The Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact (all rendering views provided by the University of Oregon)
The University of Oregon unveiled the design this past Friday for the $225 million, 160,000-square-foot first phase of what will become the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. In the university’s own words, the Knight Campus “will work to reshape the state’s public higher education landscape by training new generations of scientists, engaging in new interdisciplinary research, forging tighter ties with industry and entrepreneurs, and creating new educational opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students.” It will also dramatically reshape the stretch of Franklin Boulevard it will front and herald the future transformation of the university’s presence along that heavily-traveled corridor.
If the design by the team of Ennead Architects of New York and Bora Architects of Portland is at all a harbinger, we can look forward to a bolder, forward-looking, and less self-effacing crop of academic buildings at the University of Oregon. There will be no mistaking Ennead/Bora’s design for one dating from a much earlier time in the campus’ history. The design as rendered clearly reflects a desire to project a cutting-edge image, which the university undoubtedly views as essential to attracting world-class scientists to Eugene. Though it will appear novel and modern, it is a product of the UO’s longstanding interdisciplinary tradition and its commitment to user involvement in the design process. Notably, the scheme is also entirely consistent with the North Campus Area design recommendations as outlined by the Campus Physical Framework Vision.
The university’s Campus Physical Framework Vision document, prepared over a 14-month period spanning from 2014 to 2016, describes a comprehensive physical structure for the campus. It provides specificity to inform decisions to accommodate growth and change. The university does not intend for the Framework Vision to replace the Campus Plan (the Plan’s most recent edition dates to 2014) but rather looks to the Vision to provide recommendations for updates to it. These updates will be subject to the standard amendment process as detailed in the Campus Plan.
View from the north
The Framework Vision imagines creating a cohesive campus as the university expands north of Franklin Boulevard. This vision is consistent with how the overall campus is organized as a system of quadrangles, malls, pathways, and other open spaces and their landscapes. Think of how key those open spaces, the heritage trees, the memorable paths and edges, and the spaces shaped by the buildings are to our image of the University of Oregon campus. The open-space framework is central to the university’s physical character and identity. The Knight Campus is intended to build upon this framework by extending it across Franklin Boulevard.
Aside from the preservation and extension of the university’s open-space framework, the Framework Vision does imply significant deviations from the long-established Campus Plan, including the plan’s fundamental premise that development of the campus should be a process rather than a fixed-image map. The Framework Vision is in many ways exactly that, prescribing where and how development should occur. I don’t know enough about how the university reconciles the underlying principles of the Campus Plan with the findings of the Framework Vision project, so perhaps the Vision and any consequent updates to the Plan will continue to preserve the university’s dedication to all six of the basic principles first enumerated during the 1970s by The Oregon Experiment:
- Organic Order
- Incremental Growth
Architectural Style: Make the design of new buildings compatible and harmonious with the design of adjacent buildings (on and off campus) though they need not (and in some cases should not) mimic them.
We should give the university a pass on this one because the Knight Campus is expressly intended to present a rebranding of sorts, and the North Design Area is set apart from the historical center of the University of Oregon campus. It is less critical the Knight Campus be responsive to the character and vocabulary of historic UO buildings (i.e. the composition of the facades and the extensive use of brick during the Ellis Lawrence era). It is important that it emphasize high quality, human scale, and careful detailing. Time will eventually tell if the design becomes as treasured as many of the older campus buildings are today.
Existing Uses/Replacement: All plans for new development shall keep existing uses intact by developing plans and identifying funding for their replacement.
The Knight Campus will displace several private businesses, among them Evergreen Indian Cuisine, one of my favorite places for an enjoyable lunch. I trust the university is fairly treating those affected by the proposed development and providing them with all necessary assistance (especially the Shaik family, owners of Evergreen, for whom the news of the Knight Campus came as a complete shock after signing a 5-year lease with the UO foundation and completing a $100,000 remodel just before the 2016 announcement of the Knight’s largesse). The new project may also have lasting impacts upon the Urban Farm, located immediately north of the project site, across the Millrace. Will the new buildings damagingly shade the garden?
Operable Windows: In the absence of compelling reasons to the contrary, all exterior windows of university buildings must be able to be opened wholly or in part.
Relying solely upon the published renderings, it doesn’t appear the exterior windows are intended to be operable, at least by individual users. Many laboratory functions require precise control of temperatures, humidity, and contaminants, but the labs can be isolated from less-demanding building areas. I would not be surprised at all to learn some windows will open and close as part of an automated natural ventilation scheme.
Another pattern, Arcades, also appears to be absent from the Knight Campus design. Wherever possible to implement, this pattern mandates the creation of arcades along the sides of buildings to provide a semi-covered system of paths throughout the campus. It’s not clear why Ennead/Bora appears to have given short shrift to this pattern.
View of the proposed bridge crossing Franklin Boulevard
What other thoughts do I have about the proposed design? It’s risky at best to speculate about how it will turn out and the architects’ intentions in the absence of more information (for example, I haven’t seen detailed plan drawings); however, I do find the way the bridge connects the proposed buildings to the existing Lewis Integrated Sciences Building (LISB) across Franklin Boulevard to be under-developed; the dramatic bridge slams unceremoniously into the side of the Knight Campus building without articulation. I also think the design has an overly diagrammatic quality about it, appearing to be an almost direct translation of the Campus Physical Framework Vision’s prescription for the site; that being said, it appears it will be welcomingly transparent and visually active.
Ultimately, the design of the Knight Campus is more than just about its architecture. As the promotional literature says, it is a blueprint for transforming the university, so that it becomes a “regional hub of discovery.” Along with the key aspects of the Campus Physical Framework Vision that may be assimilated within the existing Campus Plan, the Knight Campus points toward an optimistic future for the University of Oregon, a future in which it is increasingly relevant on the local, national, and world levels. Beyond being part of the Knight’s significant endowment, it will also establish a precedent for how the overall campus will continue to grow and mature, which may prove to be its greatest legacy as a project.