's its great strength," said Fisher. "It's compact, intimate."

Decisions regarding campus construction "should always reference the integrity of the original college and town layout and preserve the scale and character of historic buildings and the natural environment," the planners said.

The architects propose re-establishing Oxford's core as a walking campus with little or no car access. Pathways would be "wide enough for service vehicles yet comfortable to walk on," said Gross. The planners discussed a variety of ways to do this, said Emory Senior Project Manager Earle Whittington. "As late as yesterday, some sketches moved parking around even more," he said the day of the meeting.

One option showed moving quadrangle parking to the campus' western edge, behind buildings and out of site. Oxford's parking spaces are pretty scattershot now, Gross said, and it's easy to "make parking more efficient by regulating it, making it more organized in its layout." Other plans took advantage of the Hearn Tract, the parcel of land at the college's western edge. Parking would be tucked behind a stand of mature hardwood trees, but it would still take only five minutes to walk to central campus.

Other improvements include creating more useful, unstructured outdoor spaces-possibility including an amphitheater or other small, paved spaces for faculty and students to gather. Discussions with alumni and students found many shared fond memories of outdoor spaces.

Moving indoors, the planners looked at "ways to add 'bed spaces' so more students can live on campus," said Whittington. That includes renovating or adding to existing dormitories or building new ones. Oxford Dean William Murdy was asked if these plans meant Oxford intends to add to its existing enrollment of about 600 students. "More students want to live on campus," he answered. "We want to provide housing options to accommodate existing students better, not grow the student population."

As for next steps, planners will test the concept plan and study it in larger scale and greater detail. "Once the details are resolved and accepted, the comprehensive plan will be created, and its components will be phased and priced," Whittington said. "This will lead to a timeline for implementation and a framework for future decision-making." The plan will be supported by a set of architectural and landscape design guides that will be used in development of new facilities and renovations of existing buildings.

-Stacey Jones

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