Well it’s now been three weeks since spring break. I haven’t been doing well posting about it in a timely manner, but better late than never. Three weeks ago on Tuesday, March 12, we took the Metro to College Park and explored the University of Maryland campus. The University of Maryland, College Park is the flagship university of the University System of Maryland and is considered a “public ivy” school, ranking quite well for a public institution. I am considering Maryland for graduate school in urban planning once I finally complete architecture school in 2011.

The College Park Metro station is a suburban commuter station, complete with a parking garage. It is somewhat disconnected from campus and the city itself. We walked about 15 minutes along Paint Brach Parkway before arriving at Route 1 / Baltimore Avenue, the main drag through town, and the front of the university. We continued into campus along Campus Drive and passed the big “M” in flowers in the center of a traffic circle. From there we went by the McKeldin Mall, the heart of the university and campus. It is much larger than I had expected and a lot hillier. The campus slopes up quite significantly from Route 1 on the eastern edge. The Mall was very active with many students relaxing or playing frisbee. This is definitely a very usable space on campus.

On the east end of the Mall is the Main Administration Building and on the west end is the McKeldin Library. Numerous academic buildings line the sides, all in dignified Georgian architecture. An allee of trees on each side of the Mall creates two formal walkways. They are retreatful and intimate in contrast to the wide-open Mall. In the center of the Mall is the 250-foot long ODK fountain, which water flows down various levels following the downward slope of the land toward Main Administration. Walkways radiate out from one end of it and many benches are placed along its sides. Unfortunately there was no water in the fountain yet for the season.

The Architecture Building is a newer, non-Classical building built in 1971. Clad in brick, it appears somewhat dated but is not too bad. Located just southwest of the McKeldin Mall, it is away from the more historic part of campus, but not totally disconnected either. Behind it is a large parking lot at the backside of campus. The building seems pretty small, almost too small to accommodate the whole department. I’m not exactly sure how much all the programs in the college actually utilize this building though. Inside the main part is a two story open space with classrooms on the second level and open studio space on the lower level.

We ate lunch at the food court in the Stamp Student Union, just north of the McKeldin Library. The food court is located in the center and is easily accessible from the outside. Unlike the food court in Iowa State’s MU, it is not hidden away in the basement and also offers many more choices, not just made up franchises operated by dining services. After lunch we walked around Byrd (football) Stadium and some high-rise dorms behind it. The high-rise dorms are extremely plain, somewhat resembling housing projects. However they are clad in brick and the entrances include some basic Classical elements.

Overall, the Maryland campus is very unified and distinguished. Most buildings were designed with Georgian or Classical architecture and new buildings continue to respect that. A few newer buildings are notably simpler, especially some of the dormitories as mentioned above, but nearly every building is clad in brick. One could argue that campus lacks architectural diversity, but I appreciate the consistency and the Classical charm it preserves. Additionally, it helps prevent a lot of fad architecture (such as modernism) being built on campus, which usually are not timeless and eventually considered unattractive.

The University of Maryland campus is certainly impressive, but the same cannot be said for College Park. We didn’t venture very far away from campus, but there is very little that surrounds it. Downtown College Park is along Route 1 at the southern tip of campus. It is little more than a few blocks of small strip buildings with typical college town businesses. In that regard it is somewhat analogous to Campustown in Ames, but it was much less active and less built-up. The fact that it is just a small stop along Route 1 in the sprawling suburbs of Washington doesn’t really help. Fortunately there does seem to be some hope for College Park. The University is in the works of a large redevelopment project on land across Route 1 from campus. The East Campus Redevelopment Initiative will replace a number of maintenance and university service buildings with a dense, mixed-use neighborhood. Hopes are that this will improve College Park for both students and residents, transforming it from a lackluster suburb to a vibrant college town. There are also a number of other developments underway in College Park and surrounding. More information is available at the Rethink College Park blog, which I enjoy reading.

See all my photos of College Park here.