Walk This Way
What makes a public place compelling? What’s the magic formula that turns a random setting into a destination?
Bates, in concert with two well-known donors and a renowned design firm, thinks it has an answer. It’s embodied in Alumni Walk, part of the wave of new construction that will reshape College life in the coming years.
Scheduled for October completion, the Walk extends the course of Andrews Road — which until April was the car-crowded road in front of Lane Hall — east to the new Commons. This incarnation of the 2.5-acre space is intended as nothing less than the new hub of the campus. And like any place where people want to be, it will present a landscape of many parts, a complex human ecology.
For example, it will be a crossroads. If you head from Olin Arts Center to the historic Quad, or from the new Commons to the new student housing near Mount David, you’ll find Alumni Walk.
It’ll be a park — “light and uplifting,” in the words of Sasaki Associates landscape architect Nicole Gaenzler, who designed the Walk with Sasaki principal Ricardo Dumont. Picture a grove of paper birches, whose bark and leaves are distinctively attractive and whose canopy lets the sun shine through. In springtime, 40,000 scilla bulbs will form a vibrantly blue carpet between the Walk’s twin paths.
The Walk will be a place to meet and mingle. Enclosed by Bates’ oldest, newest, and most-used buildings, it will serve myriad social needs: as a village square for celebrations, a retreat for reflection, and even an outdoor classroom, thanks to a new amphitheater facing Lake Andrews.
As the name makes plain, Alumni Walk above all salutes the largest, and in a sense most permanent, branch of the Bates family. Honoring all alumni was the intent of the Keigwins, Beverly P’86 and Jack ’59, a Trustee, who made the lead gift for the project, worked with the designers, and suggested the name.
Though Bates is certainly defined by the faculty’s scholarship and students’ achievements, says Jack, “really, it’s identified forever with the alumni and their successes and contributions to the community.”
Devoted to beautiful landscapes at home and in their role as principals, now retired, of a Rhode Island design-build firm, the Keigwins have made the Bates landscape a philanthropic priority for many years. They are motivated in part by Jack’s fondness for a campus environment in which, as a Bates student, he found solace. “The natural surroundings were, frankly, therapy for the stress of achievement,” he explains. “That’s very important.”
The couple’s best-known Bates gift to date may be the renewal of Lake Andrews and surroundings. They funded the pond’s badly needed restoration and the construction of amenities, named for family members, that are now campus landmarks: the Marjorie Burgoyne Walk circling the pond and the Florence Keigwin Amphitheater at Olin Arts Center.
Andrews Road’s potential as a crossroads was identified at least as far back as 1992, when a campus study envisioned a “new central campus [with] a strong spine, which is called Andrews Walk” (Bates Magazine, Spring 1993). Then and now, a clearly defined junction between the main campus “neighborhoods” was needed. The longtime crossroads was the historic Quad, as the once-vital “Mouthpiece” at Hathorn Hall reminds us. But as the campus has grown, the traffic patterns have shifted.
The facilities master-planning process, begun by President Elaine Tuttle Hansen in 2003 and employing Sasaki as consultant, gave new life to the spine concept by proposing a cross-campus connector linking two important new buildings, the student housing at Mount David and the Commons next to Alumni Gym.
Thus joined, the Walk, Commons, and new housing express a unified theme: that the teaching-and-learning mission at Bates is not confined to classroom or lab. Sited amidst key academic facilities, the Walk “could potentially become a core space that could link the academic with the social and cultural life on campus,” Sasaki’s Gaenzler says.
Yet the Walk will ultimately transcend the sum of its academic and logistical parts, “so you could take out all these functions and it would still become a place to be, a very iconic space,” she says.
The design thoroughly reimagines a large swath of campus, from College Street to North Bardwell. During the spring and summer, workers have stripped the earth bare with stunning thoroughness prior to regrading, paving, and planting. And because, as Gaenzler points out, “the spaces between the buildings that lead to and from the Walk are significant,” the sloping passages from the historic Quad have been regraded. This broadens and unifies the space, while improving handicapped accessibility.
The design reflects Bates egalitarianism in the way it treats the buildings surrounding the Walk — Pettengill, Pettigrew, Hathorn, Lane, et al. — by providing uniform entrance “landings” flush with ground level. With the new Commons a likely scene-stealer, Gaenzler says, the designers made “all the buildings gather around as equals, so it all becomes more about the space itself.”
Watching Alumni Walk emerge from a parking lot, like some modern version of the ugly duckling story, is appealing, but the real fascination will begin after the last piece of turf is laid and the last scilla bulb planted. How will the Walk be used? Bates senior staff will continue to discuss what role it could play in such vital rituals as Convocation and Commencement, a ceremony that is a symbolic bridge to alumni status.
For their part, while Beverly and Jack Keigwin can see everything from fairs to protests to rallies finding a place on the Walk, the people who made it possible are especially excited about the Walk’s potential during Reunion.
What better place, after all, for the Alumni Parade than Alumni Walk?