Columbia University Landscape Master Plan

new york, ny

client: columbia university

As part of a larger development framework plan by Beyer Blinder Belle Architects, Thomas Balsley Associates was commissioned to prepare a landscape master plan for this important historical campus.

The work began with extensive historical research into the original McKim Mead & White plan and Olmsted writings as well as an assessment of current campus conditions and use patterns. When necessary, circulation has been improved, barren spaces softened, the new venues for contemporary academic social life have sprouted. Those icons of the original masterpiece work, its spatial organization, and its system of lawns, pathways, walls, stairs and distinctive herringbone brick paving have been preserved. The cherished open spaces, even some that were originally designated as building sites, have been preserved as well for the enjoyment of the students.

The harsh North and East Campus zones will be gradually transformed into softer landscape “quads” with shaded lawns and social spaces. This re-knitting of the campus landscape will be accomplished with a carefully-selected palette of materials for paving, walls, fences, stairs, hedges, balustrades and lighting. Lynden Miller perennial and annual garden displays have been added to the academic planting palette of trees, shrubs, hedges and ground covers.

These recommended interventions are in keeping with the campus historic character, yet are responsive to current and future needs. The final report provides a long-range vision for the campus environment and its streetscapes, as well as a design manual for all future site improvements and maintenance, some of which are underway.