Trip Down Memory Lane: VCU Shafer Court Plaza

HG Design Studio has a long-standing working relationship with Virginia Commonwealth University. VCU has been committed to improving the quality of life for the faculty, staff and students. As an urban university with a diverse collection of buildings ranging from historic nineteenth century brownstones to large modern buildings, the pedestrian system is the dominant element that unifies and gives the campus its strong urban identity. VCU has relied on HG Design Studio to develop campus wide standards for streetscape elements as well as creating plans for outdoor spaces.

As the University developed more property along Broad Street, Shafer Court became a major pedestrian thoroughfare for students. In 1998, we were retained to convert the street into a pedestrian way and public gathering area, creating a safer environment for students by isolating them from vehicular traffic.

Shafer Court is the main pedestrian spine and connects to closed sections of Linden Street creating a continuous pedestrian corridor through campus. Over time, renovations to buildings along this corridor such as Hibbs Hall and the University Student Commons have been designed by HG to be part of a unified pedestrian environment.

HG designed the compass rose and paving pattern that have become focal points of the pedestrian network and iconic of the campus. Over time, “meet me at the compass” has become a familiar call among students and the compass even has its own Facebook page.

Our team also designed the adjacent Shafer Court Dining Center. Low brick seat walls define both the site and Shafer Court as students congregate here to meet and be seen. Circulation routes drove the concept, which was fleshed out with outdoor seating, plenty of bike parking and areas of lawn for student recreation. In addition, pedestrian routes through the space from an adjacent bus stop allowed the creation of a second circular seating area between the Shafer Court compass and the entrance to the building further maximizing the space available for student enjoyment.

The design schedule was a major challenge for this space. HG was brought on to the project two months before construction documents were due. In that timeframe, we prepared a schematic site plan and presented it to the VCU Architectural Review Committee and the state Art and Architecture Review Board followed by construction documents.