The University Record, June 25, 1997

Regents express concern about pyramid-shaped posts on Diag

By Jane R. Elgass

There is general agreement that this summer's work to restore the Diag is necessary for improvement of the growing environment, but Regents expressed concern at their June meeting about architectural features that will be incorporated in an extension of the plaza in front of the Hatcher Graduate Library.

Students, faculty, staff and visitors perceive the Diag as a welcoming area with big trees and lots of grass, providing an informal setting for those who wish to gather there, study or just relax. It provides a focus for the University's academic core and its appearance and usefulness are highly important.

With that in mind, the restoration includes expansion of the plaza in front of the Graduate Library that features improved lighting and the installation of benches with architectural features that will relate the plaza to Ingalls Mall, "define the edges" of the plaza space and add a vertical element to a largely flat area.

It's the proposed architectural features at the end of benches---granite posts with pyramid-shaped tops---that concerned the Regents.

Referring to an architectural rendering of the plaza area, Regent Andrea Fischer Newman said she didn't like the "points" on the granite posts, which she feels would make the plaza an unfriendly place.

Regent Laurence B. Deitch sees the basic philosophy of the Diag as one that "encourages hanging out and building a sense of community." He said the benches and posts "formalize the area and dehumanize the space."

Noting the Regents' concern that the project not be allowed to proceed simply because it is under way, President Lee C. Bollinger suggested that a mock-up be prepared for the Regents to view.

University Planner Fred Mayer said a modified design of the benches will be prepared and presented to the Regents at their July meeting.

Regents and others also have expressed concern about potential damage to the trees on the Diag during the restoration project.

Dick Rigterink of JJ&R, the firm that created the master plan for Central Campus, noted that poor drainage and compacted soil threaten the trees there, and the restoration is being approached from a "tree survival" philosophy.

There are 80 major trees on the Diag and work within the dripline of those trees is being avoided as much as possible. However, the new drainage system of perforated pipes bordering sidewalks has to be linked to existing drain basins, many located in lawn areas.

Work will be done within the dripline of 12-14 trees, and Rigterink indicated that these trees may suffer a temporary setback but will be all right in the long term. "Our best professional opinion is that the current project will not result in the loss of any trees."

Selective pruning and vertical mulching by the University forester will help ensure protection of the trees.