Amber Wendland Joins the Neighborhood Design Center Board of Directors

September 21, 2020
Share

Amber Wendland recently joined the board of directors of the Neighborhood Design Center.

Founded in Baltimore during the civil rights movement, the Neighborhood Design Center (NDC) has for decades been committed to engaged and participatory urban design to advance equity and strengthen communities. This has proven, wide-ranging positive impacts with over 3,500 projects across Maryland.

Amber has worked tirelessly over the years focused on improving Baltimore and its communities, including the East Baltimore Revitalization Plan. We spoke with Amber about her role with NDC.

What does being on the board entail?

The board has a number of subcommittees, but the general purpose is to help support NDC’s mission and grow their reach. NDC has a close relationship with their board, and they look to it for expertise and support. The organization is formed with a deliberate dedication to diversity in all its forms, including gender diversity, racial and ethnic diversity, diversity of experience, and diversity of talent. There are a lot of different backgrounds and knowledge people bring to the table and part of my responsibility as a board member is to uphold this heterogeneity moving forward.

How does this connect with the work you’ve done?

The Neighborhood Design Center is dedicated to the growth of healthy, equitable neighborhoods, and this appointment allows me to further advance my passion for designing with and advocating for under-invested communities while also advancing the mission of Ayers Saint Gross. NDC prioritizes engagement and this is a great opportunity to continue connecting resources and getting people involved in designing a more equitable, beautiful, and just Baltimore.

NDC does so many incredible projects for the City of Baltimore. Their dedication to promoting equity and ensuring an inclusive and collaborative design process resonates deeply with me.

So much of the East Baltimore Revitalization Plan was about ensuring the community had agency in the process and set the direction and vision of the plan. You could design a beautiful master plan, but it is meaningless without community voices and the passionate support from local leaders. Historically, urban planning and policy has often marginalized Black and Brown communities through a top-down planning approach, resulting in many of the challenges we see across Baltimore today.  Reversing that approach by fostering a community-led planning and visioning process must start with listening and building relationships with the community. This relationship needs to be prioritized and fostered, and among the best ways to do that is to listen intently, celebrate the voices of the community, and empower leaders.

At its heart, planning is about providing a roadmap—a series of options to fulfill the needs and desires of the community and a path to move forward. A plan brings cohesiveness and a shared vision, which in turn allows for clear messaging of the community’s needs, and allows funding, investment, and philanthropy to be sought, procured, and effectively allocated. Ensuring that community voices are the foundation of that cohesive vision and that they are intimately entwined with the process and thus represented in the product—a true sharing of knowledge—are critical elements to the success of a neighborhood plan, and I’m eager to bring the lessons learned, and continue learning, with the work of NDC.

So, what’s next?

The work that NDC does to improve neighborhoods, amplify the voices of community members, and fight for racial justice is incredibly important and continuing that mission is paramount. This work is especially salient as we as a city and country continue to push for equity and civil rights.

Over the past six months, we have had to adapt how we engage with communities, expanding virtual engagement and taking social distancing precautions for in-person meetings as the pandemic continues.

Another goal moving forward is to build a closer relationship between NDC and Ayers Saint Gross. The relationship between our organizations goes back decades, ebbing and flowing throughout the years. Now is a great time to reconnect and continue to build strong connections as we move into the future. Several of our staff have volunteered with NDC in the past, and this will increase volunteering opportunities. Much like a successful planning effort, this association will provide ways to engage and volunteer in a more cohesive way.

Amber Wendland is a senior associate in the Planning and Architecture practice groups, working in Baltimore.

Sharing Research: The ASLA
Campus Resiliency Series

August 27, 2020
Share

Principal Kevin Petersen joined a panel of experts presenting as part of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Campus Resiliency Series. Discussing the ways in which colleges and universities could adapt campus outdoor spaces in response to COVID-19, this panel of experts included landscape architects and planners in both the private sector as well as those working for colleges and universities. These events are excellent opportunities to share our expertise and learn from our peers and clients. We are thankful to the ASLA for the opportunity to participate.

Outdoor spaces have always been a memorable part of the collegiate experience, helping to define the character of a campus and providing iconic places for students to gather. In unknown times, open spaces can be adaptable and offer solutions that are effective in the short term but can also be long-term improvements.

Kevin shared results from our recent survey and spoke to the ways that COVID-19 is accelerating shifts in campus outdoor spaces that are already underway, and the ways in which a campus can harness existing assets. There is a natural tension between the desire to have a vibrant campus environment, which so frequently depends on density, and the need to have the safest environment. Kevin looked closely at what could be operational changes and the ways a campus could leverage assets into long-term solutions based on thoughtful planning and design.

The campus experience, and the place of open spaces, can be thought of as a collection of three major components: wellness, learning, and student life.

Wellness

Over the past two months, many of us have found solace in nature while social distancing. We’re reminded of the power of the outdoors. Dating back centuries, the idea that outdoor spaces offer a remedy for students away from academic rigors can be seen in the original plan for the academical village of the University of Virginia.

Landscape enhancements can have a powerful impact with modest investment. Outdoor spaces provide a therapeutic and calming escape, and gathering outdoors with appropriate distancing practices may offer reduced risk.

Learning

Every institution has difficult decisions to make concerning reopening. Social distancing can inhibit experiential learning, community building, and research. Although there are many opportunities to expand learning outside, it is not viable in all cases, particularly when academic programs require specialized tools and equipment. Campuses need to think carefully about how to categorize and prioritize learning experiences and environments. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. In many cases, it’s unclear what will and will not work, as there are very few–if any–proven precedents. However, keeping in mind the trends that COVID-19 has accelerated, an institution can target investments toward near-term solutions that will still be viable long-term. For instance, prioritizing flexibility and adaptability in learning environments–both interior and exterior–to support different pedagogies and learners has been an ongoing trend; multiuse spaces will likely see more utilization for the foreseeable future. For programs that are not equipment-dependent, establishing an outdoor classroom or other landscape enhancement can serve the campus well now and become established as a flexible gathering space on campus experience years from now.

Student Life

Finally, when we think about a campus as providing a place-based experience, student life and recreation is important in rounding out that experience. Landscapes can offer safe outside recreational experiences. We are all witnessing how parks, cities, and institutions are using their outdoor spaces, waterfronts, and other natural resources to reimagine recreation in the COVID-era. Collegiate landscape can similarly rely on their recreational spaces to inject levity into an otherwise challenging experience.

Many campuses will have a rare opportunity during the transitional period: lower parking demand. This might be an opportunity to experiment with pilot projects, like closing a parking lot or road to vehicles and repurposing it for recreational uses like cycling, fitness classes, or outdoor seating for dining. As with learning environments, these do not all have to be temporary. These could be the start of new outdoor experiences that become intimately tied to the identity of the campus.

Amelle Schultz, PLA, LEED AP is an Associate Principal in the Landscape Architecture practice group and serves as Professional Practice Network Co-Chair of Campus Planning and Design for the ASLA.

Comparing Campuses 2020: Carbon Emissions

July 20, 2020
Share

Since 1998, Ayers Saint Gross has annually published a poster featuring campuses from leading institutions around the world. We assemble this collection as a way to support these institutions in finding their common ground and celebrating their unique differences. We believe this understanding will lead to the creation of even better spaces in which to live, learn, and teach. We are pleased to present Comparing Campuses 2020.

Colleges and universities have grown more sophisticated in their approach to sustainability. Indeed, “sustainability” as a catch-all is increasingly becoming too imprecise. Institutions are concerned with resource efficiency, carbon neutrality, and embodied carbon. These are no longer niche concepts, and institutions understand the impacts of them both to themselves and our planet.

The Campuses

This poster compares eight institutions of varying size, geography, age, and classification, showing a figure ground of each campus that color codes buildings by their age and whether they have been recently renovated. We use age as a rough proxy for operational carbon–buildings constructed in the last 30 years are likely to emit less than those built in decades prior. We also explore the extent to which colleges and universities are reinventing their spaces in place. Renovations of older buildings can improve their operational carbon emissions while preserving the embodied carbon in their structure.

In the figure grounds we often see a core of the oldest buildings, with newer buildings both expanding outward and densifying the core. This expansion is not always radial and is focused by the constraints of campus setting and available land. Even when additional land is available, densification can be desirable to keep the campus sized to the pedestrian. The campus that encourages travel by foot and bike reduces the carbon emissions of its campus community. While the oldest structures on a campus are often those that have seen some renovation both for functional reasons as well as the contributions these buildings make to campus history, we also see significant numbers of mid-century buildings renovated since 2000. Renovations conducted prior to 2000 were not hatched as they were less likely to have included improvements in operational carbon.

The variation in campuses was intentional. We were pleased and intrigued to see similar resource efficiency issues were important across the different campuses, but the ways in which mitigation efforts took shape varied a great deal in their specificity. We grouped these similarities in four categories: reduce energy use by buildings, utilize renewable energy sources, manage water use and flow, and reduce waste.

Many schools use STARS (the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) reports to monitor energy use. STARS offers a standard that encourages cataloging a variety of data in a way that can be compared chronologically within an institution or used to compare themselves to others. Many of the facts shared on this year’s poster come from STARS reports.

One of the most interesting STARS data points was the energy usage of buildings per unit of floor area. This statistic accounts for the change over time in the total GSF of an institution, focusing on the energy efficiency of buildings rather than the overall size of the campus. Reductions in this figure can be achieved by adding buildings that are more energy efficient, as well as improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings. According to Architecture 2030: “nearly two-thirds of the building area that exist today will still exist in 2050. Therefore, any transition to a low-carbon/carbon neutral built environment must address both new construction and existing buildings.”

Sources of energy in general, and renewable energy specifically, varies widely by geography. This is evident in the use of renewable energy reported by these eight institutions. Some campuses have on-site renewable energy generation, often solar and/or wind. Others are purchasing renewable energy credits from off-site sources or have access to utility-generated renewable energy. While all the featured campuses still rely to some extent on fossil-fuel derived energy, the transition to renewable sources is one being applied across scale of institution and even beyond higher education.

Reducing waste often relies on human behavior. There needs to be buy-in from not only the people on campus to recycle and compost, but also the contractors and vendors with which an institution partners. Solutions here require collaboration, and different campuses go about this in different ways. While most of our poster talks about reducing carbon emissions, with waste there is the opportunity to go beyond reduction. Composting is sequestration of carbon and can be applied against the carbon footprint of an institution.

Campuses across the country have vastly different relationships to water. Arid campuses have concerns with supply, whereas other campuses have concerns with flooding and stormwater. It is important to note that potable water has a carbon footprint regardless of location, and conservation of potable water is always a means of reducing carbon emissions.

Advancing the Conversation

Recognizing this growing sophistication and complexity, we wanted to ensure that we outlined opportunities for institutions looking to increase their efforts toward carbon and resource efficiency. We grouped these opportunities into three categories: catalog, plan, and implement.

Cataloging one’s space is key to understanding it. Leveraging space analytics to increase utilization and reuse of space can sometimes alleviate or delay the need for new construction. If building new becomes necessary, the understanding of space needs allows one to build the right space for the right reasons for the right resiliency.

Developing a detailed plan for future investment allows for carbon performance to be integrated as a top priority. For instance, for a building that is being constructed in phases, an institution can not only adhere to changing guidelines but plan to keep upgrading systems to the highest performance. See the Duke University School of Nursing for how this works in action.

Renovations can breathe new life into existing assets while reducing both embodied and operational carbon emissions. Renovating can retain sense of place on campus as buildings become indelible parts of an institution’s identity. See the Hayden Library Reinvention as an example.


These comparisons build on a 20-year legacy of Comparing Campuses posters that support higher education in finding their common ground and celebrating their unique differences. See how this poster has evolved and compare our collection of campuses side-by-side.

Is Your Master Plan This Flexible?

May 28, 2020
Share

As a result of COVID-19, colleges and universities have experienced an unprecedented mass move off campus. It is unlikely this was a scenario explored in your master plan. During this moment of crisis, a master plan developed before the COVID-19 outbreak can provide valuable information about how to maintain vibrancy while keeping people safe. Here are four places to look:

  • Analytics as a foundation
  • Applying planning principles in new ways
  • Upholding a sense of place
  • Finding a path forward

Analytics as a Foundation

A clear-eyed, data-driven analysis of the campus forms a strong foundation for a master plan and a back-to-campus strategy. Master plan analytics collect, synthesize, and visualize key data sets to show what assets exist and how they are used. Having a robust understanding of a pre-COVID starting point allows a quick pivot to modeling new scenarios.

Will any longstanding space standards be applicable in the future? To be flexible and forward-looking, space metrics must carefully consider the individual human experience in physical space. Planning to distance students in the classroom illustrates why modular thinking is important. The reality on many campuses is that large swaths of the classroom inventory are quite dense. Space analysis often reveals large lecture halls with about the same square footage per student as a passenger on an airplane – widely agreed upon as a high-risk environment during a pandemic. To hold classes in person, more space must be provided for each student. To determine precisely how much more space, planners and designers must consider each individual rather than work in averages. These sorts of changes to the planning module create ripple effects across campus that can be understood using a data-rich master plan.

Master plans set target metrics, and they also explain why the metrics matter. For many years, higher education classroom design has trended toward more square footage per student and flexible furniture to support student success: research demonstrates that more space per student supports better learning outcomes. While physical distancing and active learning suggest increasing space per student, the goals of each shift are quite different. We can’t lose sight of student success objectives during this time. Will students be spaced so far apart that they can’t reap the benefits of learning from their instructors and peers?

Applying Planning Principles in New Ways

Master plan participants look at the campus using a telescope and a microscope. Detailed “microscope” thinking is fueled by current priorities and assumptions and is subject to change. “Telescope” thinking generates planning principles, enduring values that inform future decision making about the campus, including a COVID-19 back-to-campus strategy.

For example, institutions often choose a principle like “welcome” because it speaks to inclusivity, openness, and partnerships. There is an inherent tension between increased engagement and safety, and never has that tension been more apparent. Visitor experience planning creates carefully choreographed moments that welcome users and clearly describe how they should use a space. With this guidance, many people will comply. As campuses reopen, the community – and visitors to the extent that they’re allowed on campus – may be greeted each day by a temperature check or other screening. The vision of being a welcoming environment suggests that the experience of that new daily ritual matters. In addition to serving an important public health purpose, it is a community building and communication opportunity.

The idea of welcome also reminds us that a campus community is diverse, and the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacts underprivileged communities. Campus facilities are safe places to live and work for many individuals who have few other options. We see clearly in this time the mission-critical nature of that role. How can institutions pursue those aims in a welcoming manner?  

Though they may need to be reinterpreted, planning principles apply in times of crisis.

Upholding a Sense of Place

A master plan identifies unique features of an institution and its campus. Safety is the top priority, but there are many ways to execute a back-to-campus strategy. The master plan can spark creative thinking about safe and appropriate ways to maintain the magic of being on campus as part of a holistic approach.

Leaders are working to identify essential in-person activities and strategies to conduct them safely. Fundamentally, there must be fewer people on campus. Is it possible for the campus to feel alive without a rush of students across the quad at class change?  Even from a distance and with fewer people, a long view of your fellow community members going about their daily lives is poetic and impactful – especially after months in quarantine. 

A master plan celebrates sacred spaces. They may include historic buildings that are harder to maintain and adapt, but making use of these facilities – if practical – ensures vitality in these incredible places and reinforces for students that their education is place-based: the experience they have on campus is distinctive, if different from the experience offered before. It also connects the campus community to previous generations, who endured wars and other global crises. Campus life was radically different during those eras as well; this reminds us that change is constant.

Master plans look both backward and forward. Forward thinking pushes us to establish new sacred spaces. Landscape enhancements can have a powerful impact with modest investment. Outdoor spaces provide a therapeutic and calming escape, and gathering outdoors with appropriate distancing practices may offer reduced risk. Establishing an outdoor classroom or other landscape enhancement envisioned in the master plan might serve the campus well now and become a sacred space in years to come.

Many campuses will have a rare opportunity during the transitional period: lower parking demand. This might be an opportunity to experiment with pilot projects suggested in the master plan, like closing a parking lot or road to vehicles and repurposing it for recreational uses like cycling, fitness classes, or outdoor seating for dining.

Finding a Path Forward

While this crisis will impact each individual and institution differently, the need to adapt is universal. This experience will catalyze rapid shifts in growth aspirations, priorities, and access to resources. Demographic trends suggest increased competition for students will persist beyond the COVID-19 threat. Many institutions will need to plan for smaller overall enrollment and decreased revenue. A fundamental long-term physical planning challenge will be scaling down, whether in targeted areas or across the board. This will present different challenges than scaling up. Hard decisions and new ways of thinking and operating will be needed.

Many of the master plan elements that inform back-to-campus strategies will fuel long-term flexibility as well: forward-looking space metrics, principles that speak to small and large investments, a commitment to place. Master plan ideas that optimize current assets will be critical in the long-term: a smaller footprint works best when we embrace what we have and use it well. While distancing requirements will cause low utilization of space in the near-term, comprehensive renovations can enable transformative increases in utilization over time.

As institutions prioritize their areas of strength and respond to market realities, they may realize that some important, specialized spaces cannot be effectively provided through retrofit and renovation. Strategic new construction may still play a role in a plan that shrinks the overall footprint. A limited new construction strategy means new facilities will need to serve the institution holistically in a way that moves beyond silos. Master plan proposals for new interdisciplinary, interdepartmental facilities with shared spaces and strong connections to existing assets are the best candidates to prioritize moving forward. Moreover, plans for new construction will need to be coupled with serious consideration of demolition rather than backfill. There are sustainability implications of abandoning the embodied carbon of an existing facility, but there are resource consumption implications – both environmental and economic – of continuing to maintain and operate an over-scaled portfolio.

Lastly, the master planning process can be more important than the product. Investments in process build consensus and a coalition that supports implementation. The COVID-19 era emphasizes that process also builds flexibility. More engagement in the master planning process means that participants understand the relationships between different elements of the plan as well as the final recommendations. They are more likely to see how adjustments to specific recommendations and priorities are consistent with the vision and values for your campus. Master plan participants may be key contributors to the back-to-campus strategy. Ultimately, master plan investments in your planning community enhance your flexibility to adapt.

Sharing and Learning at Tradeline

November 14, 2019
Share

Recently, Alyson Goff and I presented at the Tradeline Conference in Austin alongside University of Virginia Assistant Campus Planner, Elisa Langille. Themed: “University Facilities for the Sciences and Advanced Technologies,” Tradeline focuses on highly technical facilities for corporate, university, and government campuses. Topics span engineering, health sciences, robotics, artificial intelligence, data sciences, biological and physical sciences, maker spaces, and innovation hubs. These conferences are intimate in scale and feature deep-dive presentations from institutional representatives and sessions from owner-consultant teams.

Conferences of this nature are great opportunities to catch up with clients, share expertise, and stay apprised on the challenges facing institutions. Our presentation, “Translating data and strategic vision into a physical space plan for engineering and applied sciences,” focused on the Integrated Space Plan for UVA Engineering. Together, we demonstrated a process for incremental, strategic renovations that unleash the academic potential of underutilized and outdated buildings; we detailed the shakeup of traditional departmental structures, and illustrated UVA’s road map to align the School’s academic plan and strategic goals with its existing space inventory; and we demonstrated large-scale building opportunities to satisfy goals and provide adequate space to create pedagogical change within UVA Engineering. The concept of “engineering on display” remains a popular driver, but accomplishing it is difficult. We were happy to share the lessons of this great project — a fantastic project team, an excited client, and a powerful story is a great combination.

Beyond our presentation, the Tradeline Conference, as a whole, offered an incredible learning experience from other sessions and through casual conversations. Some of our key takeaways include the importance of developing guiding principles to inform priorities and decision-making. Goals such as flexibility, diversity, adaptability, and connectivity, are particularly important, as learning spaces translate those qualities into the built environment. STEM education remains a priority, but we are now seeing an increasing number of institutions seeking to integrate the arts and sciences into engineering. As interdisciplinary education becomes more widespread, this ensures ethics is part of the STEM curriculum.

Other new concepts include further evolution of active learning environments featuring open, flexible spaces to accommodate a variety of uses such as a math cave or interprofessional education (IPE) simulation and the fusion of physical, digital, and biology technologies.

Good design creates purposeful interaction, and collaboration and engagement makes it possible. Given the importance of data in decision making, visualization and accessibility of data are key pieces to the puzzle in today’s world. We are happy to be on the forefront of this and eager to learn more and help shape the future.

Dana Perzynski and Alyson Goff are associate principals in the Planning and space analytics discipline groups, respectively.

Contact Dana
Contact Alyson

Luanne Greene in The Chronicle of Higher Education

October 10, 2019
Share
Luanne Greene, FAIA

As the premiere source for higher education journalism, The Chronicle of Higher Education serves their readers with current news, insightful opinions, helpful advice, and a robust career portal. The Chronicle also periodically takes deep dives into critical issues facing the college and university realm and publishes detailed reports. The special publication “The Campus as City,” features interviews with a diverse group of leaders across higher education. Included is Ayers Saint Gross President Luanne Greene, FAIA addressing the principles that bring cities and colleges together.

Colleges and universities are more invested in their relationships to their surrounding communities than ever before. This report investigates how colleges and universities perform many of the functions of a local municipality, but with constrained resources and heightened expectations. This fascinating and important report explores questions such as: how do you run a modern campus and keep functions like planning, transportation, and public safety at the forefront? What is the role of an anchor institution, and how does the surrounding community influence decisions that you make? How do you pursue responsible expansion and development?

Colby College, Alfond Commons
Alfond Commons at Colby College, featured in the publication, caters toward service-minded students and features a community forum on the ground floor.

Each campus environment brings its own history, challenges, goals, and sometimes resentments (indeed, the publication’s introduction cites clashes dating back to 1355). The questions are not new, but the strategies and creativity dedicated to resolving them is. In the piece, Luanne discusses the importance of developer relationships, looking ahead to future transit challenges, and the essential nature of having people and ideas near one another. These principles help guide our design thinking and cover practical concerns of infrastructure, scale, and environmental impact, as well as the ineffable qualities like the sense of place and intellectual buzz. Cities and campuses have a great deal to offer one another and their successes can be mutual. Ayers Saint Gross works to break down these barriers, and facilitate inclusivity.

Point225

Among the examples cited in the piece, the Providence Innovation District is a great example of these principles at work. Home to prestigious institutions including Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, and the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence is a place where many good ideas are being formed. Supported by developer partners and fulfilling the potential of the connection to the rest of the city opened by the re-routing of I-95/I-195, all those good ideas will have access to the business community and vice-versa. The resulting innovations (tech start-ups, new ideas for mature companies, research and development breakthroughs, among others) provide opportunity and feed back into the economy of the city. Point225, the first building implemented as part of the master plan, recently opened, and we are excited to see the results.

Place matters. For students, a campus is where some of the most memorable and intellectually rich moments of their lives may occur; for the community, it’s home; for faculty and staff it’s both. We are proud to share our involvement in The Chronicle’s publication and honored to play a role in the future of campuses and cities alike. See Luanne’s portion here.

The Value of Engagement

September 27, 2019
Share

This post is a collaboration between Amber Wendland and Corey Rothermel.

Engagement is at the core of Ayers Saint Gross’s mission and our planning practice. We strongly believe in the collective wisdom of a facilitated, inclusive planning and design process. In our rapidly changing world, communication, knowledge sharing, and connections are vital to generating consensus around shared visions. We work with varied and diverse groups of stakeholders to generate creative ideas that respect local culture, climate, and setting.

Our planning process involves overlapping activities that bring together the people and information needed to create a plan for the future. Effective implementation of planning visions is only possible through a carefully designed and executed process that engages stakeholders to reflect the mission and values of each institution, organization, or municipality.

Project success is more easily achieved through better knowledge, understanding, and buy-in. Engagement achieves all three of these things. Engagement not only allows us to be better designers by coalescing more input, but it is also an opportunity to generate excitement and harmony among stakeholders around a shared vision.

Engaging On Campus

In a higher education setting, in addition to the senior leadership that typically makes up a steering committee, broader public engagement is a way to bring students, faculty, technical staff, operational staff, and community members to the table. These stakeholders are the experts on how the campus is working and what is needed to best support student experience, student success, and operations.

Higher education clients also bring unique challenges; a significant one is finding the right time to engage stakeholders. Students, staff, and faculty have different schedules and are on campus at different times throughout the day. Identifying the best time (or times) to engage with stakeholders is the first hurdle.

It is critical to market the event through multiple avenues (email blasts, posters, web postings, adverts, etc.) and convey why it is important. Support from the client helps in this arena. They are critical in spreading the word, providing space to host an event or activity, and supplying incentives. Perhaps even more important, the client is the one that can best identify who should be in the room. This entails not only bringing in the right stakeholders to provide input, but also making sure that they are comfortable sharing their thoughts in a safe setting.

Stakeholders can tell when planners and designers are not genuinely interested in hearing their thoughts. At Ayers Saint Gross, we emphasize the value of bringing a broad and diverse set of stakeholders into our process and incorporating their valuable insight and input into our projects. Ultimately, this is the best way to produce dynamic projects that have wide-spread support, clear implementation, and create great experiences for all.

Ayers Saint Gross helped assist Tarrant County College (TCC) in creating a vision that would help to transform their traditional format libraries into Learning Commons to better meet the needs of today’s students and faculty. Building off our previous work with TCC that identified a college-wide need to increase pedagogical connectivity between learning inside and outside the classroom, we knew that the existing libraries were less than ideal for educators and students alike. Our team lead an engagement-heavy planning process for all five physical TCC campuses that included parallel in-person and online efforts for students, staff, and faculty.

Each group was asked a unique and comprehensive set of questions that collectively helped formulate the vision and scope for what the new Learning Commons could be. Responses highlighted the opportunities that existed to capitalize on the transformation of libraries into Learning Commons by incorporating spaces, programs, and resources that would help redefine the relationship between pedagogy, teaching, and the library space. Ayers Saint Gross then took this feedback to college leadership and used it to guide and facilitate the decision making that led to final designs.

At each student open house, we brought 40 pizzas anticipating that we would be well covered. Thanks to fantastic event marketing by the client, students showed up and participated en masse leading to the pizzas quickly disappearing. In all, we went through 200 pizzas over a 48-hour period.

Engaging in the Community

In urban planning, the most important stakeholders are community members. To produce an ethical, sustainable plan, it is vital that we begin by openly listening to the needs of the residents, business owners, elected officials, city government, and other stakeholders. Engagement must continue throughout the development of the plan to ensure the vision accurately depicts the desires of the community. This requires listening and a thoughtful exchange of knowledge; the community educates us on their needs and we educate them on components of the planning process. Engagement strategies include addressing individual questions in breakout sessions, polling, design stations, or boards where people can deliver comments and have conversations more intimately. This makes engagement more personal and is the kind of one-on-one interaction required to build rapport and consensus.

For the East Baltimore Revitalization Plan, the community had been the unfortunate recipient of decades of underinvestment, discriminatory practices, and neglect. There was an understandable skepticism of planners. The residents remembered decades of urban renewal when whole neighborhoods were razed and communities were torn apart. The team needed to develop trust to create a Master Plan that captured the community’s fundamental needs and served as a vision for them to champion moving forward.

When designing exercises, it is critical to make a strong effort to minimize implicit bias and design activities that accommodate variety of perspectives and abilities. This covers everything from the selection of images and wording of questions to the actual physical layout of exercises to enable stakeholders of differing backgrounds and experiences to participate. It is vital that everyone feel and be included.

Our carefully crafted engagement strategy was founded on these principles and we were able deliver a vision and plan for the community while building relationships, trust, and confidence within the community to carry the plan forward into implementation.

Transferring planning knowledge to community members should not be approached didactically, but instead as a two-way conversation to help inform and empower community residents. Speaking personally, during a final community meeting for the Southwest Neighborhood Plan, while reviewing final recommendations, I carefully walked one woman through a recommendation for increased zoning capacity, as it was a crucial move in order to be able to provide adequate affordable housing in the future. About 15 minutes later her friend arrived and had the same concern, I watched her explain to her friend exactly what I had walked her through. Not only allaying someone’s concerns, but giving them the tools to share with their fellow community members is incredibly rewarding and a great reminder of the real-life impacts of our work.

Ayers Saint Gross at SCUP 2019

July 11, 2019
Share

The SCUP 2019 Annual Conference is being held in Seattle this year, and we are pleased to have an abundance of good news to share in the Emerald City.

Ayers Saint Gross has won the SCUP Excellence Award in Landscape Architecture for General Design for the San Martin Drive Pedestrian Improvements at Johns Hopkins University. The project highlights a natural asset while improving the safety and well-being of students. The landscape design incorporates four major elements: defining a continuous pedestrian connection the length of the corridor, developing clear and safe crossings of the roadway, creatively resolving the need for pedestrian connections in an environmentally sensitive area, and establishing clear entry gates to the University. We are happy to announce the honor and proud of this project and our design team for their incredible and life-changing work.


A new year at SCUP also means a new Comparing Campuses poster. Since 1998, Ayers Saint Gross has annually published this poster featuring campus plans from leading institutions around the world. After a number of years focusing on specific themes, this year’s poster is a recall to our original style and features eleven new additions to our collection. Featuring a mix of large and small campuses and punctuated with sustainability facts, we’ve assembled this collection as a tool for institutional planners in the belief that understanding campus organization and data will lead to the creation of even better spaces in which to live, learn, and teach.

We look forward to seeing everyone at the conference. Come and visit us at booth 401.

Ayers Saint Gross at SCUP Southern 2018

October 23, 2018
Share

If you’re in Austin next week for SCUP Southern, I hope you’ll join me on Tuesday October 30 for our firm’s session on campus planning. Here are the details.

An Instigator and Path to Crafting a Campus Plan

As institutions continually evolve, students, staff, and faculty must thoughtfully utilize planning resources to strategically guide development towards an exceptional campus experience. This session will illustrate conditions that support the need for a campus master plan, what to incorporate into the effort, and how to adopt a planning continuum on campus. Come learn how to develop and refine skills to critically analyze past and current planning efforts to identify potential process adjustments leading to increased planning impact on your campus. Learning outcomes include:

  1. Identify urban planning and campus design factors that indicate the need for a master plan at your institution.
  2. Determine what elements (examples: new development, mobility and safety, sustainability, wellness, historic preservation, wayfinding, etc.) are most critical to your master planning efforts.
  3. Craft an outline that identifies the “who” and “what” necessary for a successful master planning process.
  4. Define a planning continuum that uses the campus master plan going forward for enduring improvement on your campus.

Presenters
David C. Brown, Planner, Texas A&M University-College Station
Dana Craig Dixon, Senior Associate, Ayers Saint Gross
Corey Rothermel, Associate, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
Tuesday October 30, 2018
9:45 AM – 10:45 AM

Credits
AIA LU 1.0 unit (SCUPS18C21)
AICP CM 1.0 unit

Ayers Saint Gross at TCUF 2018

September 13, 2018
Share

If you’re in San Antonio next week, I hope you’ll join the Ayers Saint Gross team at one of our three TCUF sessions, or visit our display in the Architectural Showcase. Here’s where we’ll be.

A New Era of Sustainability Planning: From Vision to Implementation
Texas A&M’s 2018 Sustainability Master Plan integrates social equity objectives with environmental and economic efforts while balancing the need for long-term vision with action and accountability. Through nine themes that address the physical environment, social sustainability, waste management, and institutional efforts, sustainability initiatives at Texas A&M have been transformed from an environment-heavy focus to an approach that places equal emphasis on all three elements of sustainability’s triple bottom line.

Concurrent to developing the university’s Sustainability Master Plan, Texas A&M’s Department of Residence Life sought ways to evaluate its contribution to institution-wide sustainability efforts and prioritize future endeavors. The Residence Life Sustainability Master Plan seeks to advance the department’s capacity to operate sustainable facilities, support sustainable life skills education, and leverage competitive advantage in the local student housing market.

Presenters
Chareny Rydl, Director of Residence Life, Texas A&M University
Lara Hendrickson, Sustainability Operations Coordinator, Texas A&M University
Allison Wilson, Sustainability Director, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
Friday September 21, 2018
Republic C (4th Floor)
1:00PM – 2:00PM


An Instigator and Path to Crafting a Campus Plan
Campus master plans, both aspirational in vision and realistic in implementation, seek to guide the long-term physical development of institutions in alignment with their vision, mission and goals. The session will evaluate and illustrate conditions supporting the need for a campus master plan, what to incorporate into the effort and how to adopt a continuum of planning on campus.

Texas A&M University’s 2017 Campus Master Plan will serve as a case study, guiding attendees through the process of determining when a plan is needed, where to focus your efforts, what elements might be included, who to engage in the process, how the proposed transformations have impacted the campus experience and why to outline future supporting planning efforts for continuous improvement.

Attendees will develop and refine skills to critically analyze past and current planning efforts to identify potential process adjustments leading to increased planning impacts on your campus.

Presenters
Lilia Y. Gonzales, University Architect, Texas A&M University
Dana Dixon, Senior Associate, Ayers Saint Gross
Corey Rothermel, Associate, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
Friday September 21, 2018
2:10PM – 3:10 PM
Republic B (4th Floor)


Enterprise Planning: A Case for Moving Beyond a Traditional Master Plan
Differing from a traditional master plan which focuses solely on the built environment, enterprise planning touches all areas of an institution to guide strategic direction. The outcome is a shared vision which becomes the framework for policies, programs, and physical space.

Through a highly collaborative process involving hundreds of Tarrant County College stakeholders, a series of charrettes acted as the primary tool for discovery, analysis, and dialogue. The activities sought to create a collective understanding of key concepts, establish big-picture priorities, and discuss stakeholder ideas for the near term and long term. These workshops created a venue to discover and analyze challenges, craft potential solutions, and define the future, all in tandem.

The outcome was the establishment of three overarching goals and a set of eight principles that together serve as the pillars of the college’s vision and guide all areas of the institution.

Presenters
Nina Petty, Vice Chancellor for Real Estate & Facilities, Tarrant County College
Doug Lowe, President, Facility Programming and Consulting
Jack Black, Principal, Ayers Saint Gross
Corey Rothermel, Associate, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
Saturday September 22, 2018
11:15 AM – 12:15PM
Crockett C/D

2018 Comparing Campuses: Student Housing

July 10, 2018
Share

2018 marks the 20th edition of our firm’s Comparing Campuses poster. Since 1998, we have explored hundreds of campus plans from leading institutions around the world. We assemble this collection as a tool for institutional planners because we believe that understanding campus organization and data will lead to the creation of even better spaces in which we live, learn, and teach. We understand the importance of research, and believe that sharing our research contributes to creating better campuses.

Last year, we turned to the past, exploring historic campus master plans and how they helped shape their respective campuses today.

This year, we’re going home – or more precisely, to the on-campus places that students call home.

Housing plays a central role in students’ lives. The residential experience can be a competitive amenity that contributes to a university’s brand. Well-designed spaces and varied typologies should meet the needs of students as they change and grow throughout their college experiences.

Our 2018 poster compares campus-owned housing typology, density, and distribution across 10 institutions. Each map highlights housing facilities color coded by the predominant unit type, overlaid with a series of circles scaled to represent the number of beds in each building. We hope you enjoy exploring how these different institutions have created places that students can call home.

If you won’t be at SCUP, please email us at comparingcampuses@asg-architects.com and we’ll be happy to send you a copy. Additionally, the entire Comparing Campuses collection is available on our website. Visit us there, or at booth 109 at SCUP 2018 to claim your copy. We’ll see you in Nashville, and look forward to discussing the many ways to help students feel at home on campus.

Ayers Saint Gross at 2018 National Planning Conference

April 17, 2018
Share

If you’re in New Orleans for the APA’s 2018 National Planning Conference later this week, I hope you’ll join me on Saturday April 21 for an educational program on creating a master plan for one of the most challenged neighborhoods in Baltimore. Our approach uses robust engagement founded on empowering residents to provide comprehensive community input and involving public and private stakeholders across a city.

Restoring People While Rebuilding Properties

For decades, the Broadway East neighborhood has struggled with some of the highest vacancy and poverty rates in Baltimore. Economic disinvestment, housing abandonment, and crime have left the community destitute. While many residents have fled over the past few decades, a number of lifelong citizens and institutions remain, anchoring the neighborhood with hope and memories of a past vibrant village.

In response to the spring 2015 unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, Reverend Donte Hickman, a neighborhood leader, met with Ayers Saint Gross. The need for a clear, collective vision and master plan for the future was evident. It was essential that this vision be founded on community input. The public outreach was a comprehensive, three-step process, focused on empowering residents by teaching them about planning practices, terminology, and process. While the plan is founded on community input, the overall engagement extends across the city, through both the public and private sectors, building consensus, support, and resources for future development. With corporate partners, city leaders, and community members on board, development is beginning to take off.

Upon completion, participants will be able to:

  • Create a robust, community-centered engagement process that empowers residents of a disenfranchised neighborhood by teaching them about planning practices, terminology, and process;
  • Engage a community that has typically been underserved, and has recently been under national scrutiny as the center of civil unrest; and
  • Understand the value of consensus building from not only a community engagement perspective, but also among city agencies and private investors.

Presenters
Adam Gross, Principal, Ayers Saint Gross
Rev. Dr. Donte L. Hickman, Pastor, Southern Baptist Church
Amber Wendland, Associate, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
Saturday, April 21, 2018
1:00 PM – 2:15 PM
Ernest N. Morial Convention Center
900 Convention Center Boulevard
New Orleans, LA 70130