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Valencia East Campus
Valencia Community College

“A Look Back at the Sustainability of Educational Facility Planning”

By Christopher D. Flagg, RLA, ASLA

The Valencia campus was designed to be a sustainable landscape, promoting environmental awareness by incorporating design elements such as perimeter landscaped parking lots and open space to areas show the natural character of the wooded areas along the campus.

Clearly, the challenge of creating a totally sustainable environment is preserving its natural integrity, yet providing for the stringent demands of campus planning. This remains one of our foremost concerns as campus planners. Opportunities are rare to establish a brand new college campus on an undeveloped parcel of land. Sustaining the natural environment not only secures a source of life but also increases one's ability to become educated by its value, thus creating a total educational experience.

One such example is the Valencia East Campus of Valencia Community College, just east of Orlando, Florida. At the height of the environmental movement in 1973, a team of four landscape architects in collaboration with an architect, all with the firm of Reynolds, Smith and Hills, Inc., created a plan for this suburban site on the eastern fringes of Orlando. The design intent was to synthesize the analysis and evaluation of educational objectives, physical area requirements, the campus site and its natural environs. The combination of these tasks defined the most functional arrangement of required campus facilities interrelated with the ecological characteristics of the site. To achieve function while creating an enhanced visual environment would only be proven successful over a period of time.

The site analysis reveals the vegetation (listed) and views for the campus. Edges were incorporated throughout the campus to give it a purposeful appearance and design. The covered walkway system borders a line of vegetation preserved by the nearby Little Econlockhatchee River. The walkways were designed specifically to interact with other site conditions, such as vegetation. The sustainable landscape edge of the campus borders the Little Econlockhatchee River.

Visiting this gem of a campus today, proves that environmental awareness through sensitive design, once again can differentiate the common campus from one that educates in totality.

The original development plan was characterized as a compact concept of flexible use buildings expanding linearly along a pedestrian spine, with grade level and above grade cross circulation. Perimeter landscaped parking lots of modest size, linked by an entry road, allows easy access to athletic fields which provide an open space, counterpoint to the buildings, as they develop into a completed spine.

The natural character of the wooded area along the Econlockhatchee River then becomes a verdant backdrop to the campus as it is approached from along Econlockhatchee Trail or Kaw Lige Lane.

The balance of all considerations, which impinge upon the development of the site, composed the projected image of the campus. Balance was achieved through respect of the sites natural features.

The interrelationship of the Valencia East Community College architecture (above) with its central space has been designed to mesh with the internal campus garden (below).

The compact nature of the college site placed a great deal of emphasis on developing the potential of the overall visual character of the campus. The visual character was to be primarily influenced by the architectural statement of the buildings, which act as the core of the myriad, yet interwoven with activities that have occurred synergistically during the growth of the campus.

As a total statement, with the landscape character reflecting the sophistication of the buildings, the vitality of the campus is emphasized through its contrast with the natural swamp edge of the Little Econlockhatchee River.

The flexible planning of the building increments created the function of indoor activities related to improved site amenities and outside spaces. The multi use character of the buildings also influenced the visual character of the campus.

Part of the covered walkway system along the preserved vegetation line of the Little Econlockahatchee River.

A hierarchy of walkways forms pedestrian circulation within the campus. The walkway system evolves, hand in hand with corresponding functions according to pedestrian origin and destination points. The compatibility of walkway patterns interfaces with site conditions and major land uses within which pedestrian circulation naturally occurs. Pedestrian circulation filters into building and courtyard entrances from dispersed source points at the peripheral parking lots, from building to courtyard, and most importantly, along the preserved vegetation line as a protected stroll through campus as a covered walkway.

The walkway system offers a variety of scale and diversified treatments of scale based upon the size of the gathering and seating areas within the campus. The architectural detailing combined with the embellishment of the internal walkway system creata unified environment at the pedestrian level.

The region’s indigenous plant material accents the campus architecture.

The types and qualities of plant material are used in relationship to their need to merge with the natural environment, define parking lots, building entrances, courtyards, screening adjacent properties and maintaining the overall integrity of the existing vegetative character.

The original master plan by Reynolds, Smith and Hills, Inc. planned for a Full Time Equivalent (FTE) student population of 5,000 students, while still remaining primarily as a commuter college. Today, Valencia East Community College boosts an FTE of over 6,700 students with a total headcount population of approximately 21,000 students. These numbers reflect the success of proper planning and sensitivity to the dynamics; not only of the college community, but also of the environment in which it lies.

The ecology of this campus design offers an intrinsic relationship of structure and environment. This totally integrated context for studies has offered another insightful view of how landscape architecture has orchestrated a creative fit for both man and environment.


a Natural Area on-Campus

In 1973 the Planning Division at Reynolds Smith & Hills (Jacksonville & Orlando) assigned a team of 5 professionals- 4 Landscape Architects and an Architect- to create a Master Plan for the suburban campus site on the Eastern fringes of Orlando. After site visits and analysis of existing conditions / development program we were able to follow the Ian McHarg direction to Design with Nature and ultimately preserve nearly 20% of the site in a natural state. This has been protected by irrevocable legal covenants against any future development - a small miracle. An analysis of the Opportunities & Constraints of the site showed that a scheme could be created preserving the wooded riverine Eastern portion of the small site with the mandated surface parking (the client would not fund a parking structure despite all students and faculty commuting) on the West - and buildingsin the middle. This allowed a linear megastructure of classrooms and labs strung along a covered (from subtropical rain) open walkway with views of the wooded area. Mandated sports fields were grouped to the South. The main constraint was the huge parking count.

Four schemes were developed with differing building footprints-the survivor is shown in the Master Plan illustrated here (drawn by me with the CAD system of the times - I was born with it. A shoulder-mount CPU, bi-optical scanner and ten-digit plotter is all it needs! A Black Sharpie and sepia bases were used).

The compatibility of walkway patterns interface with site conditions.

The architect Leonardo Favela created subtle buildings faced with brokenrib concrete- simple large windows allowed viewing the woods. Additional classrooms have now been added in the form of portables - a common compromise in cash-strapped Central Florida. The campus population grew with booming Orlando. It was my privilege to be Planner-in-Charge of this talented team working under the direction of Planning Division Manager Roger Steffens and Planning Manager R. Glen Mitchell. Of course Ian McHard FASLA was our guiding light.

The Master Plan has stood the test of time. On a recent visit (I live in Orlando) I queried both students & faculty- they love this place that we planned in 1973/74.

David B. Linstrum
LASN Associate Editor at Large

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December 10, 2019, 6:55 pm PDT

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