North Carolina State University’s proposal to rework its campus could alter two modernist landscapes, including its famous Brickyard.
The proposal was recently flagged by Washington, D.C.–based education and advocacy group The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), which deemed the campus landscape at-risk based on a master plan now under review by the university. The organization stated that the Brickyard, designed by landscape architect Richard Bell, and the plaza surrounding the nuclear engineering building (designed by landscape architect and N.C. State alumnus Geoffrey McLean), are likely eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places due to their respective outstanding designs.
“Despite decades of public interest in modernism and modernist design, postwar landscape architecture continues to suffer from a lack of awareness, documentation, and appreciation leaving vulnerable places like the Brickyard and the Burlington Nuclear Engineering Lab Area,” TCLF President and CEO Charles A. Birnbaum said in a press release.
The Brickyard was built as part of a 1963 university expansion guided by a master plan from Bell. The 45,000-square-foot plaza at the heart of the Raleigh, North Carolina, campus is paved with about 500,000 red and white bricks in a geometric pattern loosely inspired by Piazza San Marco in Venice. (Weirdly, about 500 bricks are stolen from the American plaza each year.)
When leading the design of the Brickyard, Bell was working on a range of landscape projects with his wife Mary Jo Harris Bell from their home and studio, Water Garden. (He was also an alumnus of the university.) Bell completed over 2,000 projects, “from residences to public parks, university master plans, and island resorts,” according to a text by Rodney L. Swink published on TCLF’s website. In 2014, Bell received the ASLA Medal, the professional association’s highest award. He died in 2020.
The nearby Burlington Nuclear Engineering Lab is encircled on three sides by a red-brick plaza, built in 1972, that, according to TCLF, draws on Modernist design principles and foreshadows postmodern landscape design via abstract brick sculptures that accentuate functional landscape elements like grates and manhole covers.
“Just last year a portion of the artistically intriguing and unique Lab Area was demolished with little public notice or input,” Birnbaum noted.
“Landscape and setting are an integral element of significant Modern design from the 20th century. We see all too often that educational campuses focus too much on the buildings and not enough on the landscape architecture designed at the same time,” said Liz Waytkus, executive director of Docomomo US, in a statement.” These landscapes including those at N.C. State are incredibly important to the overall composition and the way we as individuals engage with the environment.”
For those concerned about the fate of these and other potentially at-risk landscapes, TCLF has links to action and advocacy options on its website.