University of Washington: How Olmsted Integrated a Campus into a City Park System

Mobile Workshop

This mobile workshop will delve into the rich history of The University of Washington Campus and the lasting impact of the renowned Olmsted brothers.  Relocated from downtown to larger, less-developed acreage in 1895, the University of Washington consisted of just six buildings when the Olmsted Brothers firm prepared a general park plan in 1903. Using a world’s fair to gain a campus design, John Charles Olmsted returned in 1906 to design the grounds for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. This world’s fair attracted over three million people to Seattle, which at the time had a population of 240,000. Olmsted urged the regents to allow a boulevard through campus and to reserve part of the campus for public park use. Today it is an important element of the city’s open space and the site of one of America’s premier universities.

Learn about the underlying planning that shaped the campus as tour leaders take you on a loop three-mile walk, complete with historical photos and Olmsted plans. Participants will also experience a classic Olmsted design principle, “genius of place,” which can be understood at a vista point of Mt. Rainier from Red Square, the heart of the university’s campus. 

Please note: This tour involves walking approximately three miles over areas of uneven ground and climbing and descending stairs and as such participants should wear comfortable yet sturdy walking shoes.  Some areas on the tour may not be accessible to participants with limited mobility.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

  • Identify how Olmsted parks relate to the communities in which they exist, their social benefits, and their contribution to the health of neighborhood residents.
  • Outline the Olmsted philosophy of providing open space for all people which is built on the belief that a city park should provide “the prospect of coming together, all classes largely represented” and the Olmsted brothers aim for an egalitarian society that would be made more robust through common use of public spaces.
  • Identify how Olmsted parks and boulevards relate to the communities in which they exist, their social benefits, and their contribution to the health of neighborhood residents.
  • Discuss the concept of "genius of place" and see it first hand at Red Square, the central area of the university's campus. Identifying how this principle of Olmsted's design philosophy is applied to the natural surroundings and campus layout to create an aesthetically pleasing and harmonious atmosphere.