The newly opened EcoCommons at Georgia Institute of Technology is the largest standalone landscape project ever undertaken by the university. The eight-acre EcoCommons is an ecologically and socially conscious pedagogical space, presenting native regional ecologies and daylighting the difficult and nearly forgotten Civil Rights history of the site. The landscape architect created a design that manifests three primary goals: Learn, Engage, Reflect. Through the capture and reuse of stormwater, habitat and air quality monitoring, areas for outdoor instruction, study, and gathering, and a contemplative site for social justice, the design creates opportunities for learning, research, engagement, and reflection for students, faculty, and visitors.

The EcoCommons began as a solution to the need identified in the 2004 Campus Landscape Master Plan for a series of interconnected open landscapes. In addition to creating new amenities for the campus community to gather, relax, and study, the Institute’s goal was to ensure these landscapes were ecologically functioning to support sustainability initiatives, improve stormwater management and reduce runoff, and provide new opportunities for research on-site. The EcoCommons is the core of this series of open spaces, reintegrating functional topography and water flow and creating three living landscape typologies that meet the Institute’s goals of Learn, Engage, and Reflect.

The design process for the EcoCommons was fundamentally collaborative across many scales – from charrettes with students, faculty, and staff to consistent collaboration with the Institute’s Capital Planning, Space Management and Facilities Design and Construction departments to holistic approaches to landscape with ecologists, engineers, historians, and local experts. At the outset of conceptual design, the landscape architect and design team facilitated multi-day workshops with students and faculty which generated key principles and goals that served as the guiding vision and foundation for the final EcoCommons design. From this collaboration, it was clear that the EcoCommons should embody four primary tenets: water stewardship, engaged social connection, amplified native Piedmont ecologies, and be Georgia Tech. 

The EcoCommons creates a living laboratory in the middle of the urban Georgia Tech campus with three distinct aspects: Learn, Engage, Reflect. By supporting the research pedagogy of the Institute through environmental monitoring, reducing stormwater runoff, and creating a new outdoor learning pavilion, the EcoCommons provides data and space to Learn. The Georgia Tech community is Engaged within this accessible landscape for active and passive recreation, increased connectivity, and relaxation. Through Unity Plaza, the community is invited to Reflect on the site’s significant Civil Rights history.

The EcoCommons realizes the first piece of Georgia Tech’s vision for an 80-acre interwoven ribbon of green spaces throughout its campus. The seven-acre EcoCommons creates new open space for learning, research, play, relaxation, and contemplation. The EcoCommons meets one of the primary goals for the Institute by reducing stormwater runoff, diverting millions of gallons of stormwater entering the city’s sewer system, and capturing stormwater for irrigation. The high-functioning landscape supports Georgia Tech’s commitment to sustainability and provides research opportunities for students and faculty through ongoing environmental monitoring. The EcoCommons provides abundant spaces for its community, including a learning deck for outdoor classes, a hammock grove, slides to traverse the site’s topography, and lush native plantings for immersive experiences of nature. Finally, the EcoCommons responds to and engages the public in a significant moment in Civil Rights history. The site is the former location of the Pickrick Diner – an all-white establishment that refused service to three Black students from a local seminary, an incident which led to the first lawsuit upheld by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Unity Plaza celebrates the agency and bravery of these students and invites the public to reflect on this legacy and its importance today.

Other landscape architecture offices involved in the design of landscape: Barge Design Solutions

Architecture offices involved in the design: Lake|Flato

Location: 879 Hemphill Ave NW, Atlanta GA 30318, USA

Design year: 2018

Year Completed: 2021

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