The pedagogical mission of any university should be reflected in its campus landscape. Systems should be expressed, spaces engageable and sustainable. Sheep grazing instead of machines mowing, solar collecting instead of fuel burning, and classrooms without walls rather than gated academics. The George Laisner Sculpture Plaza adjacent the Fine Arts School at Washington State University presented an opportunity to implement an approach which is both an engaging amenity for the plaza's host, the Department of Fine Art, as well as a cohesive work of art in its own right.
The Washington State Arts Commission commissioned this project in the fall of 1999. At the time of the Commission, the George Laisner Plaza was a mixture of the original 1971 NBBJ Architects design and that of a more recent 1997 renovation by ALSC Architects. In the original plaza, NBBJ had designed a grid of twelve trees set in 4' x 4' tree pits to provide a modernist entry plaza to complement the Fine Art Building they had designed. The site's hill side topography require the plaza to be built half on a concrete slab, and half on soil, creating a difficult condition for the half of the trees which had been containerized. The plaza landscape never reached its intended formality. There also appeared to be a lack of social interaction with the plaza as an amenity. Renovated in 1997, the new design eliminated all the existing trees.
ALSC's 1997 design overlay acknowledged the expansion joint that bisected the plaza and established a strong diagonal through the plaza delineating landscape from hardscape. A heated ramp/walkway replaced the original stairs at the northwest corner of the plaza and created a strong diagonal, which countered the expansion joint element. Unfortunately, the pedestrian walkway axis terminated un-ceremoniously at a brick wall 30-feet north of the Fine Arts Building entrance. Other new elements included curvilinear forms, consisting of a seating circle and performance circle. The original modernist grid of 4' square tree pits was mimicked in the 1997 paving pattern, creating an overlay, although off register, of the two schemes. This modernist remnant served as the departure point for the third scheme on this plaza.