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The Great Lawn

Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers

The 'Great Lawn' project at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers began with an assessment of the major east-west spine and periphery spaces along the axis that link the heart of the campus. The lawn has a 20-ft. wide reinforced turf grid ('Grasspave2 Firelane' by Invisible Structures, Inc.) for fire truck access (upper right quad of inset, left).

Located in the heart of the Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) campus in Fort Myers is a central yet underused space that has been transformed into an iconic forum, harmoniously celebrating form and function. Completed in the fall of 2014, the newly renovated four acre 'Great Lawn' serves as an anchor for a multiple phase campus revitalization effort, sparked by steady growth in enrollments (student body of 13,429 undergrads and 1018 graduate students) following 'Dunk City's' 2013 NCAA basketball run to the 'Sweet 16'. Upon becoming more visible in the national landscape of college campuses, the university is planning for expansion, and creating iconic spaces that will enhance quality of life on campus and entice students to live and learn on Florida's beautiful southwest Gulf Coast.

The 'Great Lawn' project at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers began with an assessment of the major east-west spine and periphery spaces along the axis that link the heart of the campus. The lawn has a 20-ft. wide reinforced turf grid ('Grasspave2 Firelane' by Invisible Structures, Inc.) for fire truck access (upper right quad of inset, left).

The 'Great Lawn' project started with an in-depth study of not only the immediate area for the green space, but also an assessment of the major east-west spine and periphery spaces along the axis that link the heart of the campus. The analysis included onsite observations, site user interviews, student/faculty meetings, environmental and geographical context studies. This evaluation allowed the design team, the university and respective stakeholder groups to understand and respond sensitively to the site's context, environmental characteristics and functional capacities.

The university's most highly used academic buildings, library and dining facilities surround the site. Prior to the final design, the site was characterized by poor grading, lack of shade, undefined circulation and low-performance, vague functionality. To many of the stakeholders this space was seen as a weedy field.

From the air, the 'Great Lawn' design appears as an elongated Gumby-like figure (the walkways) lying on an oval of Zoysia sod with arms horizontally outstretched.

Resonating with the university's mission for sustainability, the design focus was to use the natural environment to create a functional, memorable space. Elliptical pathways of cobbled pavers and a laurel oak colonnade anchor the Great Lawn. The overriding geometry provides a sense of formality, while alleviating circulation congestion and reserving passive green space. The native laurel oaksaround the paths establish a consistent shade canopy for students and faculty to comfortably pass through on their way to their destination, or lie down in the dappled shade, or even set up a hammock and relax in this dynamic space. If you've ever experienced south Florida's heat and humidity, you'll know that any shade is prized.

The interior lawn area is planted with Zoysia turf and elegantly graded to a dome shape, invoking a sense of place. This form of course facilitates positive drainage and increases the perspective across the lawn to maximize the impact of the open space. A reinforced Grasspave system runs along a 20-foot wide corridor to provide emergency vehicle access across the lawn. The additional memorial pavilion/stage, designed to respond to the university's standard architectural materials and treatments, supports a wide range of events, including concerts, key campus moments, presentations and more. Additionally, a boardwalk-style pathway, achieved by nontraditional plank style pavers of different sizes and colors, forms a strong pedestrian axis. The pathway links the existing west and future east portions of the campus, and psychological link to the many boardwalk corridors connecting various parts of campus throughout its wetland fabric.

The three-piece cobble pavers (TriCircle Pavers) with embossed edges are reminiscent of old time cobblestone, accentuating the geometry of the elliptical pathway and the native laurel oak trees along its curves.

The periphery of the formal open lawn and circulation system is characterized by a series of transitional spaces that respond directly to the built and natural environments surrounding the site, and promotes a broad program of uses for the space. Outdoor classrooms, located on the east side of the Great Lawn, set the stage for students and faculty for learning about the wetland preserve areas, reminiscent of Florida's iconic Everglades ecosystem. The designed edge treatments along the wetlands provide a passive park-like experience. To the north and south, paver bands radiate from the oval geometry forming intermediate plaza spaces that invite users onto the lawn, while also expanding dining and event space. To the west, private garden spaces are carved into a dense landscape fabric woven with native grasses and accent plantings. A diverse range of contemporary garden-style seating and tables offer flexible gathering spaces, with an intimate setting amongst the Great Lawn's energetic public atmosphere. Blending with the university's existing traditional style light poles and bollards are high-efficiency LED fixtures, bringing elegant illumination to the Great Lawn, provide safety at night, and further enhancing the sense of place.

Curving bands of 'Malt-Carmel' colored standard flat brick pavers edge the pathways and border the 'Euro' cobbles. Native 'Buccaneer' palms in urban-style planters will provide canopy. Gray Mexican beach pebbles dress the base of the palm trees. The custom pedestal benches are from Wassau Tile.

From the project's inception, student and faculty involvement played a key role in finalizing the program and design for the Great Lawn. The design team's collaboration with multiple faculties on campus revealed the preferences of users, seasonal operational needs, environmental characteristics and allowed the design to remain sensitive to these requirements.

The dramatic use of bollard lighting (Sesco Lighting) across the north-south walkway draws attention to the Veterans Pavilion (right), a memorial to the veterans of the U.S. Armed Services near the edge of the wetlands.

FGCU is commitment to urban forestry, evidenced by the Arbor Day Foundation recognition of the university as a Tree Campus USA. FGCU was awarded a grant of $5,000 to purchase and plant the first phase of native laurel oak trees defining the lawn in 2012. Student volunteers, staff and faculty gathered to assist in planting the trees.

Guided by concept-driven design, a substantial part of the landscape architects' work was to regularly facilitate input and foster a healthy environment of collaboration within a committee consisting of faculty, staff, planners, architects, engineers, students and donors.

Pocket-park seating areas are located in the periphery garden spaces. In addition to the laurel and live oaks, the landscape trees include bald cypress, Slash pines and Paurotis, cabbage and Buccaneer palms. The standard flat brick pavers here are in a herringbone pattern with inner single course bandings of charcoal colored pavers.

The success of the Great Lawn project depended heavily on master planning, detailed construction plans, project management and communication. The primary challenge for this project was the narrow construction window due to the university's limited summer off-season. The space needed to function as a major hub of campus activity and circulation immediately starting in the fall semester. A dedicated and highly skilled team of consultants, contractors and project managers allowed the Great Lawn project to successfully meet the client's goals, maintain exceptional installation standards and reach optimum performance and functionality upon immediate occupancy.

A colorful running bond of plank pavers in various sizes cuts across the middle of the Great Lawn. According to the manufacturer, Wassau Tile, these hydraulically machine-pressed concrete pavers produce higher strengths than precast pavers and more consistent finishes. Custom precast pedestal seating is also located along this main axis.

The Great Lawn has elegantly united both form and function, and has continued to receive positive feedback from its users. The space now supports a diverse range and scale of activities, with greater functionality and capabilities. The project has set a standard for future expansion throughout the university. Most importantly, the revitalized Great Lawn provides a desired place that evokes emotion, pride, and possesses the spirit of the campus.

The curved precast seat wall and the aluminum cable guard railings are the setting for an outdoor classroom to view a typical Florida wetland. The plaza here is defined by an outer band of cobble-style pavers and interior Dekor plaza pavers. The 1-inch facade for the base of the seat wall is the same 'Malt-Carmel' color blend of brick pavers that highlight the walkways.

Project Team
Client/Project Management
Tom Mayo, AIA, LEED AP
Director of Facilities Planning
Florida Gulf Coast University
Landscape Architecture
Design and Planning
Waldrop Engineering, P.A., Bonita Springs, Fla.
Ryan Binkowski, ASLA, Vice President
Jack Caldwell, PLA
Partner-in-Design Studio+
Ted Sottong, AIA, LEED AP
Chris Ressler, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Fort Myers, Fla.
General Contractor
Maddox Construction Co., Jeff Maddox
Landscape Contractor
O'Donnell Landscapes, Inc.
Stephen O'Donnell
Hardscape Contractor
Superior Interlocking Paving, Inc.
Anthony Heasley

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June 25, 2019, 7:54 pm PDT

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