Kent State University
Risman Plaza + Student Green
By SmithGroupJJR, Design Lead + Project Management, Project Associate
The Kent State University project’s primary goal was transforming a bleak, pedestrian thoroughfare. To reduce vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle conflicts a dedicated ‘bus only’ pull-off (right) was created. The transit shelter was also replaced and relocated to open direct pedestrian connections. The site lacked a variety of useful spaces. Through grade changes, materials, landscaping and seating choices, the new Risman Plaza and Student Green offers a mix of public and private spaces that encourage outdoor dining, study and gatherings.
In the early 2000s, Kent State began planning for a university-wide program to fund a series of new buildings, facility upgrades and dynamic new spaces. Kent State President Lester Lefton promised a vibrant, colorful, active signature space by the school’s 2010 centennial celebration. That goal was realized with the completion of Risman Plaza and Student Green renovation.
This project’s primary goal was the transformation of a bleak, pedestrian thoroughfare, bisected by a campus artery that was dated, under used and unwelcoming. The site’s greatest deficit was lack of spatial variety. Through grade changes, materials, landscaping and seating choices the design of Risman Plaza and Student Green created a mix of public and private spaces that encourage outdoor dining, study groups, small gatherings, people watching and informal recreation. Larger plaza and green spaces accommodate large, outdoor events and performances that celebrate student life and the campus community.
A double row of hybrid elms frames the student green. Once mature, the trees will create a perimeter enclosure to the green space. The sod is 80 percent fescue and 20 percent bluegrass. Photo: James Haefner Photography, Troy, Michigan
Landmark, hallmark and signature spaces on a campus are key elements in creating an institution’s identity. Risman and the Green were designed to create identity and help forge connections with place—a place where student orientation and visitor tours would always begin; where events, ranging from wrestling practice to weddings, could take place; where faculty and staff would bring their families and friends to visit with pride and where alumni will want to return each year at homecoming.
The renovation of Risman Plaza and its direct connection to the Student Green was predicated on realigning bisecting Risman Drive. To reduce vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle conflicts, the transit shelter was relocated and replaced, creating a dedicated ‘bus only’ pull-off. The new transit shelter also opened up Risman Plaza to the Student Green for direct pedestrian connections, facilitating the Green’s transformation into an active, student-focused space.
Risman Plaza showcases an ornate herringbone paving pattern, the Kent State “K”, and landscaped edges. The brick for the plaza is the City Line series (Belden Brick) in two sizes (4” x 8” x 2 ¾” and 8” x 8 x 2 ¾”) and three tones: ‘Admiral Red’, ‘Kodiak Brown’ and ‘Wheatfield.’ The brick is chamfered and has spacer lugs to help drain stormwater. Photo: James Haefner Photography, Troy, Michigan
Key site challenges included: a 6-ft. grading variance across a complex site that houses utilities and tunnels; a design compatible with the divergent massing and architectural styles of adjacent buildings; ability to efficiently move upwards of 30,000 pedestrians daily through the space, while also encouraging them to stop and use it; and fast-track construction (March-October) and phasing schedules.
Integrated Planning + Design
From the beginning of the campus landscape and environmental enhancement plan, and over the course of the five-year project, the same design team worked closely with the office of the university architect, the vice president of finance and university president. This core group assessed early concepts; insured open engagement with students, faculty and facilities programming and maintenance staff; provided guidance on project budget; selected designs and materials; and worked with the campus community to promote the importance of creating a new “front door” for the university, while improving the safety and functionality of the spaces.
Risman Plaza offers student and faculty ‘Carousel’ 5-seat, 42-inch steelhead perforated tables with backless perforated seats, and ‘Solstice - Cygnus’ table umbrellas, along with ‘Chase Park’ 36-gallon waste and recycling receptacles with side openings and polyethylene liners. At left (top) are ‘Skyline’ honeylocusts (Gleditsia tricanthos inermis); the shrubs at right are ‘Schmidt’ boxwood (Buxus sempervirens).
The landscape architects worked with the campus arborist on plant selections and plant bed design, balancing maintenance, cost and visual impact, without compromising the landscape’s health and growth. Open houses were held to obtain design feedback, with students, faculty and staff contributing to the design, marketing and project implementation. The goal was to complete Risman Plaza and the Student Green during the summer months to limit disruption of campus life.
Design elements such as the transit station, water wall, campus art, seat walls and paving patterns all respond to the existing architecture. The new campus public transit center, significant reductions in impervious surfaces and provisions for pedestrian movements and public spaces all work to encourage outdoor activity, social collaboration and campus sustainability.
The dynamic fountain and water wall at Risman Plaza is the design of SmithGroupJJR. Scheeser Buckley Mayfield did the engineering and Fountain Construction & Co., built the fountain. The façade is a curved Hanover granite-clad water wall with stainless steel post-mounted letters. The water feature has a stainless steel spray bar with 319 brass ½-inch nozzle fittings and 319 ¼-inch adjustable brass nozzles. Bordering the wall are limestone piers sporting custom stainless steel ‘KSU’ logos. Papyruses flank the piers. Perched atop the piers are eight fluted ‘Talisman’ concrete light poles (Stresscrete) with ‘Aurora’ K829 luminaires (King Luminaire). Photo: James Haefner Photography, Troy, Michigan
Space for a Growing University
Risman Plaza was historically a pedestrian thoroughfare, void of campus activities. The space that is now the Student Green felt left over and sometimes unsafe, with no pedestrian crossings and truncated views from Summit Street into campus. The 2013 freshman class is the school’s largest.
Today, theses spaces accommodate upwards of 40 annual events, including Back to School Blastoff, folk festivals, summer concert series, Hispanic Heritage Festival, Arts and Sciences Homecoming Alumni Reception, lunch time concerts, alumni college concert, Flash Fest and the school’s newest tradition—the homecoming Kiss on the “K.” With participation ranges anywhere from 200 to 4,000 attendees per event, it’s clear this new front door is the heart of the campus.
The main campus entry, prominently seen from the adjacent main road, is a brick and limestone sign wall with the school’s name in engraved letters. The entry sign wall is the design of SmithGroupJJR; SPS Stone Group of Silver Lake, Ohio did the fabrication and installation.
Photo: James Haefner Photography, Troy, Michigan
Kent State University Risman Plaza + Student Green
7.25 acres | Completion Date: Nov. 2012
Project Cost: $8 Million | Construction Cost: $6.9 Million
SmithGroupJJR (Design Lead + Project Management, Project Associate)
Payto Architects (Architecture + Construction Administration)
Scheeser Buckley Mayfield (Electrical + Mechanical Engineering + Construction Administration)
Knight + Stolar (Landscape Architect + Construction Administration + Irrigation Design)
Timmerman Geotechnical (Geotech)
Landmark Associates (Survey)
Donald G. Bohning & Associates (Survey)
URS (Traffic Engineering)
Cavanaugh Building Corp. (General Contractor)
The brick and limestone pillars uphold the custom iron “K” archway signifying the entrance into the Student Green and Risman Plaza. The archway was designed by SmithGroupJJR.
Photo: James Haefner Photography, Troy, Michigan