Washington University Set for Major Transformation of Danforth Campus

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Washington University in St. Louis is set to embark on its most significant campus transformation in a century. The plan envisions six new academic buildings in engineering and art and architecture, the closure of Hoyt and Brookings Drives, a reimagined landscape, and 900-space underground parking garage.

Long dominated by surface parking lots, the eastern end of the Danforth Campus has been an incomplete front door to the university since its founding at this location. Initially envisioned as a classical landscape framing Brookings Hall, the 169-acre campus instead spread to the west.

The focus of the plan is to transform the eastern campus into a pedestrian environment and create room for expansion. Removing surface parking will allow several hundred thousand additional square feet of research and teaching space to be added, while creating a more coherent campus environment.

The 900-space garage would provide direct access to Givens Hall and the art and architecture campus on the south, and Brauer Hall and engineering campus to the north. Bus routes will run through the garage with north and south stops. University admissions and new dining facilities will be located in new buildings atop the garage.

Schulze + Grassov–Copenhagen, BNIM Architects–Kansas City, and Sasaki Associates–Boston have all worked on what is known as the East Precinct Master Plan. The signature feature is a campus oval, measuring ~320 x 400ft–large enough to host commencement and other events. The new space is estimated to be able to accommodate 20,000 visitors. Brookings Drive would extends from Skinker to half its current length and serve as a drop off.

Portions of the transformation are already in motion. Weil Hall, a new building for graduate study in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts is expected to break ground next year, and construction of Jubel Hall, the new home of the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, should begin soon thereafter. Jubel Hall will be located near the intersection of Brookings Drive and Hoyt Drive.

The 100K sf expansion of the university’s Brown School of Social Work, just west of Hoyt Drive, is progressing quickly, and the complete redevelopment of the athletic complex at the far west end of campus is underway. No construction schedule has been made available for additional buildings, or the excavation and construction of the underground parking structure.

{view of Brookings Hall looking west from Skinker Boulevard}

{looking east from Brookings Hall – engineering campus to left, art and architecture to right}

While the university has been on an unprecedented building spree, the dozens of projects completed over the past decade have often replaced buildings, or been infill within existing campus development patterns. The South 40 residential community is one exception as it has been wholly transformed over the past 15 years, though its residential nature, and location across Forsyth Boulevard, make it significantly less prominent than the eastern end of the school’s main academic campus

A dozen major buildings have been constructed on the Danforth (Hilltop) Campus since 2000 including: The Knight Center (2001), Laboratory Sciences Building (2002), Whitaker Hall (2003), Rudolph Hall (2004), Kemper Art Museum (2006), Walker Hall (2006),Danforth University Center (2008), Seigle Hall (2008), Brauer Hall (2010), Green Hall (2013), Bauer Hall (2014), and Knight Hall (2014). The school just recently completed the $80M Loop Living student housing and retail development in the nearby Delmar Loop.

{expansion of the Brown School is scheduled to be complete by summer 2015}

{Green Hall is the most prominent addition to the eastern campus in decades (2013)}

{the Loop Living project – student housing and retail}

Of course the Washington University School of Medicine campus has been completely re-invisioned in recent years. The larger medical campus, including Barnes-Jewish Healthcare, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Shriners Hospital, St. Louis College of Pharmacy, and others, will see more than $1B in investment this decade. To the east of the medical school, the Cortex innovation district will see another $1B in investment this decade.

The school’s construction boom has followed an unprecedented ascent of the national collegiate rankings. In 2003, Washington University appeared in the Top 10 of the U.S. News and World Report rankings for the first time, and ahead of Ivy League schools Brown, Cornell, and Columbia. The New York Times wrote, “Such an ascent is what almost every university strives for, but none have come close to matching Washington’s success.” For 2014, the university is ranked no. 14 in the nation.

{Washington University c. 1948 – little would change east of Brookings Hall for decades}

{an early vision of the campus showed planned eastern campus development}

For all the change, neither the art and architecture nor new engineering buildings redefined the eastern Danforth Campus. Between them lay more than 700 feet and 1,200 surface parking spaces. In addition to the Oak tree allee, parking lots have been the face of the school for 70 years. Lately, the asphalt has been disappearing, and Green Hall, at the corner of Skinker Boulevard and Forest Park Parkway has added a new face to campus.

The three engineering buildings (Whitaker, Brauer, and Green) and two art and architecture buildings (Walker Hall and Kemper Art Museum) were the first buildings added east of Throop drive in nearly half a century. Ultimately, the eastern campus will take almost three decades to complete, but we now know what the comprehensive plan will produce.

Collegiate gothic architecture, the ubiquitous form on campus, is expected to continue to be built north of Brookings Hall with future engineering buildings. Art and architecture additions will aim to be more modern, fitting alongside three Pritzker Prize winner Fumihiko Maki designed buildings (Steinberg Hall, Walker Hall, and Kemper Art Museum).

{rendering of athletic complex project currently underway}

Washington University was founded in 1853 in St. Louis. Occupying various buildings in downtown St. Louis for its first 50 years, the school moved to its currently location following the 1904 Worlds Fair. The Danforth Campus site is primarily located in unincorporated St. Louis County adjacent to the municipality of University City, with the eastern most portion in St. Louis City, and the residential campus in Clayton. Current full-time enrollment includes 6,695 undergraduates and 6,195 graduate students.

*east campus project images by Sasaki Associates

*added 10/03/15

The Washington University Board of Trustees have approved a $240M transformation of the Danforth Campus east end. The vision mirrors that posted on this site in October of last year (Washington University Set for Major Transformation of Danforth Campus). Groundbreaking is set for spring 2017, with completion planned for spring 2019.

The overall vision remains the same as detailed previously, a 790-space underground parking facility, closing Hoyt and Brookings Drives, adding Weil and Jubel Hall, and creating an expansive multi-use green space. Architect Moore Ruble Yudell will design engineering’s Jubel Hall, and KieranTimberlake is designing Weil Hall, as well as the glass pavilions, a signature style of that firm. The Central Green is designed by Michael Ferguson Landscape Architects and McCarthy Building will manage the project’s overall construction.

Aesthetically, the biggest change is the insertion of two glass pavilions, the Welcome Center and the Hub, near access to underground parking and atop existing Hoyt Drive. According to the university, one will serve as undergraduate admissions and general welcome center, while the other will including dining services, showers, changing rooms, and academic and office space. Missing from the more refined vision are additional buildings for the School of Engineering and Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts.

Washington University in St. Louis transformation

Washington University in St. Louis transformation

Washington University in St. Louis transformation

Washington University in St. Louis transformation

Washington University in St. Louis transformation

Washington University in St. Louis transformation

Washington University in St. Louis transformation

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  • Matt Ashby

    Sounds good. It may be nice to evolve from lawns green space to gardens. Wash U is kind of barren in landscape design.

  • Jim Schmidt

    With all that concrete and asphalt a grove of timber bamboo seems perfectly feasible.

  • stlrunner

    The Danforth campus will finally appear finished with these additons. The big question then looms: where does the university expand from here? We saw the attempt to acquire Wydown middle school fail, could the often discussed Fontbonne purchase ever happen? Fontbonne seems to lack a niche at the moment in competing with the other catholic schools (Maryville, Slu) so would a move for them to the county subsidized by wustl be a viable option?

    Other big thing I’ve yet to hear anywhere but in passing from people in the university. Some vacated space by engineering (Bryan) is planned to be fully renovated to a more modern, glass rich design (think Olin renovation) to make new laboratory space for chemistry. Anyone else hear much on this?

    • Presbyterian

      Wash U has some land in their ‘North Campus’ behind the Pageant.

      • stlrunner

        Tough to say what use wustl will put that to besides more admin offices or graduate student studios. I’d be quite suprised to see any other development up there.

        In the older 2008 art sci plan which seems to have fallen by the wayside there were some plans to move music to open up some south 40 space. I’ve also heard some talk of law school expansion into the space currently occupied by the now empty fraternity house 1 as well as the parking garage.

        Besides that the wash u mantra of build build build may have a tough time in the decades to come.

  • Jeff Fister

    Yes, asphalt parking lots have been disappearing, but so has green space over the years. When asked once about the loss of trees and grass on campus, Mark Wrighton said “Forest Park is our green space.” Oh really?

    • Andy

      How does this not make sense to you? There is two square miles of green space across the street. That is an incredible asset that Washington University is choosing to utilize. Some more trees would be great but those can be added on the campus around the buildings but this is a campus in an established area that needs to maximize the usage of its current space.

    • Adam

      Wash. U. has plenty of space to plant more trees on their campus even with all the new construction.

    • Kodiak

      Jeff, one way to create green space is to put the asphalt underground. Underground parking allows you to create more green space up top. Additionally, several buildings already have ‘green’ roofs (one on the S. 40, and the new McMillan extension building).. Wash U is a Tree Campus USA, and I doubt they have any plans to change that.

    • STLEnginerd

      What kind of use are you thinking isn’t being met with the current proposal. There is a massive greenspace on the west side of campus they use for intermurals, plus a stadium and tennis courts. Everywhere you go is landscaped with lots of private areas to relax or read between classes. There is a big rendering of greenspace covering the roof of the proposed garage. On top of that, there is forest park. I really don’t see how this is an issue.

  • wustl student

    It looks great but I wish we spent this money improving academics such as hiring top notch professors and other faculty! We have such a great campus already. But I’ve been disappointed with class organization and faculty support.

    • Wustl Alum

      Hi! At the top level where these decisions are made, they know how best to push the school forward as an institution. Some, including me, would argue that we already have amazing, esteemed faculty members. We have to trust those making macro decisions do so with the idea that they will improve the majority of micro experiences had on campus. Everyone can enjoy a new campus, not everyone benefits for a new faculty hire.

      • sam fox student

        No, but a ton of people benefit from increasing minority enrollment in the University, upper management included. And if we’re going to spend money, why not spend it there? We’ve been slammed in the media for having low numbers of Pell grant students, and we have arguably the worst enrollment rate of a top university when it comes to black and [email protected] students. So remind me why we need new buildings? More pretty spaces to keep people of color out of?

        • Adam

          Your points about diversity are taken, but to be fair MANY top-tier schools are building lots of new buildings. To an extent, they have to in order to stay competitive. In any case I don’t think it’s an either/or situation.

    • Adam

      According to the student satisfaction rankings I’ve seen you’re in the minority for thinking so.

    • Brian

      Better to hire 3 outstanding junior faculty that will actually teach and work with undergrads that a big name who will suck up resources, rarely teach and bide their time until Harvard comes calling. The junior faculty may eventually move to other institutions, but the university gets a lot out of them while they are here.

      • Presbyterian

        I’d love to see Wash U buck the trend and hire adjunct faculty full-time with annual contracts, decent salaries and benefits. It would cost relatively little, and those adjunct instructors are the ones doing most of the actual educating.

    • Doug

      One of the best ways to attract top notch faculty is to have top of the line facilities. This is especially true for science & engineering faculty that are space hogs. Labs, teaching space, office, etc. all take up real estate.
      They are working now to densify areas between buildings that don’t have much green value.

  • Presbyterian

    I love it. Until recently, the Skinker side of the campus was long neglected. I’m glad that Wash U is making long-term investments along its eastern approach. These projects will help to better integrate the campus into its surrounding urban fabric.

  • Rene Kreisel

    University and hospital campuses are never “finished.”

  • SnakePlissken

    Glad you posted the 1948 aerial, I can only imagine that one of those car’s in the lot is my grandfathers.

  • washusenior

    Alex, do you know anything about the university’s plans with the lot across Skinker? It looks like the empty lot at Skinker and Forest Park Parkway will be landscaped and turned into more accessible public space. I wish this lot would become another mixed-use building like the Kayak’s/Bobo/Architecture School building across the street. Perhaps with housing above it. Perhaps the fact that it sits on Lindell alongside historic homes means that the university does not have many options.

    • Presbyterian

      It’s a private neighborhood. The Caitlin Tract only allows for single family residential between the parkway and Lindell.

      • Alex Ihnen

        It’s too bad too, at least in my opinion. The lots along DeBalieviere are a massive waste as well. I guess people love green space leading to more green space, but being next to the MetroLink station, and in an other dense neighborhood, it would be great to seen town homes or apartments there.

        • Presbyterian

          I agree. I’d love to see structures on DeBaliviere framing the approach to the History Museum.

  • bailorg

    It is utterly jarring to be reminded that there are institutions, and to a certain extent individuals, in the area that that have such a shit-load of money that they seemingly can do whatever they want whenever they want on such a large scale.

    • Prosperous Bubbles

      Indeed. Paid for by government subsidies and the future indentured servants of America (yay student loans). While it’s great to see a local institution thrive, at what point does their largess become obscene?

      • Tom of the Missouri

        Jarring indeed. The perfect manifestation of the huge wealth transfer from the middle class to the wealthy elites due to six years of unprecedented artificial Fed created low interest rates and money printing where only triple AAA bond and stock holder individuals and large wealthy institutions and businesses could benefit from the resulting stock and bond market bubble and zero interest rates. This all took place with the elite Harvard and Columbia educated man of the people Obama at the helm. I guess you can’t blame the Washington University trustees for taking advantage of the situation while it last. I just hope that oval plaza can be used for a new homeless Obamaville camp (See Hooverville camp) when the bubble burst and it all comes crashing down. It seems fitting because the people living in the Obamaville will be the ones that actually paid for it with their lost jobs and lost wealth.

      • matimal

        Is this how Bostonians feel about Harvard and MIT, I wonder?

      • Wustl Alum

        Projects of this scale are not paid for by students or the government. Usually, private sources, such as individual donors and corporate sponsorships, foot over 80% of the bill. For example, private philanthropy financed 87% of Knight and Bauer Hall, the new business school building on Danforth campus. Also, it’s not like these expansions are spur-of-the-moment whims… they are institutional advancements that were in planning for decades.

        • Presbyterian

          ^Yes. This.

        • Frank Wheeler

          shh.. you’re ruining their knee-jerk narrative of big bad WUSTL!

          • Alex Ihnen

            I understand it, but still a bit surprised at negativity toward WU’s continued growth. Tuition is expensive, the endowment is big, alumni donate a lot, and the school does bring in quite a lot of government research funds, yet I can’t help but think that our ire is better placed being concerned about direct tax subsidies for professional sports teams and corporations such as Walmart.

    • moorlander

      Insert “fantastic” in place of “jarring” and I’m right there with ya man.

      • bailorg

        It is only jarring and not quite fantastic because of just how few STL institutions and individuals can easily pull something like this off.