UH Today News

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September 14, 2006



The University of Houston is building a new vision for the campus — one that includes creating a city within a city complete with an amphitheatre, high-ceiling lofts and cutting-edge research facilities.

“We’re excited about the new campus master plan, which focuses on open space, landscaping, transportation and circulation, and provides us with a map to developing a first-class, 21st-century university,” said Dave Irvin, associate vice president for facilities and plant operations.

The proposed master plan allows administrators to double the square footage of buildings to 15 million from the current 8 million and increase overall enrollment to 45,000 from 35,000. The plan also doubles the percentage of students living on campus from 12 percent to 25 percent, increases parking spaces, and closes Cullen Boulevard and the center of campus to auto traffic.

Cooper, Robertson and Partners, an architecture and urban design firm, and the university created the proposed master plan, which divides the campus into four districts. The Arts District, on the north side, will offer amenities such as an amphitheatre, sculpture garden and high-ceiling lofts. The Professional District will be located along Calhoun Road and will cater to graduate and married students. The Stadium District will mix academic and retail space with access to rail and bus lines. The plan also proposes creating apartment-style housing for students living in the Undergraduate District along Wheeler Avenue. Over the next five years, the university will spend $292 million implementing parts of the plan.

The proposed master plan would span 20 years, but Cougars won’t have to wait that long to see progress or to catch a glimpse of the new envisioned campus.

Plant Operations launched the first phase of the plan this summer with various landscaping projects. Now, the department has completed the designs for several major projects, including a 1,000-bed housing complex on Calhoun Road, to be located north of Melcher Hall, a 50,000-square foot addition to the College of Optometry and an expansion of Melcher Hall. Designs for three buildings for engineering student services, industrial engineering and energy engineering are under way, according to Irvin.

Irvin expects to present the proposed plan and the proposal for the housing project to the UH System Board of Regents at its November meeting. If approved, new construction may start as early as May 2007.

Before ground breaking begins, faculty, staff and students can get a bird’s eye view of the campus master plan due, in part, to the efforts of four architecture students who spent their summer toiling on a large-scale model.

Under the supervision of Joe Meppelink, lecturer in the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, Jill Nguyen, Lee Kelly, Armando Arteaga and Brey Tucker are building a high-grain plywood model that measures 13 feet east and west and 18 feet north by south. The model depicts the new campus, including trees, roads and new and existing buildings such as Robertson Stadium and the E. Cullen Building.

Assembling the model has been a unique experience for Meppelink, who said, “I’ve built small-scale models but nothing this large.” For the students, the project offers a rare opportunity, which Nguyen said gives her “a taste of professional life.”

The model was the brainchild of Joe Mashburn, dean of the architecture college, who thought it would illustrate the university’s vision more effectively than the renderings created by Cooper, Robertson and Partners.

“It was a great idea,” Irvin said. “Things can come to life in a model in a way that a two-dimensional object can’t. In this model, the details that the students have included and how it communicates what our campus can be is mind blowing.”

Initially, Irvin and Mashburn pledged funds to support the project. Later, Mashburn persuaded several other deans to provide monies to develop the model, which administrators may present at venues such as alumni functions, special events and the Welcome Center’s lobby. The project is scheduled to be completed this semester.

“The college is proud to be involved in the project and proud of our students,” Mashburn said.
“We’re glad to contribute to what the university wants to become.”

Francine Parker