The Botanic Garden
 of  Smith College

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Landscape Mission Statement
Smith College

Mary Maples Dunn
19 June 1995

The Smith College landscape is a constructed environment. When we are careful, it is artful; and if we are thoughtful, it will be shaped by an ideal vision. An ideal landscape composition cannot be created whole; once created it cannot be maintained in static form. It changes in response to the requirements of the people who inhabit it. College campuses are ordinarily designed with an unusual intentionality. Smith College's campus adds to usefulness and beauty a commitment to use the landscape as an integral part of the educational mission.

Over the years we have intruded into the original composition of the campus by building new structures, adding on to old structures and taking down standing structures. It is therefore time to arrive at a fresh understanding of our landscape, to explore the potential for enhancing the aesthetic, educational, intellectual and communal value of living on this campus. We must do this with a proper respect for the past, but also mindful of the fact that we now live in a world of tremendously expanding opportunities for women. And because change is constant we must seek a plan which allows us agility and flexibility.

The historical 27 acre campus conveyed Frederick Law Olmsted's 1890's vision of a painterly, 3-dimensional composition which preserved the natural scenery; it linked buildings with open lawns and carefully placed plants and trees, selected and grouped according to scientific as well as aesthetic principles. The degree to which Smith's landscape and Botanic Garden has been preserved and maintained is remarkable. I see as our challenge the need to expand Olmsted's historic vision; to integrate into it the additional 100 acres that now surround the historic core, while addressing the concerns and possibilities of our times.

The need to link through the landscape the several parts of our whole is of vital importance to the building of a community of teachers and learners. Decades of centrifugal growth of the campus have left us with too much disconnectedness, with a campus which does not give the sense of a harmonious, integrated whole. The Quad, for example, beautifully designed and integrated within itself, is neither visually nor spatially made to seem a part of the campus. We now own most of Green Street, but it is not visually incorporated either. It is vital to find a way to integrate the two sides of Elm Street. All of these are tasks for landscape design.

We also need to assess the architecture and quality of living spaces. Are our gathering places appropriately planted and furnished? Having closed off so many of the Olmsted vistas with new buildings, can we now find ways to open views? Do our walks and roads go where people want them to? Which of our plantings need to be replaced; where should new plantings go? Do we venerate our sacred places by taking proper care of them? What about puddles, icings, bogs?

The part of the original design which we have preserved most effectively is the scientific component, the result of a joint effort by William Ganong, Professor of Botany, and Olmsted. We are an arboretum full of distinguished specimens. Our trees are systematically labelled so that students who wish to learn, can learn. Our Botanic Garden is celebrated. These and the remaining parts of the Olmsted design must be preserved.

But in addition to preserving the past, we need a plan which will guide our hands in the future. A plan will help us locate new buildings, parking and roads, sculpture and memorial plantings. It will help us understand which open spaces must never be sacrificed and why. It will bring to the campus spatial and visual harmony, informed by the intellectual and political energy of women entering the 21st century.

Landscape Master Plan Main Page 

Smith College

Last updated on Thursday, May 12, 2005.