A reflecting pool in front of Olin Library, a garden of hardy kiwis, raspberries, pawpaw, and sunchoke in the Butterfield courtyard, rooftop gardens, and an outdoor classroom were among the ideas tossed around during Wesleyan’s first annual Design Charrette held Saturday at Russell House. Organized by student group Working for Intelligent Landscape Design (WILD Wes), the designing sessions brought together Wesleyan students and faculty, professional designers, and several students from the University of Massachusetts Amherst to explore alternative landscaping possibilities in order to increase sustainability, natural beauty, and food productivity on campus.
The day began with designers giving talks about the designing process and the importance of alternative landscaping, after which the group split up to visit three spots on campus and brainstorm possible landscape redesign projects that could be implemented.
“We chose three different sites on the campus—distinct in terms of environmental conditions and the ways that students use them—really just rich for potential for a new vision at Wesleyan,” said Sam Silver ’11, one of the organizers of the charrette.
The three locations studied were the area between Olin Library and Church Street, the Butterfield courtyard, and the space between the Center for Film Studies, Art Workshops, and Zilkha Gallery. Each group drew their ideas on topographical maps of their sites and then presented their designs at the end of the charrette.
The landscape brainstorming session sought to address problems of erosion, water run-off, and unsustainable lawn upkeep practices by replacing grass with native ground cover, wildflowers, and fruit and nut trees. Participants created plans for revised layouts of paths across campus, study nooks, plazas, and gardens. Several proposals suggested introducing more food-producing plants such as blueberries, strawberries, and red cabbage across campus, which could perhaps be used by the student-run café Espwesso.
“There are a lot of opportunities to help [large, under-utilized lawn spaces] by stopping erosion, holding water on site, having more water infiltration, and creating beautiful spaces where students can hang out within the landscape,” said permaculture and ecological designer Jono Neiger, a professor at the Conway School of Landscape Design. “And also the productive landscape—students being able to eat food on their way to class—grab a piece of fruit or pick some herbs or flowers—sort of being more interactive with the landscape.”
The intention of the charrette was to brainstorm ideas rather than to develop specific plans, which will be the next stage of the redesigning project.
“Next semester comes the student forum in which we try to narrow down just one test site and see what can be done with that site,” Silver said. “So we’re going to be bringing in guest designers every week and really coming away with a solid plan that we can present to the University that’s viable, economic, and ecological. From there, once that proves successful, we can start really trying to change the landscape as a whole on the campus.”
According to Silver, the end goal is to develop a design proposal that will be funded by the University. WILD Wes intends for the Design Charrette to be an annual event, to continue developing new design ideas and discuss how they can be put into practice.
“Part of the design is to really assess what’s low-hanging fruit—what can be done easily, without a huge amount of difficulty and planning,” Neiger said. “And I think there are a lot of those. Other opportunities take more effort, more commitment. So part of the process is to come up with some phases.”
Neiger expressed optimism about the outcome of the charrette.
“It seemed like there were a lot of ideas that had been percolating, and today was really just a chance for people to express them, draw them up, and talk about them with other students, faculty, and administration,” he said.
Grounds and Events Manager David Hall of Physical Plant and President Michael Roth were both present for parts of Saturday’s charrette.
According to Silver, WILD Wes has developed a strong core group of dedicated students who will likely keep the momentum going to implement the plans developed over the course of next semester.
“A great thing about the group has been that it’s mainly comprised of underclassmen and they’re all super-charged, which means that there’s little chance that this is going to be kind of dying out a few years from now,” Silver said.