Spelman College, located in Atlanta, features a 125-year-old campus. The historic campus recently experienced a multimillion-dollar transformation — increasing green space and improving pedestrian flow, while preserving the rich character of the property.

Project objectives

The primary objective at Spelman College was to articulate the development of the new West Campus precinct and integrate the new area into the fabric of the existing campus, said R. Umashankar, campus planner for HGOR, an Atlanta-based urban design and landscape architecture firm that spearheaded the project.

“The West Campus precinct created a new quadrangle bounded by a new 300-bed residence hall targeted for LEED Silver,” said Umashankar. “The new residence hall is located on a land parcel adjoining the campus but outside its secure perimeter. The new quadrangle space is reclaimed from a parking lot and the site of an office trailer. Our goal was clear: develop this section of campus; articulate an appropriate community edge statement; and connect the area to the existing campus, providing a unique and comfortable experience for the campus community.”

The results

This “backyard” to campus now features open lawns amid large-canopy trees; walkways; a dining terrace; casual wall seating; and an amphitheater that will allow for performances, outdoor teaching and other social activities.

“The new quadrangle presents a new spacious outdoor environment previously not found on campus,” said Umashankar. “Its design engages the surrounding buildings at a comfortable pedestrian scale and allows for ADA-compliant access to the new residence hall. The transformation on campus has been immediate.”

HGOR, which began working with Spelman College approximately two years ago, also helped the college make several careful improvements to the historic portions of campus. A service road leading to the amphitheater was changed into a pedestrian-friendly walkway that allows for the occasional vehicle. The approach to the highly prominent Sister’s Chapel was altered and an attractive rotunda was added. Additionally, the walkways were improved and native plants were added around the president’s residence for better separation of public and private areas.

Unified plan, unified effort

According to Umashankar, through a comprehensive campus plan, HGOR established a vision for the unified campus. HGOR worked closely with the senior administration at Spelman College, its program managers, and the design-build team for the residence hall to develop an integrated design that balanced all of the institution’s objectives.

“Once the concept was established, our close involvement continued and spanned all phases of design and construction,” said Umashankar. “This allowed the HGOR team to maintain a high level of quality and adhere to the expectations of the client.”

Materials utilized

According to Umashankar, in addition to the campus standard palette of concrete walks and accent paver areas, HGOR introduced pervious concrete in areas where tree protection was critical. Additionally, pervious concrete creates an additional layer of interest through color and texture to the design of the oval.

Native plants were also utilized throughout the project.

“Our office always strives to use natives for the environmental benefits of diversity, wildlife food and habitat and their adaptation to the southeastern climate,” said Umashankar. “At Spelman, we used a mix of native and drought-tolerant species to address the serious issues of proper environmental and resource based water management. Trees included Shumard Oak, Magnolia and Redbud. Masses of Purple Muhly Grass provide accents around a lawn panel of Hybrid Bermuda.


The final landscape seamlessly connects the college’s newer developments to its historical campus while allowing for future growth.


For more information about this project or about HGOR, Inc., visit www.hgor.com