Was amazed to learn that Stanford circa 2010 is in the process of redesigning part of its campus to be in line with Olmsted’s original design.

I’m on a West Coast swing, visiting various Olmsted sites. One of these is Stanford U, for which Olmsted did the original campus plan in 1888. One of the main features of his plan was a series of  interconnected quads, see below…

…Well, Leland Stanford was a willful guy. He was the man behind the intercontinental railroad, after all.  Olmsted — at the height of his influence — was no shrinking violet, either. The two butted heads on an epic scale and only one of the seven quads pictured here ever got built. That was what’s now known as Stanford’s main quad, a classic space (“A” in the design above) and one of the finest pieces of university architecture in the U.S.

Now, here it is 122 years after Olmsted submitted his design and Stanford U. is planning to create several new quads that would be in accordance with the original plan. University architect Dave Lenox showed me around and told me that the first of these new quads is under construction and is expected to be finished as soon as 2011. He said the university is on a 25-year plan to create an interconnected row of quads in keeping with Olmsted’s vision. “We’re lucky to have his original plan,” Lenox told me. “It’s not just a pretty picture. It’s a roadmap to follow as our campus grows.”

Why look to an 1888 plan for guidance about the future? This question is doubly pertinent, when one considers that creating quads on an already crowded campus will require tearing down many existing buildings. Lenox says it’s worth it. Some of the buildings slated for demolition are energy gobbling dinosaurs. In their place, the university will put up low-rise buildings that are more efficient when it comes to heating, cooling, and water use.

Significantly, the new quads will also help achieve a goal that Olmsted sought back in his day. He was a renaissance man. And he valued the idea of open spaces, where students from different disciplines — science, philosophy, and literature — might mingle. Well, the need for such cross-pollenization is even greater today. Lenox sees quads as a subtle piece of social engineering, a way to push students in such modern disciplines as astrophysics, nanotechnology, and international patent law to get out of the narrow confines of their specialty … and mix it up a little. Then as now, that’s the key to keeping a great university vital.

Oh, and here’s the view from Stanford’s main quad, looking toward the new quad that’s currently under construction, slated to open as soon as 2011…