As director of Campus Planning & Landscape Architecture at UW–Madison, Gary Brown BS’84 is in charge of places that hold cherished memories for just about every Badger alum. In addition to overseeing campus master planning activities on the 936-acre campus, Brown serves as director of the 300-acre Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Brown, a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, also serves as the chair of the UW–Madison Landscape Architecture Alumni Advisory Board.
Currently Brown is spearheading the latest Campus Master Plan, a vision for the physical campus that is updated every 10 years.
Is there an overarching goal you’re aiming for in this iteration of the Campus Master Plan?
This time around, rather than focus on the building capacity of the land, we are specifically looking at the spaces in between our buildings—the campus landscape. As a landscape architect, I find these spaces as important to me as the buildings, and in some cases, more so.
When we ask alumni about their favorite places on campus, they often mention Bascom Hill, the view from Observatory Hill out over Lake Mendota (and “traying” down that hill in the winter!), or the Memorial Union Terrace, some of our most iconic landscapes. We want to make sure all of our campus landscapes support the mission of the university and provide respite, rejuvenation and places for faculty, staff and students to gather outside in the warmer months. In winter, views out to great landscapes can help promote the wellness of our staff and the learning potential of our students. Landscapes and views to them are inherently important for our long-term health and well-being.
Can you offer any specifics yet?
The plan includes adding new courtyards and open spaces as redevelopment occurs in the south campus, south of University Avenue. We are also looking at significant changes to the area between North Charter Street and Henry Mall, north of University Avenue, as that area redevelops over time.
Where do you find inspiration for a task like this?
I rely on my landscape architecture colleagues around the country who provide inspiration in their work on campus landscapes. Some say the physical campus soon won’t be needed, with the expansion of online learning. I disagree. The physical campus and all that it stands for—the life of the campus, the heart and soul of the great universities—are in their campus landscapes. It’s what makes each university unique, offering a “sense of place” created by the university’s own history and its part of the world.
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
Getting people involved and excited. Facilities planning can be pretty dull for some people. I want people to feel free to share their ideas and concepts about how the campus should look, feel and function in 20 years. It’s nice to stop and gaze into the crystal ball every now and then to predict the future. You never know what actually can come true. Look at Alumni Park, the East Campus Mall, a reinvigorated Memorial Union Terrace and the new State Street Mall—all great examples of amazing ideas and visions for our campus landscape that have been, and will prove to be, iconic for years to come.
This story was originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of Grow magazine.