Wallace Roberts & Todd on Winning Design Team for Rutgers Campus
Sustainability Theme Emerges from Top Entries
When Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, realized it was time to improve the campus experience and add a new academic building, a careful search was initiated. After 240 years in existence, making it the eighth oldest institute of higher learning in the U.S., Rutgers wanted as much of a century-long look into the future as it did a plan.
Facing the river and proposed academic building designed by Enrique Norten.
The university seems to have made careful decisions throughout its past—a number of historical buildings remain. Dated designs common on most college campuses have not infiltrated as well here. Nonetheless, there is a clear need for revitalized space and structure on the New Brunswick campus.
Ignacio Bunster-Ossa, ASLA
“Ultimately, Rutgers needed a kind of icon to go from here on out and it had to do with sustainability,” said Ignacio Bunster-Ossa, ASLA, principal at the Philadelphia-based Wallace Roberts & Todd, recipient of the ASLA’s 2004 Landscape Architecture Firm Award. The firm, which includes landscape architects as well as planners, urban designers, and architects, joined Mexico City-based TEN Arquitectos in a proposal to redesign the campus.
The competition was comprised exclusively of headliner teams of architecture firms paired with landscape architecture firms, including Beyer Blinder Belle and Ateliers Jean Nouvel with Oehme, van Sweden; Antoine Predock Architect with Olin Partnership; Eisenman with Field Operations; and Thom Mayne with Hargreaves Associates.
A view of the Raritan river and redesigned Rutgers campus.
Bunster-Ossa said that when the request for proposals for the Rutgers project went out, WRT called Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos to team up. He notes that Norten’s design of the academic building was the hub of the entry.
“I’m a people person,” said Norten of the partnership who said he enjoys working with Bunster-Ossa. “It’s really about Ignacio,” he said of the decision.
Rutgers President Richard McCormick said the teams “took five different approaches and suggested some novel and creative ways to look at the campus.”
The approach taken by Norten and Bunster-Ossa integrates sustainability features, including a double skin for the main academic building, an improved water management system, better integration of mass transit, and the use of new energy.
Bunster-Ossa said proposed details of the water management system include fountains to take gray water from the building and then return for reuse. Wind turbines placed along the river would create electricity.
A light touch with the wrecking ball is another aspect of the sustainability theme. “We looked at trying not to expend unnecessary energy by using some of the old buildings,” Bunster-Ossa said.
The team envisions a major pedestrian street atop a space for cafeterias and recreation, running up to an undulating landscape along the banks of the Raritan River. Norten referred to the river as a focal point of the project, “where the students, the faculty, and everyone can have recreation and enjoy the space.”
The design also includes traffic being rerouted, allowing only buses in the tree-lined pedestrian walk. Prior to the Rutgers project, Bunster-Ossa said he gained valuable experience in San Diego, doing design work for the University of California system. “I got a good sense of for the politics involved and what’s good for students,” he said. WRT has designed master plans for campuses including the Georgia Institute of Technology and San Jose State University. “We were ready to handle student life.”
The plaza design, one of the first segments to be realized in the long-term plan.
But the design process has not been one-sided. Bunster-Ossa was impressed with how well the university gathered feedback from the Rutgers’ community throughout the planning process by hosting a number of public discussions with experts and design teams.
The first phase of the long-term initiative involves the transformation of College Avenue, a city-owned street, “into a more welcoming, pedestrian-friendly space,” a Rutgers spokesperson said.
The streetscaping design process is expected to reach a formal planning stage beginning this month, but details have yet to be settled. Bunster-Ossa said that he will attempt to have solar-powered street lamps approved for the project. “We always keep trying,” he said, noting that the feature has come close to passing in other projects, but never quite makes it.
The use of native New Jersey plants is also being considered for the project.
With many details to work out and a long planning process to endure, Bunster-Ossa said he takes comfort in the fact that TEN Arquitectos always comes to the table prepared.
“They tend to examine things at great depth and from that create a response,” he said. “It’s not back of the napkin stuff.”
Other team members on the project include New York-based firm Pasanella + Klein Stolzman + Berg for historic preservation; Arup, also based in New York and specializing in engineering and sustainable design; and New Jersey-based Green Shield Ecology for landscape restoration.
Paul Burkhardt is the guest editor for this issue of LAND Online and may be reached at email@example.com.