As most people who attend Drexel University have probably noticed, the campus is perpetually under construction. For students graduating in 2016, the campus looks very different now than it did when they first arrived four or five years ago. For many alumni, even those that graduated recently, the campus is barely recognizable. Drexel is in the midst of a period of very large changes to the campus and the area surrounding it.
While large developments like Schuylkill Yards are important to the campus and the city, one of the most important things for a university is how students interact with the spaces around them. A good college campus engages students and plays a large role in both recruitment and retention of students. Drexel has struggled with campus-student interaction for a long time as an urban campus and as a former commuter school. In 2013, Drexel made it into the ranks of the top ugliest college campuses according to Complex Magazine, and was also on Radar Magazine’s list of ugliest campuses five years earlier. In order to insure the future vitality of the campus, Drexel has engaged the landscape architecture and planning firm West 8 to create a comprehensive master plan for the public realm. This realm consists of all the open spaces, streetscapes and areas between buildings on and around campus.
The effort began in 2015, when representatives from the firm toured Drexel and observed students interacting with the campus. The planners were looking at what streets students walked down, where they hung out, what buildings they cut through and where they exercised. This was followed by meetings with committees, faculty, administrators and groups of student leaders. Most recently, on May 6, initial concepts for the public realm plan were presented for student feedback at an open house in the Drexel Recreation Center lobby. Also included in the presentation were plans for the Korman Quadrangle, designed by Andropogon, the same company that designed Perelman Plaza.
“We wanted to reach out to the students and hear from them —what do you want for the campus now? Or what do you want to come back to as an alum? Is your experience on campus pleasant, or is it about just getting from point A to B? How can your experiences be better?” Jennifer Birkeland, West 8 employee and project manager for Drexel’s Public Realm Plan, explained in an email interview the goal of the open house.
Though the event received a limited amount of traffic, the presentation boards were still covered with post-it notes containing student feedback by the time the event ended. Unlike many things at Drexel, the public realm planning was opened up to the entire student body for comments, showing a greater commitment to getting feedback from current students on their campus.
What is a public realm plan
The public realm is, in simplest terms, everything that isn’t a building; this includes all of the streets, open spaces, parks and walkways. These things require special attention for a university such as Drexel, situated in a dense urban area.
The goal of the master plan is to provide a framework for future development so the campus is built up in a manner that makes a positive impact on campus life and the surrounding neighborhoods.
The plan encompasses a wide range of concerns including campus identity, sustainability, circulation, stormwater management, wayfinding and safety.
The full presentation from the open house can be found at http://drexel.edu/facilities/design/masterPlan/publicrealm/.