Ohio State University, Columbus, OH (2002)
The Oval is The Ohio State University’s central honorific space—the site of the university’s commencement exercises---it forms, together with Mirror Lake Hollow, the heart of Ohio State’s Columbus campus. Deeply influenced by the Olmsted Brothers’ 1909 Master Plan, the Oval has significant historic value, but the latent intrusion of the automobile and heavy use by the ever-growing campus population, now over 80,000, eventually began to compromise the landscape’s ecologies and aesthetics. By the time MVVA began work in 2002, the much-cherished Oval was showing the strains of overuse and incremental decision-making.
MVVA’s design for the restoration of the Oval began with a master plan that encompassed the buildings at the Oval’s edge, which comprise the university’s academic and administrative core. The plan called for a series of fine-grained interventions that would bring the landscape right up to the building edges, as originally envisioned by the Olmsteds. These included the removal of shrubs around the buildings and the mitigation of the gradual encroachment of cars into the landscape. Some roadways and parking areas were replaced by a broad perimeter footpath, clarifying the circulation networks and giving the central open space a coherent, consistent frame.
In the Oval’s interior, subtle but important changes in topography create a gentle lawn bowl, guiding visitors along the Oval’s central axis and better managing stormwater runoff. A new brick path runs from High Street to Thompson Library, establishing a processional corridor from the public realm into the campus. The Oval’s secondary paths, based on the desire lines created by campus foot traffic, were repaired or replaced, edged, and paved in two different materials, establishing a circulation hierarchy and lessening their visual impact. Throughout, the design revitalizes the landscape and improves its performance without drawing attention to itself—the Oval, now more beautiful and more durable, simply expresses the Olmsteds’ original intentions with renewed vigor.