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Cultivating a Working Landscape

Established in 1856 as the East Alabama Male College, the school now known as Auburn University has been deeply engaged in the land of Alabama throughout its history.  Auburn became the first land-grant college in the South in 1872 under the Morrill Act and was charged to: “without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts.” (Morrill Act of 1862, sec 4.)  The Hatch Act of 1887 and the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 later established agricultural experiment stations and the cooperative extension service respectively, which set in motion the institutional relationship we see today between on-campus instruction, research, and off-campus extension. 

In a Spring Studio led by David Hill, the second year graduate landscape architecture students explored how this rich tradition between Auburn University’s mission and the physical landscape could potentially inform a new Landscape Masterplan for the Campus.  The students spent the first four weeks of the semester deeply entrenched in historic research and in various meetings with Auburn’s Office of Campus Planning & Space Management.  The University was in the process of commissioning a professional Study of the Landscape Masterplan and graciously invited the landscape students to observe the process. 

Gallery of Historical Images

After trolling through the bowels of the library, the students were able to collect more than 600 historic photographs of the Campus.  Much has been written about how the individual buildings evolved on campus, but very little was recorded about how the land was used through the years.  The historic photographs demonstrated how the physical landscape was deeply intertwined with the mission and objectives of the university.  Active research was explored directly between the buildings of the campus.  Orchards, horticulture plots, and crops dominated the heart of the campus.  In recent years, much of the active research has been relegated further afield to more distant lands, and the land within the main campus has been modeled after a park.  The students explored how the landscape could be altered to demonstrate the mission, values, and complex interests of the University by integrating the ongoing innovative research back into the heart of the campus. 

The students’ work revealed that the campus is an active, complex landscape, where many diverse activities occur.  They each grappled with this complexity by designing hybridized landscapes where innovative research, outdoor classrooms, ecologic restoration, and extracurricular events could occur in the heart of campus within close proximity to one another.  The students investigated how each layer of this landscape could inform and enrich the next, continually demonstrating the values and mission that is Auburn University.

Along with the collection of historic photographs unearthed in the process, the students’ work is being compiled into a book and will be shared with Auburn’s Office of Campus Planning & Space Management.

Gallery of Images of Student work