Sept. 22, 2011Vol. 42, Issue 1

Our Campus, Our Place

The conversion of First Street from a state highway to a pedestrian promenade has progressed east from Warner to Chestnut, including the redesigns of Trinity Commons and the Chestnut Street entrance to the historic core of the campus. Behind Kendall Hall, the renovated path from Selvester’s past Glenn Hall makes access to Colusa Hall and the Creekside Plaza fully ADA compliant and adds to the safety and appeal of this east-west artery. Across the creek, Alumni Glen is nearly complete with the placement of the “flame” sculpture in a prominent location overlooking the area. Further, we were informed over the summer that Sutter Hall earned Gold status as a LEED-certified building, joining the WREC and the Gateway Science Museum with this coveted distinction.

There is a practical dimension to this work, including the replacement of steam and sewer lines more than half a century old, infrastructure preparation and support for the office and parking complex that is being built on Second Street and the arts and humanities building which will replace Taylor Hall, various improvements mandated by ADA requirements and honoring our sustainability commitments. But more than why these projects have been undertaken is the matter of how they are being approached. And on this important issue, so critical to the character and story of our campus, we have relied upon and stayed true to two visionary interpretations of our environment.

The first of these is William H. “Old Hutch” Hutchinson’s lovely history of the early decades of our campus in his aptly titled book, A Precious Sense of Place. Drawing upon his own fascination with “the many local geographies that have been and remain an essential part” of his life, Old Hutch’s account reveals that the University has been deeply informed from the beginning by a respect for the natural environment and a proud, but not arrogant, sense of exceptionalism regarding its mission as the second oldest campus in the California State University system. Our “sense of place” encompasses both our role in the North State and California higher education and also our location in a college town, bordered by historic neighborhoods and a vibrant downtown, and committed to a traditional, residential identity.

The second guiding document is our 2004 master plan. Prominent among its goals are those that address our campus environment and its manifestation of institutional values. These include recognizing open space as an organizational rubric for the campus; promoting a strong expression of landscape, including a wide variety of trees and other flora appropriate to our region; promoting a walkable and social campus; preserving the natural characteristics of Big Chico Creek and their visual enjoyment; emphasizing facilities and grounds that are part of a recognizable “family” of structures, hardscapes, and other environmental features; promoting pedestrian and bicycle modes of movement to and through the campus; and emphasizing a seamless flow of pedestrian traffic between the University and the downtown area, even as we provide a sense of arrival to the campus. 

It is remarkable how Old Hutch’s affirmation of a sense of place and our master plan’s dedication to it grace the design of our campus. For we find in the physical properties of our campus evidence that a vision can be both compelling and practicable. We are not the only campus to accomplish this, of course. Frederick Law Olmstead, whom I acknowledged in my opening convocation address, did this often for colleges and universities across the country, including Stanford and Berkeley in California. But, I believe, we are among the best which have done so, and the integration of vision and practice in the design and harmony of our campus is an achievement that is as pleasing to behold as it is worthwhile to contemplate.

As we admire our campus, it is appropriate to ask how well its features convey our values, and how effectively it signals our expectations for visitors to, and members of, this community. Yes, banners and signage, bridges and public art are part of the landscape, too, and part of the intentional way in which our story is told. They are there to honor and complement the story, further reminders of the promise within the surrounding landscape and the goodness of the people and ideas it embraces.

As you enjoy our campus, please take time to thank those among us whose particular responsibility is its care and appearance. Go out of your way to thank a groundskeeper, or a custodian, or a carpenter or electrician or painter or mason, for the beautiful place which is the consequence of their work and affection for our university. And take time to smell the roses, too.

Paul J. Zingg

President

September 5, 2011