SCUP Excellence in Planning for Restoration/Preservation, Merit Award
Celebrating the Cultural Landscape Heritage of Mills College at Mills College, Oakland, CA and Robert Sabbatini AICP ASLA, San Francisco, CA
Artwork by Art Zendarski
Since 1968, Mills College founders and those who followed shaped the campus with Picturesque-era exotic and native plantings and distinguished architecture. This landscape heritage study reviews the founders’ values and how landscape architects and architects expressed them over the past 140 years.
The project singles out iconic resources and recommends how to balance future development with historic preservation. It included research, analysis and planning and resulted in solutions for two key precincts to address current and future needs. The use of historic resources is integral to sustainable planning and design.
The cultural landscape survey identified large and small-scale features that create the distinctiveness of the campus. The historic building documentation of thirty historic buildings and features followed criteria used by the National Register for Historic Places.
The college demonstrates how the past can inspire the future and recognizes that support for historic resources is often tested when action needs to be taken.
In 2007, the college removed two rows of more than 100 blue gum Eucalyptus trees (120 years old, 120 feet high) that had been a historic icon of the college. The use of native plants to replace the Eucalyptus was considered, but it clashed with the college’s cultural history. Study recommendations resolved the issue and convinced the college to replant a different species of Eucalyptus.
The study demonstrates that high-quality campus design can be achieved through restraint. The simple, yet bold replacement of the double row of Eucalyptus, the extension of native plantings to create an aesthetic campus context to all the buildings and the use of finer textured materials in areas of high pedestrian use all contribute to the success of the guidelines.
This study demonstrates that historic resources and current demands need not conflict and that their integration results in plans and designs of higher value and sustainability.
Building on the work of past planners and designers is sustainable in approach and outcomes. Too often, colleges sweep aside historic resources, wasting the potential physical and cultural contributions they offer.
The jury said, “ . . . great job restoring this campus back to landscape heritage and bringing back things that had been missing. . . took what they learned and created a learning experience for everyone. . .”
Project Team: Mills College and Robert Sabbatini with Karen Fiene and Vonn Marie May