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Campus Land Use / Master Planning History at Vanderbilt

University campuses embark on campus master planning efforts, or land use planning efforts, regularly throughout their history.  Often referred to as the physical manifestation of a university’s strategic plan, campus master planning results in a long-range strategy for the growth and transformation of a campus.  Land use plans are a crucial tool in ensuring that short-term projects are working in conjunction with long-term plans and goals.

With the launch of the FutureVU initiative in the fall of 2015, Vanderbilt studied previous master planning efforts to better understand how the campus has evolved over time. The university discovered that the degree to which each past plan has been implemented has varied over the years.  While past campus master plans, or land use plans, are interesting in and of themselves, they are also useful examples of how to gauge what makes a master plan successful.

There are a number of lessons learned described below and in the land use history video on this page. Vanderbilt’s historic master plans reveal that campus grew as parcels of land were acquired, creating the development of distinct clusters or neighborhoods that are often different in architectural style, landscape and character. While the neighborhoods that make up the current campus are all integral parts of the Vanderbilt community, the current FutureVU efforts are grounded in enhancing connectivity and creating interaction, and seek to bring cohesiveness to the campus that does not exist today.


Vanderbilt Land Use History Video

Produced by former Vanderbilt Institute for Digital Learning (VIDL)

History Synopsis

1875 Original Campus Footprint

Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt gave the $1 million gift that founded Vanderbilt University just two years prior in the spring of 1873. The campus was 75 acres, included 11 structures and was situated on a pasture with sprawling views of downtown Nashville.  The 11 building structures were placed along ridge lines, at some of the highest points of elevation on the campus, and oriented towards downtown Nashville.  The campus gates were located off Vanderbilt Avenue (later to become 21st Avenue).  Looking ahead to 2017, 4 of the original eleven campus structures still exist including Kirkland Hall, Old Central, Residence 7 and the Vaughn Home. Residence 7 currently houses the Center for Student Wellbeing, while the Vaughn Home is the current home of the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities. Old Central is part of present day Benson Hall and Kirkland Hall houses various administrative offices.


1905 Campus Master Plan

George E. Kessler and Company, a Kansas City landscape architect acclaimed for his layout of the 1903 St. Louis Exposition, prepared the 1905 plan.   Mary Gilliam, the wife of Mr. Francis Furman – a dry goods merchant in Nashville, TN – left in her will $100,000 for Vanderbilt to construct a building named after her husband, which became the impetus behind these efforts. The Kessler plan was aggressive in nature and suggested removing all of the original campus structures with the exception of Kirkland Hall, Kissam Hall and Wesley Hall. Proposed new buildings were to be positioned near topographical high-points to maintain views of downtown Nashville.  University leadership decided that the plan lacked the desired element of preservation of existing buildings, and therefore, the placement of Furman Hall was the only result of the 1905 master plan.


1924 Campus Master Plan

The 1924 master plan was prepared by Day & Klauder Architects as a result of the Medical School’s decision to leave downtown Nashville and join the main campus.  The School of Medicine, which began in 1874, was originally located near the present day intersection of Fifth Avenue and Elm Street near downtown Nashville.  By 1895, The School of Medicine was reorganized under the Vanderbilt University Board of Trust. In 1910, Abraham Flexner prepared a report after surveying American medical education that proposed the training of physicians become more rigorous, standardized, and scientific. The Flexner report was taken to heart by Dr. G. Canby Robinson, who was appointed Dean of the School of Medicine in 1920.  Five years after this appointment, the School of Medicine and Medical Center joined the main Vanderbilt campus.  The Day & Klauder master plan respected the contours of the land. The impact of this master plan was significant as it determined the sites of the School of Medicine, Hospital, School of Nursing, the Powerhouse, Alumni Hall, Neely Auditorium, Buttrick, Calhoun, Garland, McGill and Tolman buildings.


1940 Campus Master Plan

Edward Stone prepared the 1940 master plan. The plan recommended screening the interior of the campus from the noise and commotion of the city by moving buildings and parking to the edge of campus and eliminating vehicular circulation from the campus core.  This plan embraced the concept of the university as a park.  Stone even suggested placing buildings where existing circulation crossed the campus in order to block future vehicular access.  Jacobs/Featheringill Hall and Rand Hall are two such buildings that resulted from this plan, and which were placed to block vehicular circulation.


1965 Campus Master Plan

Prior to this time, the university had recognized there was little space for new buildings on the original campus and began to focus on how to reserve the campus footprint for core educational purposes.  In addition, terms of the University Center Urban Renewal Project resulted in Vanderbilt purchasing 501 parcels of real estate in the southwest corner of campus. While Vanderbilt purchased the land with the aim of increasing its footprint and upgrading the surrounding area by developing it for educational purposes, the move was deemed controversial as the land was acquired through eminent domain. The Engineering and Landscape Architecture firm Clarke and Rapuano prepared the 1965 plan.   The focus of the plan was on vertical growth and increased density in order to meet student residential needs and maximize footprint.  Carmichael West, Chaffin A-F, Mayfield A-E, Stevenson Center and the University Club resulted from this plan.


2001 Campus Land Use Plan

Sasaki Associates prepared the 2001 master plan, which was focused on a ten-year build out for existing university land.  Emphasis was placed on expanding green corridors and walkability.  The plan recognized that the geographic center of campus had shifted over time with various land acquisitions, and emphasis was placed on building around this central area.  Buildings that resulted from this plan include Ingram Studio Arts and the Student Life Center, near the geographic center, as well as the Commons Center, Martha Rivers Ingram Commons, and Warren and Moore Colleges.  Additional projects that later resulted include the Wyatt Center expansion, Alumni Hall renovation, Buttrick expansion and Cohen expansion.


Download a PDF of the above master plans, along with additional campus footprint images over time, here