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Pealing Bells for an Appealing Plaza
Oakland University--Elliott Carillon Tower and Plaza, Rochester, Michigan

Landscape Architecture by Grissim Metz Andriese Associates


1 Bell Tower
2 Water Feature
3 Brick Paving
4 Tables with Umbrellas
5 'Skyline' honeylocusts in Paving
6 Carpet Roses
7 Daylilies
8 Maple Shade Trees
9 Lawn
10 Ornamental Grasses
11 New Concrete Walk
12 Existing Concrete Walk
13 Steps
14 Exposed Aggregate Concrete Pavement
15 Benches

An Integral Part of Campus Culture
The Elliott Tower Plaza is a dynamic gathering space with a stunning architectural centerpiece, located in the heart of Oakland University's campus in Rochester, Michigan. Encompassing two acres, the plaza is defined by a 151-foot tall carillon tower, water feature, plaza, landscape plantings and site furnishings. It has already become a place to meet, gather and be inspired. As an iconic element within the campus, the tower and plaza strengthen the identity of Oakland University and enhance the entire campus culture.


The namesakes of the tower, Oakland University benefactors Hugh and Nancy Elliott, donated $6.5 million to its construction. The architect for the tower was Niagara Murano Architects of Rochester, Michigan. The lighting for the plaza (bollards, uplighting of the trees and tower lighting) was not designed or specified by the landscape architects, but it is all LED lighting.
Photo: Justin Maconochie Photography

The Donor's Vision
Gifted by long time university philanthropists Hugh and Nancy Elliott, the 151-foot tall masonry Elliott Tower features a fully chromatic 49-bell carillon. It is the 14th carillon tower in Michigan. It was the Elliott's desire to build a carillon tower that would be a landmark unique to Oakland University, along with a significant water feature and a plaza for students to enjoy. Oakland University is only the fourth Michigan university to have a carillon. The bells were custom made in the Netherlands. The carrion's largest bell is 5 feet in diameter and weighs two and a half tons. The bells in toto weigh more than 30,000 pounds. Mechanical equipment for the water feature is housed below the tower in a conditioned space. A titanium metal roof caps the brick and limestone tower to minimize maintenance and to glisten in the sunlight.


The Tower Plaza has a 60-foot diameter precast concrete paver (Unilock) plinth that forms an architectural base for the tower. The cast-in-place concrete curbs and steps offer informal seating. The hardscape circumscribing the plinth has exposed aggregate surfacing. The plaza landscape features 'Pink Carpet' roses, 'Skyline' honeylocusts, ornamental grasses and 'Green Mountain' boxwoods.
Photo: Justin Maconochie Photography

Selecting a Location
After considering a couple locations for the tower it became apparent the tower should be placed between the Oakland Center and Kresge Library, given its central location and visual proximity to the rest of the campus. This location was also directly accessible from the athletic and recreation buildings, allowing for a great place for presporting event gatherings and collegiate comradery.


The Tower Plaza water feature (WET Design, Sun Valley, Calif.) has over 80 nozzles; its jets have the ability to spray water up to 60 feet into the air. Mechanical equipment for the water feature is housed below the tower in a conditioned space. Plaza amenities include precast concrete bench seating, tables with umbrellas and lawn area seating.
Photo © ProAirVideos

Design Process Included the Donors
Since the design concept had been established for the tower as a previous architectural submission, a series of meetings was held with the donors, university representatives, architect and landscape architect to establish the design direction for the plaza and water feature. The Elliott's provided input and design guidance throughout the project planning and design. The donor even expressed preference for certain plants, which were included in the final design. Options for layout of the plaza, water feature, building location and orientation were presented and discussed. The plaza needed to be a versatile space that could accommodate large gatherings, but also provide a variety of seating options. The tower would be the centerpiece, located at the intersection of the two major pedestrian axis that passed through the space.


The walkway connection to Elliott Tower Plaza is lined (left) with juniper shrubs and dwarf Hamlin grasses. The mature trees are honey locusts. The lawns are Elijah bluegrass and fescue sod blends.
Photo © ProAirVideos

Plaza Design Responds to the Tower and Campus
The plaza design implemented playful use of elliptical shapes with varied rotations to create the form of hardscape and landscape spaces. The plaza and water feature were designed to be in scale with the exceptionally tall tower. With over 80 nozzles and the ability to spray 60 feet into the air, the water feature was designed to intrigue and inspire. A 60-foot diameter stepped plinth forms an architectural base for the building and offers informal seating on the steps. The existing topography reinforces the central elliptical space by carving out the adjacent grade, creating a sloped edge for informal seating in the lawn, and terraced steps for pedestrian circulation and casual seating. A variety of seating options were programmed for the plaza to promote social interaction or allow for individual seating. A network of existing sidewalks culminate at the tower plaza, inviting pedestrians to pass through and engage in the space. Circular openings in the central plaza are planted with honey locust trees and Elijah blue fescue grasses, adding scale, shade and color to the plaza. Perimeter plantings include 'Red Carpet' roses and boxwood hedges (a donor favorite). Over 30 maple trees were installed in an elliptical pattern to define the perimeter of the space and reinforce the significance and scale of the plaza.

"The vision was to create a space that was the centerpiece of the campus and would be a landmark place," explains Paul Andriese, vice president of Grissim Metz Andriese Associates. It's a place where people can meet, study, socially interact, and where the university can hold outdoor gatherings and events."


After considering several locations for the tower, it became apparent the tower should be placed between the Oakland Center and Kresge Library, given its central location and visual proximity to the rest of the campus. The location is also directly accessible from the athletic and recreation buildings, facilitating presporting event gatherings and collegiate comradery.

An Enhancement to Campus Life
A live concert performed by the university's carillonneur plays every Friday at noon. The program selection is generally related to a current event, local or global. The relationship between the landscape and the users' senses are enhanced by the acoustic experience of the carillon bell tower and movement of water from the dynamic water feature. The Elliott Tower and Plaza reinforce the Oakland University brand and identity, as well as support social interaction between people, increasing the quality of the campus environment.

About GMA
Grissim Metz Andriese Associates is a premier, award winning landscape architecture firm located in historic downtown Northville, Michigan. Celebrating 50 years of service in 2015, the firm was recently awarded the 2014 MiASLA "Firm of the Year," and featured in LASN's November 2015 Firms of the Midwest issue.

Project Team
Donors: Hugh and Nancy Elliott
Client: Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan
John Harmala, Senior Project Manager
Steve Zmich, Director, Capital Planning & Design
Landscape Architect: Grissim Metz Andriese Associates, Northville, Michigan,
Paul Andriese, ASLA, Vice President | Principal
Architect: Niagara Murano, Birmingham, Michigan;
David Barczys, President
Construction Manager: Barton Malow Company, Mike Schefka, Senior Project Manager

Aluminum & Glazing:
Universal Glass & Metals, Inc., Detroit
Carpentry/General Trades: Diversified Construction Specialists, Inc., Rochester Hills, Mich.
Electrical: LaBelle Electric Services, Macomb, Mich.
Granite: Wolverine Stone Co., Warren, Mich.
Irrigation Designer:
Graber & Associates, Chesterfield, Mich.
Donato Landscape, LLC, Shelby Township, Mich.
Leidal & Hart Mason Contractors, Inc., Livonia, Mich.
Mechanical: Great Lakes Mechanical, Dearborn
Metal Roofing: CASS Sheet Metal, Detroit
Painting: Madias Brothers Painting, Detroit, Mich.
Site Fence: Riteway Fence Co., Sterling Heights, Mich.
Structural & Site Concrete:
Amalio Corporation, Sterling Heights, Mich.
Structural Steel: Ideal Steel, Detroit, Mich.
Temporary Road & Site Work:
Blaze Contracting, Inc., Detroit
Water Feature Designer: WET Design, Sun Valley, Calif.




The largest of the 49 chromatic bells in the carillon tower is 5 feet in diameter, weighs in at 5,000 pounds and plays a low C.
Photos: Justin Maconochie Photography (Top) and Oakland University (Bottom)

The Elliott Tower Carillon
In centuries past, bell towers were used to sound the hour, while higher pitched bells we sounded to alert or warn the citizenry. The use of tower bells in a musical fashion originated in the Netherlands and Belgium in the 16th century. "Carillon" (French for bell) was long ago adopted to describe tower bells.

The 151-foot tall Elliott Tower and its fully chromatic 49-bell carillon are gifts of Hugh and Nancy Elliott, long time Oakland University philanthropists. The first "well-tuned carillon" was cast in Zutphen, the Netherlands, in 1652 by French brothers Pieter and Francois Hemony. Noted carillons in the U.S. include one adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery, a 1954 gift of the Netherlands in thanks for U.S. aid during and after World War II; another is the Riverside Carillon in New York City, reportedly the largest tuned carillon bell in the world.

The Petit and Fritsen Royal Bellfoundry in the Netherlands, artisans of the craft since 1660, cast the Elliott Tower's bells and keyboard. The Verdin Company of Cincinnati installed the carillon. The largest bell within the tower is 5 feet in diameter, weighs in at 5,000 pounds and plays a low C. On the large bell is inscribed: "The True Net Worth of a Person Is What He Does For Others--Hugh, Nancy and Chad Elliott, 2014." Chad graduated from Oakland University in 2007. The bronze bells in toto weigh more than 30,000 pounds.

A carillon is a keyboard instrument, although instead of keys as on a piano, it has rounded wooden levers that are grasped and pressed, which activate vertical wires attached to pivoting cranks that move the clappers inside the bells. There are also foot pedals similar to an organ that are pressed to sound the heavy bass bells. Dennis Curry is the university carillonneur. Every Friday at noon, Curry plays a half-hour concert. Oakland University houses the complete collection of Todd Fair, an accomplished carillonneur who performed and taught worldwide. He was the carillonneur for several Dutch cities, including the Old Church in Amsterdam.

As seen in LASN magazine, June 2016.

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