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Campus History

Historical Overview of Physical Planning and Development

Few if any of N.C State’s founders foresaw the growth that the University has experienced. Early design efforts focused on a much smaller campus than today’s 2,000 acres and more than eight million square feet of built space accommodating a community of over 30,000 people.
From the University’s pastoral beginning along Pullen Road, enrollment and facilities grew steadily and moderately until the end of the First World War, after which they accelerated. Plans of the 1920s called for grouping buildings that housed linked activities, such as the agriculture and engineering groupings on the North Campus, classrooms around the Court of North Carolina, the “executive group” near Holladay Hall, athletics around Riddick Stadium, and student residence halls south of the railroad. These plans were effective for their purposes, but they were not intended to provide a framework for a campus that would accommodate approximately 25,000 students in 1990. Much of the university’s present design has evolved organically from earlier development, nurtured by numerous staff and faculty members with an interest in the university’s physical environment. Many of the courtyards, open spaces and walkways in the older sections of the campus appear to have been part of an original intention but in fact were nurtured and developed by people who came later.

During the Great Depression, the university lost several graduate programs, and its progress was in jeopardy. Planning for expansive growth was likely not a priority. After the Second World War, however, enrollment surged, many graduate programs were restored or started, and the university embarked on an optimistic course of growth that continues to the present. Temporary buildings constructed after the war to support the resurgent population remained in use until the 1980s.

NC State’s first postwar physical master plan was created in 1958, the same year the university’s first modern long-range strategic plan was written. The physical master plan brought some coherence to a burgeoning campus. While it was meant to help the university achieve other strategic long-range goals, it did not become a formal part of the strategic planning process. Adherence to the master plan was desirable but not mandatory.
The 1958 plan divided academic from student activity into North and South Campuses, respectively. It established a central pedestrian area (University Plaza), suggested moving vehicular traffic to the campus’s periphery, and dispersed some new construction into all areas of a 600-acre campus.

In 1960 the university established the Campus Planning Office, which updated the 1958 plan. It defined a compact, high rise, pedestrian-scaled campus based on a ten-minute walking radius—all essential services were to be within a ten-minute walk from a central location. The plan for the university’s urban center was thus established.

When the Facilities Planning Division was established in 1963, it reemphasized several points of the 1958 plan, including zoning of the academic campus around D.H. Hill Library and focusing student activities on a new South Campus student center and gymnasium.

“Campus Environment and Planning System,” a 1968 in-house report, endorsed the compact campus center but also suggested some decentralization through dispersal of activities. This marked the emergence of the idea that the campus could be a group of neighborhoods. The university was growing into an academic town parallel to Raleigh’s growth into a mid-size city.
As the decentralization of some activities started, campus planners also began to set aside open spaces around which clusters of buildings could be grouped and around which pedestrian and vehicular traffic could be directed. That concept was formalized in 1975 when Campus Planning proposed in A Framework of Courtyards that the campus be viewed, and in the future be developed, as a system of interconnecting neighborhoods. Because of the university’s continued growth, decentralization had become a fact of life as the campus expanded beyond the compact core. The open space network emerged as a means of giving coherence and unity to the campus.

The 1978 Physical Master Plan reemphasized the importance of courtyards and connectors to campus design and, for planning purposes, divided the growing campus into a series of precincts, based on the integration of geography and land use.
In 1982, the system of interconnected courtyards, with accompanying strategies for traffic flow, was used in the siting of new buildings. Decentralization continued, with substantial infill. The concept of decentralization with interconnection was reemphasized in the 1983 “Space Inventory and Potential” report, which also focused heavily on the development of the university’s satellite areas as well as the main campus.

When in 1984 the university announced its intention to build Centennial Campus on the state’s gift of 625 acres from the Dorothea Dix property adjacent to the original campus, it created a unique planning opportunity. Centennial Campus, unlike the original campus, would have the benefit of a far-reaching master plan from the start.

The Centennial Campus Master Plan, approved by the Board of Trustees in 1987, and its accompanying Design Guidelines formalized principles that had emerged on the original campus. The new campus would be composed of “related villages, neighborhoods and courtyards—each a distinctive place whose character is defined by a diverse architecture that provides life and animation and is connected to the site’s natural landscape. The campus composition intends to be a fabric with emphasis on the spaces between the buildings rather than on individual buildings.”

By formalizing the concepts that had emerged organically from the development of the original campus, the Centennial Campus plan guidelines expressed the foundation of the current Physical Master Plan. Both call for the integration of institutional activities into mixed-use communities and for layers of campus networks to be built on “a continuous and imperative system of open space.” Those layers include:

The clusters, which subdivide the whole into human-scaled precincts, each with a potentially unique character

The courtyards, which are the basic campus building blocks and which are defined by buildings and are vitalized by activities and amenities

The contiguous open space network, which provides a pedestrian link among the campus courtyards and neighborhoods, creating campus unity and a connection to the land

The circulation system of roads, paths and connectors, which services the campus and uniquely treats some streets as vital urban spaces

In addition, the Oval at Centennial Campus, the pedestrian way leading from it to Lake Raleigh and the village core on the lake’s shore will become a large, perhaps grand element that likely will provide the entire campus with a single visual identity in the future.
Today the overall campus has a clear organizational pattern that, if recognized, nurtured and developed, will bring greater coherence and beauty to a campus that has become a city of neighborhoods.

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