The Kraus Campo: an eyesore, but an opportunity

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

In the fall, when the Kraus Campo was unveiled, I labeled it a devastating failure. I have spent months since walking through it at every opportunity, examining my own experience and observing how others are using the garden. I am still certain that the Kraus Campo is a poor fit with the needs and values of the campus community. But the opportunity and responsibility for maintenance and control of the garden has now passed to the community to take advantage of the garden and see how it can be used and changed to fit with our needs. Beyond changing the garden, we must also look for lessons to guide and improve future public art on campus.
Despite limits on the usability of the space, including a complete lack of shade and minimal seating, there are many ways in which students can use the garden. Even with the curving paths it makes an effective shortcut from Hunt Library to Margaret Morrison and Posner Halls.
From an ecological perspective, one of the significant concerns with the Kraus Campo is its extensive use of Japanese barberry, an invasive plant that chokes out native plants in parks and forests. Considering the broad commitment of the University to environmental responsibility, the use of the invasive plant highlights the disconnect between the artists and the campus community. The campus community should look for an opportunity to replace the plants with something more suitable, such as false indigo (Amorpha fruticosa), ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), or native hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), all of which are similarly sized. There is even the option of using blueberry bushes, providing fruit in addition to attractive and durable ground cover.
As this is only the first of what has been proposed as a series of public art installations on campus, it would be wise to look for examples where student-led and student-centered designs have been executed with great success.
Looking no farther than the Artists and Gardens conference, Bob Bingham presented a student-led project involving his eco-art course, senior BHA student Diane Loviglio, FMS, the Green Practices Committee, and an outside consultant to design and build a green roof for a section of Hamerschlag Hall. After a four-year planning process involving students, staff, and faculty from across the University, construction finally began this past week in the hope that it would be completed for commencement. The roof incorporated denser and wilder planting to encourage wildlife and provided an area for anyone to observe the garden. In addition, as a green roof like the Kraus Campo, it reduces both water runoff and the building?s energy consumption. This process has so engaged students that they have written a manifesto to ?green? many more roofs on campus.
More examples of interdisciplinary student-planned spaces are the projects produced by the Design and Construction course, taught by civil engineering professor Larry Cartwright for the past 15 years. These projects combine practical education for engineering students while encouraging artists and architects to contribute to the pleasurable experience of the site. These projects also fit within the University?s master plan of creating more public green spaces, as recommended by Henry Hornbostel, the central architect in shaping the Carnegie Mellon campus.
Notable examples of Cartwright?s Design and Construction projects include the small amphitheatre built between Doherty Hall and the Purnell Center for the Arts. Integrating sculpture by William Kofmehl (the art student later to gain fame as ?Lobster Boy?) and private seating areas set them apart from the business of the Cut. This space was designed and built in 1999 by a team of students at a fraction of the cost it would have taken to be constructed by private contractors. The concern of these projects for the environment is also evident in the adjacent staircase, where a 44-foot ascent was made without requiring the removal of a single tree.
The Kraus Campo should be seen not as a failure but as incomplete, waiting for the campus to take it on as an opporunity and see what can be done both to make the garden better and to create more appropriate solutions for public art and gardens on our campus. Our values and needs as an educational institution are dependent on the quality of the environment in which we live and work. Let us ensure that an open process, reflecting our values through discussion and student engagement, shapes that environment in the future.