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The University of Tennessee Cherokee Farm

Campus master plan and development guidelines deliver highly respectful and sustainable solutions

Respectful solution to site and users... Creates fantastic social spaces by retaining greenspace.

Imagine this pastoral setting: swaths of green along a riverside, mature trees, gently sloping hills...and cutting-edge scientific research. Building on only 77 of 200 acres, GS&P’s master plan for the University of Tennessee’s new Cherokee Farm campus left copious green space while including large quads, a nature preserve, a greenway connecting back to the City of Knoxville, and a 46-acre archaeological site. The results are a science and technology campus plan that is itself a research project, and a campus connected not only to its own environment but also to the life of the city.



How did you come to this project?

Craig Parker: Initially, the University of Tennessee tasked us to simply provide an infrastructure design for the site that would support a state-of-the-art research campus. However, as we got into the data collection and investigation phases, it became evident that a master plan was needed.

John Houghton: The focus was on building a state-of-the-art science and technology research campus, and Dr. David Millhorn, the Executive Vice President for Research for the University of Tennessee, was adamant that this development attract global attention and contribute to the state’s future economic development.

Craig: One of the things often stated during these meetings with the vice president was the campus itself would be a research project. In addition to the future tenants being involved in world-class research, the campus itself would be researched.

Based on the master plan, is the project positioned to meet those goals?

John: In terms of the final campus master plan, yes. There's a heavy emphasis on developing the site as a pedestrian-friendly environment with well-defined public spaces and strong connections to the city, downtown Knoxville and the UT Knoxville campus. The master plan and development guidelines also establish a basic framework that can respond to future needs and building technologies. Together, the well-defined public spaces, connections and flexible framework should result in a dynamic campus.

What are some of the focuses of the design guidelines?

Woody Jones: We did a fair amount of research picking through different LEED sources and other sustainable guidelines and discovering how to approach sustainable master planning as well as how to regulate these principles throughout the campus. We were able to mandate some of these things to the future tenants.

John: One of the guiding themes of the whole master planning process was flexibility in terms of having the entire campus as an ongoing research project itself. So the design guidelines were really about setting some basic standards and policies that would guide the campus’ future development, both from an aesthetic standpoint and a sustainable design standpoint.

We oriented the buildings east-west to maximize solar orientation. We also looked for opportunities to implement additional sustainable design solutions: photovoltaic panels or arrays on top of parking garages; geothermal fields that could be located in the quads between buildings or on surface parking lots adjacent to the building; and stormwater systems that could mimic natural stormwater patterns rather than just using a system of pipes.

Woody: Our goal was to do a great deal of sustainability in a variety of ways. Sustainability was used in the planning as well as with regard to pedestrians, infrastructure, buildings and materials. The breadth of what they’ve undertaken here really will set this campus apart.

Craig: It was important to preserve the steep slopes that have a tremendous amount of mature trees, so the entire site morphed around keeping that area intact. That’s where we came up with the quad concept, to keep the green spaces between the buildings, which mimicked the larger open space that we wanted to preserve. It was also very intentional that the parking is along the highway. We actually want people to walk to their cars and get exercise. We also designated the parking area as a solar panel collector, aligning solar panels on top of the decks.

Another important focus was to orient the view toward the river; however, we had to keep in mind the views from across the river back toward the campus. The residents in the area looking across the river to the campus were nervous we were designing a concrete jungle. Once they saw the drawings, they realized the University was going to do it the right way, and they embraced it.

Is preserving the view why the buildings are scaled from five stories down to three as they approach the river?

Craig: Somewhat. It also helps work with the site, so that the buildings aren’t overwhelming, and you have clear sight lines from the higher buildings over the lower buildings out across the river. We definitely tried to keep parking under buildings, where feasible, to preserve as much green space as possible.

You’re keeping a lot of green space by only building on 77 of 200 acres.

John: That is sort of a happy accident. There is an archaeologically significant area along the river. About 45 of the 200 acres covered major Native American settlements dating back 10,000 years.

Paul Steele: The archaeological site actually doesn’t really stop at the river or the riverbank. Obviously, it was there long before the lake was impounded. The City of Knoxville designed a greenway on top of the archaeological zone along the riverbank and has been granted an easement over the site.

And the greenway is another way of tying the campus in with the city.

Paul: Yes. There is access across the Alcoa Highway Bridge from the city of Knoxville and UT campus side to our site, and that will be extended. The greenway representatives have told us the plan is to expand the greenway all the way to the Smoky Mountains. It may be many years before that actually happens, but that’s the plan. It’s definitely an asset to have this site connect to the greenway.

Describe how the layout of the campus is structured around replicable quads.

John: In good campus planning, particularly when you’re starting with a new campus, you establish modules that can be replicated over time, thereby creating a whole greater than the sum of its parts when it’s completed. Establishing the different quads gave the University some flexibility without feeling restricted regarding future development.

They were able to pick one site within a quad and essentially begin establishing that module and development pattern. The basic idea was to have two buildings down each side of the quad and one at the top of the hill, with the parking lot to the outside of the quad so that, again, the pedestrian environment and experience would be primary. Ultimately, this also allows the quad and parking lot to be converted to geothermal fields.

With the major parking structures concentrated along the highway, the quads, with a very pedestrian-oriented street that bisects them, are encouraging a collegial environment. The University is very interested in having interaction among many of the future tenants, both private and public, so we worked to establish spaces for them.

There is an Interpretive Center at the edge of the Archaeological Zone. What’s that?

John: The master planning process was a total team effort between the University and the consultants. Early in the process, Don Graham and Dr. Boyce Driskell, both with the University, met with Craig to discuss the opportunity for an interpretive center.

Craig: The concept was similar to what you find at many significant archaeological or cultural resource areas — an area where the public can read about the history and prehistory of the site as well as view artifacts, maps, and the results of the University’s investigation and research on the site. Because of its location and accessibility to the greenway, we hope future developers will tie back to some of the interpretive signage at the different overlooks and wide places in the greenway.

Dr. Boyce Driskoll with the Department of Anthropology and the Archaeological Research Lab has indicated that this site will be an outdoor classroom for the University. Certainly, the faculty at the University are very excited about the potential for this interpretive center and its related amenities.

John: It’s also a place for the research taking place at the campus to gain publicity, so you could have both the archaeological history and new research being widely known.

Craig: Yes, a place for people to learn about the past and the future together.

The campus plan is valuable for the University, but also for the city of Knoxville. What are you most encouraged by?

Craig: The University has laid enticing groundwork for an attractive destination. For a cutting-edge research firm, what better destination to do your work than a campus that is based on sustainable and unique solutions? Hopefully, they have the right tenants beating down their door to get on this campus and to start doing research that will change the way we live for the better.

Paul: It’s a very high-profile location. It’s a project that is going to be noted from all directions. This is one of the two major entrances into Knoxville from the south, and it’s a gigantic site that people are going to notice. The design of the site is sustainable in an uncommon manner. This is particularly true in stormwater management where stormwater is routed through bioswales and infiltration trenches. To see such a high-profile site strive for these types of sustainable solutions brings greater attention to sustainable practices in general.

John: In terms of the city of Knoxville, one of the themes is that this is one of the few remaining large tracts of land near downtown. To establish the basic framework for the development of the property in such a sustainable manner and in a way that supports world-class research, I feel, showed great forward-thinking on the part of the University. It has a clear vision and a program to follow while adding a tremendous asset to the city.


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Project Info

  • Client: The University of Tennessee, Division of Facilities Planning
  • Location: Knoxville, TN, USA
  • Market: Land Planning and Design
  • Services: Planning
  • Team:
    • William L. Moore, Jr., P.E. Principal-in-Charge
    • Craig S. Parker, P.E. Project Manager
    • Steven P. Johnson, AIA Project Designer
    • John D. Houghton, AICP Project Professional
    • Paul Steele Project Coordinator
    • Trey Rudolph, RLA Landscape Architect
    • David "Woody" Gregory Jones, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP Project Designer
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