Western has had a long history of attentiveness to the shape and structure of its physical identity. Since the early 1920s, when the campus moved to its current location, there have been several occasions on which formal campus planning was undertaken.
- The early campus was a somewhat idealized concept of a Jeffersonian “academical village” on a hill dominated by the first “new campus” building, University College, and its companion structure the Science Building (now Physics and Astronomy). This plan defined the architectural character to be pursued through the dominance of the Collegiate Gothic design and anglicized stone construction. This vision of the “new campus” was subsequently confirmed in a formal Master Plan in 1934.
- In the early 1950s, the planning of the overall campus was revisited, drawing “academic precincts” to reflect the discipline-based structures of scholarship at Western. The Arts and Humanities, the Sciences, and Medicine were delineated and notionally assigned to specific areas in the central campus. From this basic configuration, the professional schools evolved, with Business, Law, and Engineering defining their spaces as the campus adopted the “mall” of Oxford Drive as its new centre, filling in from University College Hill with Stevenson Hall, the Lawson Library, Somerville House and Thames Hall.
- By the late 1960s and an era of substantial enrolment growth, a plan was developed for infill of the central campus with academic buildings. Along Oxford Drive the expansion abandoned the previous generations’ commitment to the traditional Collegiate Gothic architectural theme and ventured toward a new, sharply-planed brutalism, using concrete as a construction material. Modernist, angular buildings like the Weldon Library, the University Community Centre, and the Social Science Centre comprised an expansion in the early 1970s that effectively relocated the centre of the campus to the broad open courtyard area of the “concrete beach.”
- In 1991, the University engaged the consulting firm of Berridge-Lewinberg-Greenberg in what was to be a three-year process to develop a comprehensive Campus Master Plan. This Plan was to take a long-term perspective, defining strategies to accommodate institutional growth, to advance principles and guidelines for future development on and surrounding the present campus, and to provide a framework for specific decisions involving land use and acquisition, building siting, architectural style, and traffic patterns. The resulting Plan, adopted by the University in 1994, reflected the idea that “the fundamental purposes of a University – teaching and research – must be supported and nurtured by the maintenance of a physical environment conducive to intellectual activity and growth.”
- The ambitious Campus Master Plan of 1994 was, however, rapidly overtaken by events outside its projections. In the fall of 1999, the Government of Ontario announced its SuperBuild program, designed to accommodate the increased undergraduate enrolments throughout the province’s university system occasioned by the “double cohort” of students created by the elimination of Grade XIII in the secondary schools. Western responded to SuperBuild and the “double cohort” with the construction of three academic buildings (the Thompson Engineering Building, the Arthur and Sonia Labatt Health Sciences Building, and the North Campus Building) as well as a large classroom in the Natural Science Centre. The Labatt Health Science Building was located in the South Valley site, which had been opened up by the relocation of the football stadium some 600 metres south to the flood plain.
- The opportunities afforded by SuperBuild and the opening of the South Valley occasioned a reconceptualizing of Western’s campus as a core devoted to academic purposes, including the precincts of the centre campus, having the University College Hill reinforced as its focal point, with a link to a “lower campus” in the South Valley, and siting of student residence accommodations at the campus periphery. In his discussion paper, Preserving Canada’s Most Beautiful Campus, published in March 2000, President Paul Davenport set out a strategy which focused principal University activities on a campus bounded by the Thames River on the east and Western Road on the west, with secondary activities extending west of Western Road on established and newly acquired lands.
- In the mid-1990s the University adopted a policy of guaranteeing a place in residence to all new first-year students. To meet that commitment, four residences were opened from 1997 to 2006: Essex Hall (1997), Elgin Hall (1999), Perth Hall (2003), and London Hall (2006). Essex was sited on the north side of University Drive, while the other three residences are located on Western Road just south of the intersection with Sarnia Road and Huron Drive. With the completion of London Hall, Western can honor its guarantee to first year students and at the same time assign about 30% of the residence beds to upper year students. In the 2006-07 University Budget, and again in the 2006 Strategic Plan, Engaging the Future, the University indicates that it is unlikely to construct additional student housing in the foreseeable future and that the further growth in housing required by our expansion of graduate enrollment is likely best met by the private sector.
- Since the redefinition of the campus core in 2000, the University has acted upon the principle of centralizing academic activities. This principle has been achieved through the construction of large classroom facilities at the Natural Science Centre and the Engineering Building, development of the Biotron and new Science facilities in the “Natural Sciences” precinct, and completion of the Dr. Don Rix Clinical Skills facility adjacent to the Medical Sciences Building, as well as the West Valley Building. Other academic projects include the Richard Ivey School’s Lawrence Centre, the Faculty of Law expansion, and the ARCC archives and compact storage facility adjoining the D.B. Weldon Library. Faculty and graduate student office space has also been created adjacent to the Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel.
- At the campus periphery, the new residence program has continued, with the development of a conference-capable complex including Perth, Essex, and London Halls along Western Road. Construction is currently underway on the major new Recreation Centre at the southern end of the South Valley, adjoining the Thomson Recreation and Athletic Centre. The University has also acquired lands and facilities over this period, including the Siebens-Drake Research Institute building off Western Road (2002), 8 acres on the west side of Western Road fronting Brescia University College (the “Diocese Lands”, 2002) and property previously occupied by Westminster College at the northern end of Perth Drive, consisting of several structures and a total of 28 acres, of which 14 are buildable (2005).
- In the 2006-07 University Operating and Capital Budget, Western sets out an ambitious plan of new construction and major building renovations, reflecting the commitment to a central, academically-focused campus and a relocation of support and service activities to the periphery. In 2006, Engaging the Future, Western’s Strategic Plan, articulated the University’s objective of providing the “best student experience among Canada’s leading research-intensive universities” by fostering a learning environment that would address all aspects of intellectual and personal development. Reflecting the link between the academic and physical environments specifically drawn in the 1994 Campus Master Plan, Engaging the Future recognized the need to develop a new guiding document to establish the University’s directions in this major reconfiguration of space in its Commitment 10.1: “Draft a new Campus Master Plan by the end of 2006, which protects the beauty of the campus and continues the emphasis on Collegiate Gothic architecture. The South Valley site should include a signature building and a configuration that emphasizes the Thames River as a defining aspect of the University.” This current master planning activity is a response to that Commitment, looking both back at established principles and forward to future development.
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