campus map campus directory The University of Utah Home Page
Students    Future Students     Faculty & Staff     Alumni & Visitors

About Continuum Advertising Advisory Committee Archives Contact Us Continuum Home Faculty/Staff Subscribe

related websites

Alumni Association Marketing & Communications University of Utah Home


A Living, Dynamic Framework

By Kelley J. P. Lindberg

By 1899, in the United States, canned food had become common, and the Kellogg brothers had invented breakfast cereal. The recently completed nationwide railroad system had erased any designated frontier line, and Henry Ford had built his first car. The Indian Wars were over, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was going strong, Mark Twain was writing some of his final work, Thomas Edison had received a patent for his “motion picture machine camera,” and music boxes were wildly popular. And, in Salt Lake City, architect Richard Kletting was putting the finishing touches on the University of Utah’s first campus plan, drawing up designs for the first three buildings on what would later be named Presidents Circle.

Almost six decades later, in 1957, TV dinners were all the rage. Sputnik 1 was launched, construction of the federal interstate network was under way, television and Walt Disney Studios had replaced Buffalo Bill, the Beat Generation had supplanted Mark Twain, rock and roll blasted from vinyl records, and the Cold War was heating up. By that time, the University of Utah had grown so large that then-president A. Ray Olpin launched an ambitious building program to expand the campus. Over the next decade, the size of the campus quadrupled, 30 new buildings were constructed, and enrollment tripled—from 4,000 students to 12,000.

Today, our food often still travels thousands of miles to get to us in pre-cooked, heat-and-serve convenience packaging. But gasoline prices are pushing drivers away from the interstates and back onto trains, space is populated by satellites beaming entertainment directly to our televisions, our music is downloaded from the Internet, and the planet itself is heating up.

And this year, under the leadership and direction of President Michael Young, the University of Utah is again launching an ambitious campus master plan—this time not just to grow the campus, but also to make it more lively, more efficient, and more sustainable.

An architect’s rendering of how the new Universe Project might look.

After a century of expansion, the U of U has become a sprawling 1,500-acre campus, across which nearly 30,000 students, 2,500 faculty, and 14,000 staff make their way every day. The original buildings around Presidents Circle, beloved icons now, have been joined by nearly 300 additional buildings, stretching northeast to the Health Sciences campus (which includes world-renowned patient care, teaching, and research facilities), southeast to Fort Douglas, and, beyond that, to Research Park.

In the original plan, pastures were included for grazing cattle.

In the 1950s plan, the critical need was space, and at the time, there was still a lot of it in the foothills above the city.

In today’s plan, the needs are far more complex and intertwined. The University Facilities Planning Department and consulting planners, led by the San Francisco office of the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), faced the considerable challenge of making a campus with the acreage and population of a small city more compact and pedestrian-friendly, enticing to both students and the public, filled with state-of-the-art facilities, conducive to interdisciplinary interaction, and environmentally forward-thinking.

“A Living, Dynamic Framework”

The two-year collaboration of urban and campus planners and designers, building and landscape architects, engineers, community members, faculty, students, and staff culminated in a campus master plan that was approved by the State Board of Regents in September.

The campus master plan calls for the addition of at least 40 new buildings over the next two decades. Sixteen buildings are targeted for demolition, and many other existing buildings, some of which have been part of the U since just after World War II, face renovation or expansion. “We’re working to provide modern, high-tech facilities where students can learn and faculty can conduct research,” says Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs David Pershing.

But the challenge is not just adding 8.7 million square feet of space; rather, it’s adding space in a way that encourages a sense of community, reduces the school’s environmental impact, reflects the natural beauty of the local landscape, and still allows enough flexibility for future growth and unforeseen directions the U may take. The campus master plan itself states that it is “intended to be viewed as a living, dynamic framework for development in response to a wide range of factors.”

Part of the new campus master plan involves creating dense areas of related disciplines along malls or corridors with updated, expanded, or new buildings. Eventually the Science yard, the Engineering mall, and the HPER mall (major core campus areas for pedestrian travel) will cluster buildings around open, welcoming, park-like areas, encouraging a stronger sense of community and interaction.

As part of their research, planners investigated the campuses of Stanford, the University of Michigan, and the University of California, Berkeley, where, despite a large student population, sprawl has been kept to a minimum, resulting in a heightened sense of connectedness. “For the campus master plan, we studied other campuses that have a vibrant feel,” says Tami Cleveland BS’91 BS’96 MArch’98, a campus planner with the University of Utah’s Facilities Planning office. “With our large open spaces and bermed topography, you sometimes don’t even see anyone, and it doesn’t have that sense of vibrancy. We were looking for ways to enhance the social interaction that is central to the University’s mission.”

Then planners took a hard look at the infrastructure that is already in place at the U, to see how to maximize it and make it more efficient.

Over the years, buildings have been repurposed over and over again. Disciplines moved to new buildings as their needs changed, then overflowed into additional buildings as enrollment burgeoned. Today, students might find business classes in the engineering building or writing classes in the Annex. Collaboration with another department might involve a 20-minute shuttle ride and a long walk. Building locations seem haphazard, and sidewalks take meandering paths that lose new students and visitors alike.

Part of the new campus master plan involves creating dense areas of related disciplines along malls or corridors with updated, expanded, or new buildings. Eventually the Science yard, the Engineering mall, and the HPER mall (major core campus areas for pedestrian travel) will cluster buildings around open, welcoming, park-like areas, encouraging a stronger sense of community and interaction.

A new interdisciplinary corridor will create a pedestrian link between a rebuilt and realigned Health Sciences campus and the colleges of Engineering and Science, with a planned four-building complex situated between them that will provide a University base for USTAR—the state-funded Utah Science Technology and Research initiative that invests in cutting-edge science, innovation, and eventual commercialization of new technologies.

“In the context of the campus master plan, the interdisciplinary corridor is considered a transformative project,” says Cleveland, “meaning that the project is considered to be central to achieving the established vision for the campus.” Pershing agrees, citing the USTAR buildings as a key element of the interdisciplinary work that will take place among the various colleges and schools along that corridor, “providing a major long-term new research space.”

The Health Sciences campus itself will undergo a significant redesign. A patient care corridor will run from east to west, an academic corridor will stretch to the south, and the research corridor will run parallel to and east of the academic corridor. The parking garage will be moved, a new School of Medicine will be built in its place and on land just north, and the old building torn down, with an open park-like space created in its place. Additional changes will make the entire area easier to navigate and more efficient for patients, researchers, students, and faculty.

Senior Vice President A. Lorris Betz says a significant benefit of the changes outlined for the Health Sciences campus will be the opportunity to provide “the most modern, up-to-date facilities for our faculty to do research, which will help us retain and recruit faculty in a highly competitive field.”

Research Park will also undergo changes, again with an eye toward bolstering collaboration and innovation.

“A Magnet for Student, Faculty, Staff and Public Life”

College life is more than an endless round of classes, exams, and papers. But on a so-called commuter campus, it’s sometimes hard to remember that. So a major planning principle charged the committee with turning the U into “a lively campus; a magnet for student, faculty, staff and public life.”

The new Student Life Center will be one cornerstone of that effort. And—sad as it may be for many—the University of Utah golf course will give way to the interdisciplinary corridor. But the Student Life Center will go a long way toward mitigating that pain. With its acres of playing fields, tracks, and recreation and fitness facilities, as well as a wellness center and student lounges, the center will become the heart of life-after-class activity for campus residents and nonresidents alike. The Student Life Center and its recreation areas are a key element of “the whole idea of making the campus more livable, and providing spaces to encourage students and faculty to spend more time on campus,” says Pershing.

Situated at the east end of the HPER mall, the Student Life Center will be close to the Fort Douglas TRAX station and a new complex of student apartments, which will be erected where the Annex buildings (those “temporary” structures built by the Army in 1947) sit now.

Another cornerstone in the effort to attract the public to campus is the Universe Project. In this predevelopment phase, planners are exploring the potential of constructing a mixed-use housing and retail project in the southwest corner of the U’s campus, on the western portion of the current stadium parking lot. Ground-floor retail and dining establishments, courtyard gardens, below-ground parking, and housing for faculty or the public would all be included.

“The concept [of the Universe Project] originated from a College of Architecture and Planning student project and is in harmony with the established campus ’vision,’ ” says Cleveland. “This project will create a vibrant campus gateway at the stadium transit node to strengthen the campus’s sense of place.”

“Leaders in Environmental Stewardship”

One of the biggest and most visible issues planners targeted is transportation. With concerns about both the environment and the long-term viability of thousands of individual cars coming to campus, turning the U into a walking- and bicycling-friendly campus is a priority. And that means making modifications to an infrastructure developed at a time when the automobile was king.

Changes will include making better use of the four TRAX stations that already service campus. Currently, those stations are surrounded by asphalt and concrete. In the new plan, as buildings move and functions coalesce into better-defined areas, pedestrian and bicycle paths will link TRAX stations to campus centers more efficiently.

The Stadium TRAX station will serve the Universe Project and the southwest corner of campus. The South Campus station will serve a mixed-use area, including retail stores, offices, and classrooms. The Fort Douglas station will drop students in the heart of the housing and Student Life Center complex. And the University Medical Center station will take riders directly to clinical and patient care areas.

Parking lots will give way to parking garages, which will retain parking stalls but use less land. Roads around and through campus will be moved and realigned to allow for new buildings. The campus shuttle service will be revamped, taking advantage of the newly realigned roads to make more frequent and shorter circuits through campus. Pedestrian and bicycle paths will be planned to emphasize and encourage a walking and biking community.

Building in Phases

The campus master plan will be developed in phases. Recent construction projects include:

  • Wilford W. and Dorothy P. Goodwill Humanitarian Building (dedicated in September)
  • Carolyn Tanner Irish Humanities Building (dedicated in October)
  • Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre (opened in July)

Current construction projects or those slated to begin soon:

  • J. Willard Marriott Library renovation (majority finished October 2008, remainder expected to be complete mid-2009)
  • Frederick Albert Sutton Building (to be dedicated in early 2009)
  • The University Hospital expansion
  • Utah Museum of Natural History at the Rio Tinto Center

Projects currently under development:

  • College of Nursing Building renovation and addition
  • College of Health
  • Red Butte Garden Rose House
  • USTAR Building 1 - The James LeVoy Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building

Projects on the University’s Capital Development list for approval from the Board of Trustees, the Board of Regents, the State Building Board, and the State Legislature include:

  • David Eccles School of Business renovation and expansion
  • Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts and Education Complex
  • Ambulatory Care Complex
  • EMRL/Meldrum Civil Engineering Building
  • Universe Project
  • L. S. Skaggs Pharmacy Research Building
Additional projects are described in the campus master plan but are not formally outlined and are subject to additional funding.

In addition to addressing transportation issues, the U of the future will take an active role in environmental stewardship. Water management will be an integral function of new development, with runoff and waste water being captured, filtered, and used as irrigation or to replenish the existing aquifers. Drought-tolerant landscaping will be emphasized, with bioswales (landscape elements that remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water), microclimates, and habitats filling the campus with green views. Alternative energy sources and more effective energy management strategies, such as installing “green” roofs and using architectural features that allow for natural lighting, will be a factor in new plans. Even light pollution will be considered.

And despite all the new buildings, open areas and permeable surfaces will be maintained to enhance the U’s community feel as well as to take advantage of the unique natural beauty in which the campus resides. “One of the things I like about this plan,” says Betz, “is that it’s a nice combination of some increase in density, while at the same time adding more significant green space to the campus.”

“Support the University’s Mission for Teaching, Research and Public Life”

Implementing the campus master plan is essential for the ensured growth and revitalization of the U, but it will be an expensive endeavor. Although funding will come from many sources, the greater part of the funds for the building projects will be raised as part of Together We Reach: The Campaign for the University of Utah. The campaign’s five objectives—“Engaging Our Students, Elevating Our Research, Expanding Our Global Outreach, Enhancing Our Learning Environment, Enriching Our Community”—mirror the same goals of the campus master plan. “The campus master plan is part of a larger vision for the University, and the Together We Reach campaign will help the U realize that larger vision; they are two parts of the same whole,” explains Fred C. Esplin MA’74 MS’74, vice president for Institutional Advancement. “Because private support is so critical to our success, our ability to do a better job preparing our students for their life’s work, expanding the boundaries of knowledge through research, and serving the community, the state, and the nation, is largely dependent on the continued generosity of our alumni and friends.”

As the new campus master plan unfolds over the next two decades, planners hope the University of Utah experience for students, faculty, staff, and the public will become even more welcoming, more interconnected, and more accessible. They envision a more attractive, sustainable campus, with state-of-the-art facilities that will foster nothing less than the most advanced research, innovation, and learning environments possible.

“When you come to campus,” says Cleveland, “new buildings should inspire. The campus itself should be a teaching device of how society at large should grow and change.” What’s more, she says, with the new campus master plan as a trail map, the University of Utah campus can, and will, “celebrate this role.”

—Kelley J. P. Lindberg BS’84 is a Layton-based freelance writer.

For more information on the campus master plan, go to

Return to Winter 2008-09 table of contents | Back to top