SCUP

 

Special Citation - Excellence in Landscape Architecture for General Design

George Mason University

Wilkins Plaza
George Mason University - Wilkins Plaza
Jury Comments
“. . . massive transformation—makes a place where there was none . . . seeks to accomplish diverse goals of practical utility upgrades with highlighting “intangible values” and themes like diversity, racial justice, inclusion, and wellbeing . . .”

Highlights

    • Building – 60,000 sq.ft
    • Wilkins Plaza resides at the geographic and operational core of the campus.
    • The existing plaza was home to the George Mason statue, a tiered fountain, and an overgrown tree canopy.
    • The project had two equally important main objectives: first, replace extensive end-of-life buried underground infrastructure and, second, improve the overall campus environment and opportunities for student engagement and inquiry at the center of campus.
    • The extension of the plaza creates an over 1,000-foot-long open space.
    • The plaza created new protected utility corridors for chilled water, high-temperature hot water, data, primary power, and emergency access.

Perspectives

Mason has grown in square footage over the last 15 years from just over 3M gsf to over 9M. However, while the campus had grown in physical building space, the external campus environment and landscape had not kept pace. In 2014, the Commonwealth of Virginia approved a $51.5 million project in GMU’s 2014–2020 capital plan to replace an expansive network of aging underground utilities at the heart of the Fairfax Campus. In addition to almost 4 miles of underground utility replacement, the project included the reimagining and extension of what was known as North Plaza (constructed in 1996), home of the George Mason IV statue. Since funding the project, North Plaza has been renamed Wilkins Plaza in honor of late civil rights leader Roger Wilkins, who taught at the university.

The plaza links many of the student life buildings on campus, making this space ripe for becoming a student center turned inside out. The eastern portion of the plaza focuses on social well-being, fostering interaction and collaboration among students. This area features “student voice” walls, which student groups regularly paint to advertise events, and “student expression” walls, which operate as free speech/chalkboard walls that anyone can write on at any time. Both support a campus culture of open discourse and exchange of ideas.

The western end of the plaza focuses on the idea of reflective/personal well-being. A reflective fountain honoring Roger Wilkins provides the calming sound of falling water. It sits adjacent to a new walking labyrinth to the north to be used by students for meditation and stress relief. The new Memorial to the Enslaved People of George Mason also sits at the reflective western end of the plaza. The design gives a physical presence to the hidden voices of more than 100 men, women, and children that Mason enslaved at his plantation, Gunston Hall. The memorial includes two panels honoring Penny, a 10-year-old girl, and James, Mason’s manservant.

Project Team

Perkins&Will; RMF Engineering; Gordon; Hope Furrer Associates; WaterDesign; The Lighting Practice