NCSU must protect historic campus spots like the Brickyard

NCSU must protect historic campus spots like the Brickyard


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A bike rider crosses the Brickyard on the North Carolina State University campus. Officially named University Plaza, the Brickyard is a hallowed place where the NCSU community has criss-crossed, congregated and celebrated for decades.

A bicycle rider crosses the Brickyard on the North Carolina State College campus. Officially named College Plaza, the Brickyard is a hallowed position the place the NCSU group has criss-crossed, congregated and celebrated for decades.

North Carolina State University has designated the Brickyard as “a hallowed place.” It is such a beloved part of the campus that students regularly steal its bricks as souvenirs.

The space is not just celebrated locally. It was featured on the cover of Landscape Architecture in 1970 and appeared in the magazine’s 100th anniversary issue in 2010.

The Brickyard balances its open paving with softer, greener and more shady areas — and unlike many modernist piazzas, it attracted people. Lots of people.

Based partly on his design for the Brickyard, Raleigh-based landscape architect Richard Bell received the highest honor given by the American Society of Landscape Architects.

So, it was shocking to see the university could obliterate key aspects of Bell’s design. Preliminary drawings released publicly as part of the university’s master planning process in January showed the geometry of the space significantly altered. Trees that shaded its paving on hot summer days, were shown removed or incorporated into lawn areas where they would no longer provide shade to students selling baked goods and handing out flyers.

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Daniel Jost

During a recent private meeting with university officials, we learned some of the worst parts of the plans released in January —including plans for a new jagged, unplanted southern edge to the Brickyard — may have been revised last fall. However, the plans they showed us — which do not match those released publicly — would still alter the plaza in significant ways, including removing mature trees without replacing them.

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Fernando Magallanes

Among the reasons given for altering the Brickyard is a desire for greater wheelchair accessibility and stormwater infiltration. But those goals do not explain all the changes made. And they could be accomplished with a lighter hand.

The university has been heavy-handed with its historic landscapes lately. Last month, it knocked down sculptures in the Burlington Nuclear Lab Area by Geoffrey McLean, another Raleigh-based landscape architect and N.C. State alum who won national acclaim. His drawings are archived in the university’s own library.

McLean designed the nuclear lab landscape to artfully incorporate everyday objects — utilities, manhole covers and grates — in whimsical ways. He playfully engaged local brickwork traditions with a sculpture resembling a walking chimney. This innovative work foreshadowed the postmodern landscapes of the following decades.

The university’s lead designers told us the sculptures demolished at the Nuclear Lab Area were a safety concern — due to cracked bricks. But the decision to demolish, rather than repair, was not inevitable. It’s common to rope off crumbling features, then fix them.

One problem was the university failed to appreciate that these sculptures were public art. They did not fit the university’s definition of public art, the campus landscape architect informed us in an email. We were told that cost was also a concern. However, if the community had been notified, people in the Triangle who care about the arts might have funded repairs.

Currently, there is no preservation board at N.C. State that shepherds historic buildings, landscapes, or landscape features like McLean’s sculptures. The university has no clear system to identify and protect its historically and culturally significant landscapes.

The university should work with experts and its community, including faculty from its Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, to do this. Key landscapes should be listed on the National Register or given local protections.

On Feb. 12, the Cultural Landscape Foundation added N.C. State’s postwar landscapes to its list of historic places that are threatened. But the destruction of these landscapes is not inevitable. We must sound the alarm while there is still time. Together, we can ensure our historic and hallowed landscapes are not lost.

Daniel Jost is former writer/editor for Landscape Architecture Magazine and a PhD candidate at N.C. State University. Fernando Magallenes is an associate professor of landscape architecture at NCSU.