Undergrads analyze UNC spaces

As part of the Community Design and Green Architecture (ENEC 420) course with Eric Thomas, the Project Manager and Lead Designer at Development Finance Initiative, undergraduate UNC students evaluated public space. Using video and behavior mapping techniques, students evaluated how different local spaces are used, or not, at different times of the day and on different days. They noted weather and other factors that would influence the behavior of people in the space, and produced final reports and videos to highlight the design features that seem successful in attracting and keeping people, and those that fall short. See excerpts from two groups’ final reports and their videos below.

The Pit: 

“There is nothing elegant, advanced or expertly designed about The Pit at UNC and yet it is a focal point of our campus. It is quite literally a glorified rectangle-shaped hole in the ground. It’s only definitive feature being steps lining the edge and two large trees in it’s center. How does something so simple have such an impact on the everyday lives of students? The Pit’s simplistic nature lends itself to ease of use, but it is largely so successful because of its central location. The Pit is surrounded by some of the most frequently visited buildings on campus: the student union, the Student Store, the dining hall, Lenoir, The Undergraduate Library, and Davis Library. These buildings attract students of all years and majors.

The Pit is used in many ways and is a healthy, bustling part of UNC’s campus. However, it could stand to be improved. For example, the entire unused section nearest to the Undergraduate Library could be revitalized using creative seating solutions. We propose a designed space — different than anything The Pit has seen before — of modern multi-use benches in what is now “dead space.” An example of our vision is the Plaza at Harvard and the simplistic, yet artistic benches that exist there. Our hope is that this will give new life to this area of The Pit because when people see intentional seating for them in a popular social place, they will utilize it. Also, the modern design of the benches will give The Pit and exciting element of relevance in design that college students are likely to be interested in.”

Sculpture Garden:

“We chose to analyze the Sculpture Garden, which lays between Kenan College of Music, the Hanes Art Center, and Swain Hall.  The space is primarily transitional, with bits of student-made art sprinkled throughout.  A diagonal, bricked walkway extends through a grass matrix, forming a square with three sides touching the above buildings. The Sculpture Garden is a moderate-to-heavily used space.  The primary form of traffic is individuals walking in either direction along the prescribed brick pathway.  Although there were bikes present in the data, the absence of bike infrastructure, and the sometimes clogged nature of the pathway deterred most from riding their bikes through the Garden.  One might think that the grass matrix would be attractive sprawling space for individuals and groups looking to eddy out of the central flow, or to simply mill about and consume the art present, but this data was absent from the study.  Some few individuals crossed ‘unconventionally’ across the grass, but these were in the extreme minority.  The particularity of the pathway (leading to the front doors of Hanes Art) does not lead for much variation, and thus only suits a specific type of traveler: they who wish to walk from Swain Hall, or other locals in mid campus, to Hanes Art or over to South Columbia Street.

Our recommendations would be to make the space feel like it belongs in the arts part of campus.  Make it different.  Make it new.  The single brick path should either be removed or downplayed.  A program should be put in place informing passers-by that they are free to walk in the way most organic to them, for perhaps a year.  At the end of this period, the paths naturally worn into the grass matrix could be either bricked over or simply defined and formalized.  More sculptures and places for people to sit should be installed.  The sculptures fortify the space; they make a large, empty space feel small and intimate.  They afford privacy without actually cutting the individual off from the rest of the Garden.  Even non-three dimensional additions like posters and murals on the sides of Kenan and Hanes would really bring the place alive.  There is ample real estate with which to flesh out not only the Sculpture Garden, but to crystalize what it means to be an artist at Carolina.  In doing so the university could strengthen its image, and foster a robust space for artists on campus to share their own work and consume and comment on the work of their peers and mentors.”


Analysis of the Sculpture Garden by Marques Wilson (Undergraduate Senior, Public Relations B.A., Sustainability Minor), Forest Schweitzer (Undergraduate Junior, Environmental Studies B.A. – Sustainability Track), and Olivia Corriere (Undergraduate Sophomore, Environmental Studies B.A. – Sustainability Track, Geography Minor).

Analysis of the Pit by Bronwyn Bishop (Undergraduate Senior, Environmental Studies B.A. – Sustainability Track, Writing for the Screen and Stage Minor) and Joe Young (Senior, Environmental Science B.S., Mathematics Minor).

Featured Image: The Pit at UNC Chapel Hill. Photo Credit: UNC Admissions