Room to grow

Master plan to integrate Medford/Somerville campus

There is room for Tufts to build new facilities on the Medford/Somerville campus well into the future, according to the architectural firm that is developing the university’s first master plan in almost two decades.

The architects call the academic quad part of the “sacred ground” of campus because, in many respects, it defines the early history of Tufts.

“The good news is that what had been perceived as a land-locked campus actually [has] quite a few opportune building sites,” said Doug Johnson of Boston-based William Rawn Associates (WRA).

The assessment of potential building sites was included in an interim report on the master plan that was presented at the September 15 meeting of the Arts, Sciences and Engineering faculty. The evaluation process, which began last spring, is in the initial stages, and input is still being gathered from Tufts faculty, staff, students and alumni as well as from the university’s host communities, Medford and Somerville.

“William Rawn Associates has excellent experience in developing visionary master plans for colleges and universities,” Tufts President Lawrence S. Bacow said in an interview. He said he is confident that the work will produce “a vibrant blending of landscape and architectural concepts that support the integration of great teaching and great research on a unified campus.” The firm’s recent projects include an overall campus master plan and architectural design of the West Campus Residential District at Northeastern University and the master plan and design for a new headquarters and studio campus for Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks production company in Los Angeles.

The Tufts master plan will provide guidelines for university growth and development on the Medford/Somerville campus, but will not, in general, pinpoint specific uses for individual sites. “A campus master plan has to allow for phased growth,” Johnson said. And, he stressed, “it can’t be so rigid in its implementation” that it doesn’t allow for changing circumstances.

Visionary and pragmatic
After consulting with students, faculty and staff last semester, WRA developed what Johnson called a “visionary plan,” which incorporates five elements, and a “pragmatic plan” that includes seven tasks—such as gathering statistics and assessing infrastructure—for the planners to tackle.

The elements of the visionary plan are: defining the visionary goals of the university; developing physical planning initiatives; identifying the essential character of the campus and “patterns of place”; recommending potential building sites; and investigating broader campus planning issues, such as the landscape and connections between the university and the surrounding communities.

According to Johnson, future design and development decisions can help further the university’s overarching goals of enhancing the intellectual community on campus, increasing interdisciplinary connections and promoting research. Along with this is a need to “direct the evolution of the campus through an understanding of its organization and ‘patterns of place.’ ”

The term “patterns of place relates to a deeper understanding of Tufts as a campus,” Johnson said. For example, WRA has identified six zones that now act as “centers of gravity” on campus—places where people gather for specific activities and in transit through the campus. These include the Mayer Campus Center and Dewick-MacPhie Dining Hall; the Tisch Library, including the library steps that lead up and down the Hill; the academic quad; the residential quad; the intersection of College and Boston avenues, including Memorial Steps and Curtis Hall; and the athletics complex.

‘Sacred ground’
In addition, the architects noted three campus spaces—the academic quad, the lawn behind Gifford House (the president’s residence) and the residential quad—that are “universally seen as defining the university’s early history,” Johnson said. “These spaces are not desirable for new construction or improvement. They are the ‘sacred ground’ of the campus.”

Although the master plan will not suggest specific uses for an open parcel, both Johnson and Bacow said that the area immediately east of Dowling Hall is being considered as a potential site for a new integrated research laboratory facility. The development of an integrated lab building is among the top priorities in the “physical planning initiatives” section of the architect’s report.

Future planning will take into account the proposed construction of two new buildings along Talbot Avenue—the new music building and a dormitory, Sophia Gordon Hall. These projects will enhance the role of Talbot Avenue and Professors Row as “connectors” between the uphill and downhill sections of campus and help establish a new “center of gravity,” Johnson said.

WRA will present its interim report to the university’s Board of Trustees in early November. The trustees will be asked for final approval once the plan is completed sometime next year.