Sunday, July 28, 2013

Zen North

Zen North rendering by Cameron McCarthy Landscape Architecture & Planning
The University of Oregon football program is currently one of the hottest brands in college athletics. As I reported back in February, the Ducks’ popularity and success has been fueled by the generosity of Nike founder and uber-alumnus Phil Knight. He’s increasingly directed his largesse toward ensuring Oregon stands apart from the crowd and is second to none when it comes to football facilities. 

As a long-time fan who followed the Ducks when times were fallow, I sometimes pinch myself and wonder when I’ll wake up from what seems like a fantastic dream. As it turns out, not anytime soon: besides the new Football Operations Center, another of Knight’s investments in physical improvements for the program—the $5 million Autzen Stadium North Berm project— is quickly taking shape. 

“Zen North” is the brainchild of Nike designer and UO Department of Architecture graduate Tinker Hatfield and Cameron McCarthy, a Eugene-based landscape architecture and planning firm. According to, the primary goal of the project is to improve the game-day experience for Autzen northsiders (like me): 

“The improvements to the berm and walkways on the north side of Autzen will be constructed in a manner that will provide better access and safety for fans entering and exiting the stadium. The existing pedestrian ramps, which were built with the original stadium, will be removed and the berm will be reshaped to provide pathways that are universally accessible . . . 

“ . . .In addition to the circulation improvements, the entire north side will incorporate enhanced landscapes and spectator amenities, providing a sharp new look for fans and passers-by on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. The inspiration for these features is a "Pacific Northwest" landscape. Most of the plant material used will be native to the region, comprised of large conifer trees, ferns, Oregon grape, vine maples and native groundcovers. Spectator gathering and resting places along the pathways will be incorporated into these landscapes. These waysides include seating and drinking fountains while offering exceptional views of the Autzen complex, the Willamette Valley and the surrounding foothills of both the Cascade and Coastal mountain ranges.” 

I visited Autzen Stadium yesterday to see how Zen North is coming along. There’s plenty left to be done before the first kickoff of the 2013 season on August 31; regardless, it’s clear the project will further distinguish Oregon from its wannabe rivals. A raucous Autzen lavishly adorned with waterfalls, basalt outcroppings, and a dense forest on its shady north slope ups the ante and solidifies the Ducks’ reputation for out-of-the-box thinking.(1) 

New stairs, cascading waterfall, and trees at the east end adjacent to the Stadium Club (all photos by me)
New ramps and trees in place

New stairs and retaining walls in progress on the north side

Besides the new amenities, what intrigues me most about the project is what it may signal for Autzen’s future. I suspect that if and when the seating capacity on the stadium’s north side is increased, it will not necessarily mirror the south side as many have predicted since its 2002 expansion. Instead, the Zen North project suggests Phil Knight and Tinker Hatfield have something else in mind, something that will undoubtedly surprise us all. Ultimately, I expect Knight’s legacy will culminate in an Autzen complex shaped entirely by his vision.

Bonus shots of the Oregon football facilities:

The new Football Operations Center viewed from Martin Luther King Boulevard
Another shot of the Football Operations Center from within the south courtyard
The Moshofsky Center (indoor practice facility) in its new garb

(1) The faux landscape does tread perilously close to Disney-like Imagineering. Is the incorporation of a Matterhorn coaster ride in the works?  


Anonymous said...

Hi Randy,
I'm trying to figure out what kind of trees line the grounds of zen north at Autzen. They are leafy and grow in a nice shape. Can you let me know?


Randy Nishimura, AIA, CSI, CCS said...

I'm not sure what species of trees were used for Zen North. They are native varieties. Your best bet may be to contact the designers, Cameron McCarthy Landscape Architecture & Planning. Their website has some very nice photos, and you'll find contact information there too:

Larry Gilbert was the principal-in-charge for Cameron McCarthy for the Zen North project.


Anonymous said...

The new stairway and waterfall and trees are beautiful! Why are the stairs taped off/closed after the games? Masses are still crowding into the small cement stairway.