In our back yard

As students lounge, chat, and bury themselves in books, enjoying Chicago’s summer on the main quads, they probably don’t think about how the grassy plane came to be. Now nestled in the center of the 211-acre campus, the main quads, once a swampy spread 1/8th the size, was the sum total of University land when the school was granted its charter in 1890. Donated in part by Chicago merchant Marshall Field, the plot stretches between 57th and 59th streets and Ellis and University avenues, a contiguous patch thanks to a Chicago City Council edict eliminating pre-existing streets and alleys. This blank slate allowed University planners, in particular architect Henry Ives Cobb, to adopt a quadrangle scheme: a center space flanked by six smaller quads, three to the north and three to the south, enclosed by bordering buildings. Each square reflected the activities in the structures around it—for example, the Classics Quadrangle, according to the campus master plan, is more “quiet and contemplative” than Hutchinson Courtyard, where student social life was focused.

Designed to resemble England’s Oxford University, the University’s original campus was meant to provide a haven in the bustling city, suggest tradition and continuity, and emphasize the importance of wisdom and learning. Today the wide, grassy area is also a designated botanical garden, which, according to the 1999 campus master plan, is intended to grow, display, and document plants “of both ornamental and scientific interest.” And the quads keep evolving: other master plan recommendations include a pedestrian portal through the Administration Building lobby and a center circle fountain to “add appropriate emphasis to the heart of the symmetrical space.”


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July 7, 2004