Volume 17 • Issue 2

Facilities Master Plan: Building on the Past and Planning for the Future

— Bob Mathis, Assoc. Vice President for Facilities and Campus Services
Southwestern @ Georgetown
Rendering by Group Two Architecture in association with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

Southwestern University’s most recent facilities master plan is guided by four tenets:

  • Build on past master plans.
  • Preserve the history and traditions embodied in Southwestern’s buildings and land.
  • Develop initiatives for the future.
  • Address the impact of local and regional planning issues.

The classic representation of a campus facilities master plan is a drawing, colorfully rendered, with buildings strategically placed and spaces defined. Southwestern’s archives are filled with such drawings dating back to the early 20th century. Technology has created new methods for display, reproduction and archiving, but the history of developing plans that focus on Southwestern’s roots and mission is very much an integral part of the newest facilities master plan.

The first three buildings on the “new campus,” the Ladies’ Annex (1888), the Cullen Building (1900) and Mood Hall (1908), were constructed individually without an overall plan other than men’s classes and residences would be on the west side of the campus and equivalent women’s facilities would be on the east side. The first true facilities master plan was developed in 1914. It shows six buildings, the three existing buildings and three proposed buildings, all in a rough semi-circle, though the entire campus was still platted in square blocks. The design incorporated a “large front yard,” a concept uncompromised over the years.

Another campus design in 1933 by Hare & Hare shows an elaboration of the 1914 plan. A u-shaped roadway with the chapel at the apex appears fully developed, though it was not implemented until 1955. The Skidmore, Owings & Merrill design of 1982 influenced the current campus in its formation. Its guiding principal was to create a clear focus for the campus at the heart of the University by turning the roadway into a pedestrian walkway and by bringing the principal student activities from the periphery to the center. A principal feature of all these plans has been to move Southwestern toward its goal of providing a largely residential campus.

Some ideas in earlier plans never materialized, perhaps rightly so. Nevertheless, some deserve to be revisited. Among the most notable, depicted in a 1969 sketch, were outdoor, informal teaching areas near Mood and Fondren-Jones—in the very spot faculty often hold classes today. Southwestern’s new master plan recalls the idea of informal outdoor spaces for both residential and academic use.

The plan also reinforces the role of the Cullen Building as a destination and historical center for the campus, while maintaining its blend of offices and classrooms. Mood-Bridwell will undergo a similar renovation, with a focus on preserving the distinctive appeal of the offices, hallways and atrium.

Beyond preservation of buildings, the recent addition of land holdings provides almost one mile of eastern frontage along the San Gabriel River as a buffer against development and establishes an environmental/research zone for students in biology, chemistry and environmental studies.

While an historical perspective provided much guidance for the University’s newest master plan, the future of Southwestern’s physical campus also was shaped by the Strategic Plan for 2010 and the vigorous population growth in central Texas. Safety along Maple Street for students, staff, faculty and visitors, for example, became an important issue as traffic counts rose and the city made plans to connect Maple Street to San Gabriel Park and Inner Loop. Working with Georgetown over the past year, the University and city officials have agreed to a joint plan that relocates Maple Street to the west, pushing thru traffic off campus and maintaining its pedestrian-friendly nature.

Driven by the Strategic Plan, designs are in place for the Academic Mall’s lone remaining build site. The Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Center for Lifelong Learning will accommodate centralization of student services and house the Paideia® Program. The facility will include space for Information Technology Services, faculty offices and will be Southwestern’s first facility to meet “green building,” or environmentally sustainable, design guidelines.

Southwestern continues to follow the logic of the facilities plans of 1914, 1933, and 1982, a logic that inspired previous generations to construct what is today one of the most beautiful residential campuses in the nation.