Fitting building to site: terrain and scale
The irregular terrain and greatly varied site conditions demanded detailed explorations; meetings of the LRDP Design team and of the Regents Grounds and Buildings Committee frequently included tours of the campus.
The terrain of the site made building difficult and the layout of the campus reflects the challenges of working on such a site. As Church noted:
It would be foolish and highly undesirable to think that a new startling architecture will appear here. Any attempt of a designer to compete in grandeur with this site is doomed to failure. Since the site is going to win, in any case, it’s possible that the twin theories of delicate contrast and protective coloring are most likely to succeed. Hence color and texture will be as important as form. Bridges, wide cantilevers, sudden departures from the rectangular plan—cliches on a flat site, will become logical outgrowths of the siting problems.
- Thomas Church, “Random Notes on the Site” (1962)
Other challenges included the mineral makeup of the soil. Below grade, the configuration of the campus soils and geology is as rugged and varied as its visible surface. A marble terrane underlies most of the developed campus, and karst features—ravines, sinkholes, and caverns, developed as a result of the dissolution of marble along fractures, joints, and faults—are readily apparent in the lower and central campus.
Because of the lack of a significant picture of the rock structure, no prediction of the location of the caves can be. made. However, the geologic history of the marbles suggests that random cavitation should be expected. Such cavities can assume a wide variety of shapes and dimensions. Many of the cavities that are evident on the site are large enough for a man to enter. Numerous topographic depressions are located throughout the site which for the most part have no drainage outlets yet are dry. It is suspected that these depressions represent subsurface marble which to some unknown degree is cavernous.
- excerpt from a letter from engineering geologist Sterling K. Atkinson to John Carl Warnecke & Associates, January 28, 1963
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