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First Impressions, Lasting Memories
Perkins Plaza, Penn State Berks

Landscape Architecture by Derck & Edson, Lititz, Pa.


Perkins Plaza combines four limestone varieties from Pennsylvania and Indiana, three blends of granite from New York and basalt (for the fountain columns) from Washington state. The carillon, designed by Derck & Edson, has a two-sided clock (Electric Time Co.) synchronized to the National Bureau's atomic clock, and professional-grade audio gear. 'Edge' LED luminaires in aluminum housings line the pathways.


The broad concrete walkway is edged with limestone. New trees on site include Japanese cedars, serviceberries, ornamental American hornbeams and Norway spruce.

Penn State Berks is a Pennsylvania State University campus in Spring Township, Berks County, with an enrollment of approximately 2,900 students. The college (est. 1958) is on 258 acres next to Gring's Mill Recreation Area, just south of Reading Regional Airport.

"First Impressions, Lasting Memories" was the theme embraced by the Penn State Berks community as the landscape architects of Derck & Edson began discussions about the core campus walkways. Specific project priorities included:
• Unifying the campus through walkways
• Showcasing the beauty of the campus
• Respecting the hydrological heritage of the site
• Accommodating existing vehicular and emergency access in pedestrian-centric spaces, lighting, safety and sustainability.

The Perkins Plaza portion of the design graces the space between the Perkins Student Center and the Thun Library, creating a formal entry to the sweeping walkways.

The design for Perkins Plaza combines four varieties of limestone from Pennsylvania and Indiana, three blends of granite from New York, and large basalt fountain columns from the state of Washington.


Derck & Edson custom-designed the louvered sunshade structure to offer shade and still allow airflow. It is fabricated from aluminum by Mitchell Metals of Symrna, Ga. .


The basalt fountain is by Seattle artist John Hoge, who specializes in the design, fabrication and installation of stone sculptures. He works primarily in granite and basalt. The vertical basalt columns are drilled longitudinally to allow the water to cascade. Basalt benches surround the pool. LED uplighting within the sculpture extends interest into the evening hours. CREE lighting includes The Edge LED Pathways and Round Area Lights.

Striking a balance between intensive use of plant material and maintenance concerns on a higher education campus are further intensified at Penn State Berks, since the campus is regularly used for plant identification classes and for special events hosted by the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association (PLNA). The solution was to create some intensive areas to showcase plant materials, while accentuating design elements.

Storm water and water quality issues were addressed with a landscape buffer/filter using riparian plants in rain gardens surrounding storm water inlets. The large lawn is the ideal spot for storm water recharge.

The acreage now occupied by the campus was once a significant portion of the watershed that drained into local waterways. This is evident at Perkins Plaza in the walkway and planting design, with flowing layered landscape beds intermingling with the paths, as if flowing downhill to the plaza level, then continuing on its way. The new seeded lawn was previously an impervious hardscape. After removing the material, the soil was tilled to a 2' depth with specialized equipment to combat compaction. Amendments and retilling left the soil loamy to benefit storm water infiltration.

At Penn State Berks key needs included:
• Accommodating a 40' x 160' special events tent
• Supporting the campus recycling initiative
• Incorporating the existing, carefully selected campus lighting fixture standards
• Recognizing and accommodating the high level of campus safety and its impacts on the design
• Easing the way for necessary vehicular traffic in the pedestrian zone for services and emergency responders


Linear light projectors ('Lumenfacade') downlight the sunshade structure, while 'Paradox 7' sealed in-grade LEDs uplight the columns. 'Artistar' floodlights (B-K Lighting) highlight the crouching 'Nittany Lion', the mascot of Pennsylvania State University, and a ubiquitous figure on every Penn State campus. 'Otto Luyken' (Prunus laurocerasus) dwarf English laurel adorns the planting bed (foreground).

The true personality of Penn State Berks shines through in the thoughtful details incorporated into Perkins Plaza. Striving for a convivial, comfortable and, in the days of social media, a photo-worthy place, it is the finishing touches that complete the welcoming embrace of the space. Large aluminum sunshades and stone piers provide vertical interest and cooling shade.

The sound and movement of water along, around and through the basalt columns offer calming and soothing sounds in the midst of the bustling hub of campus life. Comfortable and substantial site furnishings offer respite and set the stage for gatherings of all kinds.

The students overwhelmingly approved to fund significant portions of the project through their annual student activity fees. The Perkins family is delighted in the finished product, envisioned by the original leader of the campus, Dr. Harold W. Perkins.

A campus walkway is just a means to get from one point on campus to another, yet memorable moments happen on these busy pedestrian byways. The students are literally and metaphorically on a path to their future, and the connections they make with fellow students and faculty along this journey may be life changing and long cherished memories.

At Penn State Berks, Perkins Plaza is an integral part of the rich experiences enjoyed by the campus community, and a place where memories of a lifetime are being made with each passing moment.

As seen in LASN magazine, June 2017.

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May 19, 2019, 12:24 am PDT

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