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Open spaces on a campus are often the physical core around which the university is built. At Carolina, McCorkle and Polk places are the psychological center of campus. They are places of interaction, study and recreation. Connected open spaces create clear and easy-to-remember navigation around the campus. Hierarchy across campus is created; a perceivable fabric of buildings and space is woven.

The physical nature of the open space largely determines the activities that occur there. A paved courtyard dictates certain uses, while a path through the woods dictates very different uses. A variety of types of open spaces makes the campus experience more stimulating and memorable. The Chapel Hill grounds have such a variety, from the moderately scaled hardscape of the Pit, to the pristine lawn of Polk Place, to the sweeping openness of McCorkle Place, to the controlled nature of the arboretum and, finally, to the old growth forest of the Pinetum. Each of these types is an appropriate model for newly formed spaces of the future.

The further development of open space should reflect the simple geometric rhythms and overall organization of the campus. The natural environment should also generate form. Natural amenities such as woodlands, steep slopes and streambeds should not only be preserved but highlighted. Hiking and biking trails should be encouraged. Areas of moderate density may have a park-like feel. Areas more suitable for higher densities of buildings should have more formally defined spaces.

Regardless of the type of open space, the primary palette of grass with large hardwood shade trees, simply organized brick walks and low stone walls should be extended throughout the campus. Uncharacteristic forms such as berms, curving walks and ornamental plantings should be avoided.

Proposed Open Space, UNC-Chapel Hill
Polk Place and Surroundings, UNC-Chapel Hill
  • Tree-lined, well-defined, rectangular spaces
  • Symbolic core of campus
  • Social gathering place
  • Passive recreational activities
  • Classical
  • Relatively flat or controlled topography
  • Well-defined exterior spaces similar to interior rooms

In the diagrams below, a prototypical room is juxtaposed with a typical university quadrangle of similar proportions. Similarities are evident: walls of a room and buildings around the quad; windows and the space between buildings; a door and an entry court; a fireplace and a prominent building. In both the room and the quadrangle, each element plays a part in the greater compositional whole. The interdependency of specialized parts creates a hierarchy that gives focus and meaning to the composition.

It is important to note the difference between background buildings and heroic buildings. Background buildings should work together to form spaces that set up axial connections between open space and a hero building or between hero buildings. Heroic buildings should be placed in positions of honor within the Master Plan.

Having too many heroic buildings without their background counterparts makes them less heroic. Background buildings without a heroic building may lack a focus. Heroic buildings should be limited to those building types which embody and relate the most universal and lofty aspirations of the institution (for examples, churches, libraries and places of assembly).

Prototypical Quadrangle
Prototypical Room
Aerial of Polk Place, UNC-Chapel Hill
Proposed Science Quad, UNC-Chapel Hill
Polk Place, UNC-Chapel Hill
Upper Quad, UNC-Chapel Hill
  • Natural campus edges are formed.
  • Indigenous natural habitats are preserved.
  • Important environmental roles are played (for examples, retaining stormwater and cleansing stormwater runoff).
  • Nature trails are used for hiking and biking.
  • Area’s topography may be steep.
Pinetum, UNC-Chapel Hill
Coker Arboretum, UNC-Chapel Hill
Ehringhaus Field, UNC-Chapel Hill
  • Park-like settings are defined by edges.
  • Trees are informally placed.
  • Elements are more rustic (for examples, walls and seating).
  • Passive recreational activities take place.
  • Settings are romantic.
  • Topography ranges from flat to steep.
McCorkle Place, UNC-Chapel Hill
Existing View of South Campus, UNC-Chapel Hill
Proposed View of South Campus, UNC-Chapel Hill


Preferred Models

Manning Hall, UNC-Chapel Hill
Upper Quad, UNC-Chapel Hill
Polk Place, UNC-Chapel Hill

To Be Avoided

Brinkhous-Bullitt Building, UNC-Chapel Hill
Phillips Hall annex, UNC-Chapel Hill
Bell Tower lot, UNC-Chapel Hill

Three types of open space found on the Chapel Hill campus are formal, natural and a composite of the two. These general types should be the basis for future open-space design. In general, a quad or some other rigidly defined space will be formal in nature. A more loosely defined space may be composite. A natural space may form an edge to a space, as with a large wooded border, as in the case of the Coker Arboretum. Topography often determines type, especially with regard to how buildings can be sited.

The ground plane of simple turf and trees should be a model for future quadrangles and open spaces, both big and small. Simple brick walks should be used for all paved walking surfaces, and their use is also encouraged for small parking and service areas. The stone walls found throughout campus should be replicated, both in material and method of construction. Furniture should be incorporated campus-wide. Outdoor seating areas must be ADA-accessible.