With the ad hoc way institutions often grow, it’s not uncommon for perimeters to become prime real estate, which was the case for The University of Texas at Austin’s East Mall. But to fully leverage this resource, a strategic vision for the area was needed while also considering its role in the campus as a whole. Overland’s resulting master plan for the East Mall has brought the thoroughfare to life, making it not just a pathway but a destination.
The original 1881 campus of the University of Texas was a cozy 40 acres, and its first building was completed in 1883. Over the next century donations, acquisitions, and expansions changed the campus, pushing and pulling it in every direction, until it reached 434 acres, larger in shape and scope than its founders could have imagined. Now it was time for a fresh look at certain sectors of campus, such as the East Mall, to see what potential could be unlocked.
Overland’s relationship with The University of Texas has resulted in the design of over sixteen projects on UT’s campuses statewide. Once Overland had designed the new Student Activity Center and Liberal Arts Building on the East Mall, as well as adjacent spaces, it logically followed that the firm work with landscape architect Pete Walker to transform the connective space and create a larger sense of place.
The primary goal of the East Mall Master Plan was to draw campus life outside, activating open spaces and giving a sense of well-being to what was once a utilitarian tract. By creating spaces for courtyards, boardwalks, and secondary gardens, Overland planned natural ways for student life to spill outside, blending with the foot traffic to generate energy for those staying and community for those passing through.
Another goal was to give a fresh face to what would become the center of campus once the East Lawn speedway was constructed. Walker intended to turn the old fountain into a cascading stairway, and the modern faces of the new buildings worked in concert with his design to create a contemporary but contextual aesthetic. The ensemble has been transformational for the university, becoming a new heart of student life and learning and gateway to the east side of campus.