The Founding Principles of the UCSC Campus

The founding principles of campus planning and design were laid out by a group of talented and eminent architects of their era, foremost among them John Carl Warneke, Theodore Bernardi, and the great landscape architect Thomas Church.  At the behest of the Regents that group put together the first Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) for the University in 1963, two years before the campus opened to its first students.

While any such plan must balance many competing imperatives, they made clear their commitment to open space in general and to the large meadows in the southern part of the campus in particular.

In their opening list of basic principles they declared “Open spaces will be retained, and handled as wilderness, park, scenic and buffer areas.”

But the radical core of their work was that they overturned the earliest assumptions about development of the campus – that development would be focused in the open meadows of the south part of the campus.  They instead determined that development should be focused in the central part of the campus, the forested knolls and “at the meeting point of the forest and meadow,” as they put it.

Of the meadow land in the south part of the campus they had a specific observation: “…there is the advantage of the great meadow rolling away toward the south of the campus center.  If the University maintains this space as an open area, by the year 1990 it may well be one of the most rare, gratifying, and valuable assets of the campus.” 

The University did, and it is.

These distinguished architects anticipated the very direct benefits of open space to campus life and study.  The very first of their “landscape policies” was: “To maintain wilderness areas, where the present condition will remain as source of enjoyment and inspiration to students and faculty (with important use in the study of Botany, Natural History, and the Earth Sciences).”

But it is the Landscape Architecture section of their report that most directly reflects the views of the great Thomas Church, as the landscape architect of the group.  And those views are clearly stated: “…the landscape design of the campus is inextricably related to the siting of buildings and the design of road systems.  The major decision with regard to the siting [is] that the great meadow to the south of the campus should not be built upon, that the first buildings encountered in entering the site would be at the crest of the hill where the trees begin…”

That’s pretty clear.

And it has been campus policy ever since.  The most recent and still current LRDP (2005) carries on that tradition: “The meadows south of the developed center of the campus will be maintained as undisturbed grassland.  In these meadows no building will be allowed.  Agricultural research that maintains the visual quality of the lower meadows may be allowed.”

The result has been open vistas that delight those who work, study, and visit here, and which have become a core part of the UCSC identity and of what makes UCSC special.  The question now is, why would we throw all that away, especially when there are alternative locations for development?