Q&A Richard Bumstead

Associate Director of Campus Environment

The University’s landscape architect since 1983 discusses an upcoming Law School garden, plants that grow well in a former marsh, and how the main quads have changed over 30 years.

What major projects are you working on now?

One of my favorites is the modern garden to be installed at the Law School this autumn. It is part of the Julie and Parker Hall Botanic Garden Endowment, which funds gardens across campus—Botany Pond, Hull Court, Regenstein Entry gardens. Different from any other garden on campus, where the manipulated ground plane is the primary feature, it is very appropriate at the Eero Saarinen Law School building.

Another project that started this summer is the 58th Street east and west streetscapes, where we have worked with the city to vacate small sections of the street to extend the main quadrangles pedestrian environment.

How do you work with architects and other planners to make new buildings mesh with the rest of campus?

President Zimmer sees the campus landscape as the fabric that knits the entire campus together. I ask landscape architects who are part of the design teams to walk the campus, understand the work that has been done in the past, the plants and materials that have been used, and to use them as a basis for design. Then I work with these firms to ensure their proposed “plant palette” will thrive in the campus microclimates.

How does the University work storm and climate resiliency into its plans?

The campus was originally a marsh, and the soil is pure sand. With the push to use “native” species in landscapes, it wouldn’t be very popular to create a campus landscape based on marsh plants. But we have been developing a palette of tree species in particular that thrive in these soils along the lakefront.

I am also investigating the use of bioswales which remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water, and I’ve been working with the city to see how we can use some of the captured roof water for landscape irrigation. This issue will grow as we deal with increasing instances of severe weather.

What technologies do we use that weren’t available 30 years ago?

Smart Irrigation Systems, controlled by computers that have real-time data about weather conditions and soil-moisture readings, as well as more precise sprinkler heads. These have led to tremendous water savings. Also, we have just completed a tree survey and have placed it online on the Botanic Garden website, where you can look up the tag number—every tree on campus has a blue tag attached to the trunk—for specific information about the tree.

How much time do you and your staff spend on landscape upkeep?

Steve Frank, supervisor of landscape services; Brandon Rux, assistant supervisor; and their 18 groundskeepers take care of the 217 campus acres on a daily basis. Weekly tasks include lawn care, weeding—a huge issue this summer, pruning, irrigation system repairs, edging beds, mulching.

What part of campus has changed the most in the 30 years you’ve been here?

From a landscape perspective, I would say Campus North. When I arrived, campus literally stopped at Regenstein’s front door along 57th Street. From a land-use standpoint, certainly Campus West with the growth of the BSD and PSD facilities. And Campus South has come alive with the construction of both new residence halls and the Logan Center, not to mention the Midway gardens. But for full campus impact, it has to be the transformation of the main quadrangles into a pedestrian zone—that has completely transformed the way that iconic space feels and functions.

Do you have a favorite space on campus?

Botany Pond. I’m just so happy to work at a place with such a perfect little garden. Another jewel on campus that many people never see is the courtyard at International House. It’s been recently restored and is just a perfect space.

To support future landscape efforts contact the Office of Gift Planning at giftplan@uchicago.edu.

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