Project to improve accessibility, sustainability of Main Quadrangles

Renovation will provide new pedestrian walkways, add native plantings and improve drainage

When landscape architects John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. redesigned the University of Chicago’s Main Quadrangles in 1902, their plan featured a central circular motif intended to stand out with allées and shared pathways. Known as the Center Circle Garden, the landscaping of this scenic corridor lies at the heart of UChicago’s campus-wide botanic garden.

This summer, the University will begin a project to continue enhancing the long-term sustainability for the iconic center of the Main Quad. Beginning June 6, the first phase of renovation will add a new pavement system to help address accessibility and drainage concerns, as well as new plantings that will beautify campus.

The improvements will include more durable walkway surfaces, able to handle heavy service vehicle use and snow management, while maintaining an accessible pedestrian surface.

“When this project is completed, the Main Quad should be even more accessible, with improved water management and drainage and pavement surfaces that are more even and easier to maintain,” said Glenn Okazaki, the accessibility specialist for Facilities Services Campus Planning.

The planning phase has considered accessibility, heritage paving patterns and colors, heavy usage, and stormwater above and below the surface.

Sustainability has been a guiding principle for the renovation and includes adopting local sourcing and native plantings.

“The pavers are being sourced from Aurora, Illinois, and new plantings will feature more resilient natives alongside a mix of pollinator-friendly plants that will enhance the beauty of campus,” said Katie Martin Peck, associate director for campus environment, who led the landscape architecture redesign.

In order to provide longer-term stormwater resiliency, the stormwater detention capacity will be nearly double the recently increased requirement from the city of Chicago and allow stormwater to be stored in the Main Quad. Martin Peck explained that by detaining water in an aggregate layer under the pavement, rainwater will recharge the aquifer instead of directly draining into the already overflowing sewer system.

The changes reflect extensive feedback on ways to improve the heavily traversed center of campus, which was transformed into a pedestrian walkway in 2009.

“The project team deeply researched this solution over a period of two years, with expertise and input contributed by many,” said Michele Rasmussen, dean of students in the University. “The Main Quad pathways lead students, faculty, staff, and visitors to the heart of our campus, and the design attention given to elevating the historic character of the architecture and landscape with accessible improvements has a meaningful impact.”

Construction will begin just after Convocation on June 1 and will last through the summer. East-west pedestrian traffic between Levi Hall and University Avenue will be rerouted until September, while pedestrians on the Main Quad will be rerouted to accessible walkways on the perimeter of the project area.

The crosswalk will be closed at University Avenue between Eckhart Hall and Pick Hall, crossing over to the main entrance of the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures. Parking on the west side of University Avenue will be affected.

For questions regarding the project, please contact Matthew Curtin of UChicago Facilities Services at