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001 Bishop's University Master Plan Aeir

Bishop's University Master Plan

Sherbrooke, Quebec

Historically, Bishop’s University was a walking campus in a lush landscape, nestled among hills, forests, meadows, and wetlands. However, since the 1960s, as enrollment has increased dramatically and new facilities have been built piecemeal, the campus has seen its visual and physical landscape altered and diminished by a steady influx of roads, parking lots, and cars.

The Bishop’s University Master Plan, a three-phase, forty-year road map for responsible stewardship of the campus’s natural beauty, is guided by five organizing principles, rooted in bridging Bishop’s University’s past with its present and future demands. The Plan also presents the very feasible opportunity for Bishop’s University to become a Carbon Zero campus. As the world at large faces the increasingly important issue of climate change, the Bishop’s University Master Plan presents a sustainable and landscape-centric solution for a major institution.

Central to the Master Plan is the removal of redundant, incoherent motorways in favor of a perimeter road around the campus: a simple and transformative means of not only restricting cars to the periphery of a campus characterized by its bucolic natural setting, but also positively affecting the development of Bishop’s University’s campus for decades to come. The reorganization of campus precincts and rehabilitation of major buildings strengthens the campus as a site of active learning and community participation.

As Michael Goldbloom, Principal and Vice Chancellor of Bishop's University, noted, "There are many profound insights and compelling ideas in this Master Plan. It provides clear guidelines for the development and stewardship of our campus. Most importantly, it sets out how we can provide concrete expression to the fundamental values of our institution."

Founded in 1843, Bishop’s University inhabits 550 acres in the scenic Eastern Townships of Quebec. From the University’s beginnings, the campus experience has been defined by its setting among three major rivers, forests, farms, meadows, and two mountain ranges, but as Bishop’s grew over the decades, the campus shifted from one of a rural school in a bucolic setting to a school dominated by the automobile. In addition, the University faced issues such as the implementation of a new energy system, insufficient student housing, and disconnection from the surrounding community and landscape.

While several short studies and plans of the University had been completed over the years, Bishop’s found that a full-scale Master Plan was necessary to guide the future growth of the school. Peter Rose + Partners directed and delivered a Plan that addresses the major concerns of the University and was adopted as a living document to structure future growth.

A Campus Naturally Primed for Sustainability

While Bishop’s University had already embarked on a number of energy saving strategies, the Master Plan identities an extraordinary opportunity for Bishop’s to reduce its carbon footprint to zero based on the University’s location at the intersection of the St. Francis and Massawippi Rivers. Quebec’s readily available clean hydro power and river-based geothermal energy systems combine to create one of the few possibilities in North America for a truly attainable Carbon Zero campus. Development of inexpensive geothermal energy would lead to enormous cost savings, allowing Bishop’s to redirect funds towards other institutional projects.

The Catalyst

The catalyst for this Master Plan was the renovation and addition to the John H. Price Sports and Recreation Centre, the largest project to date in Bishop’s history. The magnitude of the Sports Centre project, and its potential impact on Bishop’s campus, suggested that both the project and the campus itself would benefit enormously from carefully considering the campus as a whole. A good, well-developed master plan functions as an organizational structure for the making of good decisions in regard to the construction of all aspects of the physical campus over time.

The Master Plan draws on technological innovations that give planners more and better data on everything. Using new tools to analyze data and give it meaningful shape, the firm was able to map, model, simulate, and precisely evaluate strategies for the future. The culmination is an intelligent series of interventions and a map for the future of a campus that will be vastly greater than the sum of its parts.

Creating a Campus for the Future

In researching the history of the campus and its present usage, Peter Rose + Partners made six observations about the areas in which the campus could be improved. The interventions proposed by the Master Plan draw on these observations to maximize existing resources and bring the campus community back into harmony with its fantastic setting. The Plan outlines a series of strategies aimed at increasing active participation with outdoor spaces and enhancing the University's historic assets.

From end-to-end, the campus is about 900 meters long and traversable from one end to the other in about eight minutes, yet as new facilities were created to keep up with increasing enrollment, the campus’s visual and physical landscape was diminished by an influx of roads, parking lots, and cars. The Master Plan’s recommendations draw on the small and compact nature of the area to return to a landscape-centric and pedestrian-friendly campus as an overarching goal. 

While cars will be the primary means of travel to and from the campus for the foreseeable future, a perimeter road and perimeter parking lots screened by landscape remove cars from the center of campus while preserving access to the university. 

A main campus path, along with walking, biking, and hiking paths, will guide Bishop’s development back to its historic status as “a walking campus in a lush landscape.” The paths facilitate movement, socialization, and contemplation among students and staff, while modifying ground floor facades to reveal the activity going on in buildings and provide indoor views out into the landscape encourages the sense of a lively twenty-four hour campus.

Due to the regional climate conditions and timing of the academic calendar, much of the Bishop’s University campus experience takes place in winter. But the cold weather is something to be merely endured rather than celebrated, with unattractive piles of road debris from salt, sand, and snow accumulation detracting from the beauty of the winter landscape. The Master Plan takes the view that winter should be celebrated as a wonderful feature of the Bishop’s campus.

Much of the development of the campus, especially in the past few decades, took place without any planning principles in place. The campus is loosely organized by precinct and program: academic functions such as classrooms, library, and faculty offices, are generally located in the historic Quad; residential functions are generally located in the newer buildings in the southeast portion of campus; and student services, athletic centers, and other facilities are scatted throughout.

Newly orchestrated campus precincts increase density without compromising the quality or character of the campus. A renovated Library Commons, Academic Quad, and Housing Quad will add to a more convenient and lively campus. The library addition broadens the reach of the Academic Quad, while student life gains space in the central campus with the consolidation of athletic fields and a new sports center on the eastern edge of campus.

The Master Plan identifies several areas in the heart of campus that offer beautiful views and the potential to rival the best campus landscapes and gathering spaces anywhere. Among these sites are the hill surrounded by faculty bungalows and the historic Quad, Chapel and McGreer Hall. Programming these places with appropriate activities tie them into the University’s history and strengthens campus identity.

Bishop’s University occupies 150 acres in the vast and glorious setting of Quebec’s Eastern Townships. The campus landscape is a valuable resource, the perceived boundaries of which extend to the horizons. Given the amazing natural setting of the campus, the Master Plan proposes the incorporation of an even larger scale of landscape into campus life, with a network of recreational trails and the artful blending between natural elements and a cultivated landscape to provide the best setting for recreational space and views.

While the landscape surrounding Bishop’s University has undeniable beauty, the campus itself is ill-connected to the borough around it, including the riverfront landscape. A single bridge is the only connection between Lennoxville and the campus, and pedestrians are forced to share a bridge constructed primarily for heavy vehicles, with food traffic as an afterthought. Route 108 isolates the main campus from the waterfront property Bishop’s owns along the St. Francis River.

A new pedestrian bridge entry will foster stronger connections to Lennoxville and the surrounding landscape. In addition, strategic landscaping, including new plantings and soils, can heighten the beauty of the campus setting while improving the performative aspects of the land by slowing down flooding and eliminating pollution. 

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