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Architecture Design Charrette
Re-Imagines ’86 Field
Mary Martialay
Communications Specialist

Six student design proposals seek to transform the ’86 Field from a barren void to a campus hub. Their ideas include a “media wall” along the south side, a reflecting pool, a grand Sage Avenue entrance, a tree-lined promenade, areas for outdoor classes, and terracing and stairs connecting the field with the Quad and Hassan Quad.

The designs were presented at the culmination of this year’s ’86 Field Design Charrette, sponsored by the Office of the President and Campus Planning and Facilities Design, and led by the School of Architecture. Other features proposed for the field included a winter skating rink, a quiet grove, and a Karner Blue butterfly sanctuary.

A brainstorming session was followed by two days of nonstop design work, with final designs presented on Saturday, April 17, before an audience that included President Shirley Ann Jackson.

Students were charged with re-imagining the campus core, while retaining sufficient open space to host large campus events like the annual Commencement picnic. Each student design team—aided by a faculty adviser—was provided with a planning document that included a history of the field and technical information such as month-by-month “shadow studies,” and high and low temperatures throughout the year.

One plan showed the north side of the field embraced in greenery, with vine-covered trellises extending from the field-facing corners of the ’87 Gymnasium and Russell Sage Laboratory. Between them ran a brick-paved boulevard of tall maple trees.

On the western side, the team, whose design was presented by students Jillian Crandall and Alicia Miksic, proposed a terraced natural amphitheater. For the eastern side, the team “softened” the approach to the rocky hill with a gradually rising meadow.

To engage the southern side into the area, several teams proposed modifications to the base of the Jonsson Engineering Center (JEC). An electronic wall along the existing southern retaining wall could be used for performances and movie screenings. A reflecting pool at the base of the JEC would pull light into the largely shadowed corner of the field. A series of ramps from the upper walkway to the field would draw foot traffic to the field, as would a proposal for a glass-enclosed multilevel “exhibition space” and café to take the place of the existing staircase.

Praising the students for several aspects of the plan, President Jackson returned to the most difficult challenge within the space: incorporating the incongruous buildings along the southern wall into the elegant setting of historic architecture amid the landscape.

“The irony is that the gorgeousness of what happens on the north side accentuates the barrenness of what happens on the south side,” President Jackson said.

Mark Mistur, School of Architecture professor and charrette coordinator, said that he could not have anticipated better results. “It is a difficult space in both scale and complexity and an extraordinarily important one to the future of the campus and university. For decades, the ’86 Field has been reserved in anticipation of events. With athletics moved to East Campus Athletic Village, it now has the potential to transform and enrich campus life in new ways. Each of the proposals found ways to activate its edges and incorporate features that will enrich the campus life, demonstrating that design matters.”

Barbara Nelson, project manager in campus planning and facilities design, said she expects that certain recurrent themes—such as terracing of the hillsides, use of trees and landscape materials to define areas, preservation of a significant open space, and incorporation of a water feature—will have a strong impact on the final design.

“I couldn’t have asked for a richer array of ideas in the resulting proposals,” Nelson said. “I had hoped the charrette results would make my job a little easier but in fact there are dozens of truly clever elements throughout the schemes and it will be difficult to disqualify any of them. We have a lot of design work to do before then and the charrette materials set us well on our way.”

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 4, Number 8, April 30, 2010
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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