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May 28, 2009

Denny Yard next up for a makeover

Many buildings on the UW campus are no strangers to renovation; now it’s time for the landscape to get a little love. Marked by its mazelike paths and eclectic collection of trees — monkey puzzle, anyone? — the yard in front of Denny Hall is in need of a makeover.


“With the recent renovation of Raitt and Savery Halls, the construction of Paccar Hall and the proposed renovation of Denny Hall, we decided we really need to have a comprehensive plan for the restoration of Denny Yard,” said Kristine Kenney, university landscape architect with the Capital Projects Office. “The question we’re asking is: What does this space want to be?”


Compared to the Quad, which is characterized by its organized paths, cherry trees and expanses of grass perfect for relaxation or play, Denny Yard is currently more of a transitional space that people pass through to reach other destinations, Kenney said.


The Capital Projects Office tapped landscape design company SvR to prepare a study of the yard, including an assessment of tree health, pathway accessibility and integration of sustainable strategies. The analysis and proposed recommendations will be presented to the University community at an open house June 3 in 209A HUB. There will be two sessions: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., and 5-7 p.m.


There are four main issues the plan hopes to address:



  • Unify and simplify the space: “Right now it’s kind of a hodgepodge — there are small trees, large trees, bits of lawn, an accumulation of pathways and some sporadically located shrub and ground cover beds — so we want to create one common language across the whole yard and simplify the circulation,” Kenney said.

  • Increase accessibility: “We’re looking at the paths of travel that are desired through the space and trying to reduce the number of pathways by placing them in ideal locations,” Kenney said. “People will walk where they want to walk,” she explained, and the dirt paths left through heavily traveled grass can be clues as to where the new paths should go.

  • Acknowledge the yard’s history: Denny Hall was the first building completed on campus, and the yard used to be a vast, mostly clear-cut oval extending to Lewis Hall and Clark Hall. An alley of trees was planted south of what is now Klickitat Lane for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, and later buildings further defined the space. The late professor Edmond Meany was known for collecting rare plants and planting them in the yard, including a black walnut tree and a monkey puzzle tree native to Chile. “There are trees that we think are really spectacular and need to be preserved under any circumstance, and there are some Douglas firs that we think are volunteers — they just regenerated on their own and now they’re 100 feet tall,” Kenney said. “In balancing the goals for the restoration of the yard, we will determine if any of the existing trees should be removed to achieve what people perceive as a more desirable goal.”

  • Embed sustainability: Kenney said this includes looking at how to manage storm water in the yard, identifying more spaces for bicycle parking and keeping an eye on 15 trees that have internal decay, pests or fungal disease for potential risk. None of the at-risk trees need to be removed immediately, but they will be monitored for falling branches and other problems.


The open house is meant to inform the UW community of the yard’s background and possible plans, but most importantly, the design team wants to solicit feedback and hear what the campus community thinks should be done with the yard.


“Everybody out there has great ideas, and we want to hear from them,” Kenney said. “Is this a place where people want to hang out? Should it just be a lawn with big trees? Right now it really is just a pass-through space. If we hear from enough people that they would really like more seating out there, then that will start to influence the design.”


If you’re unable to attend the open house sessions, there are other opportunities to learn more about the renovation and provide feedback:



  • University Landscape Advisory Committee presentation: June 4 at 8:45 a.m. in the Peterson Room in Allen Library
  • City-University Community Advisory Committee presentation: June 9 at 7 p.m. in the UW Tower 22nd floor conference room


The Capital Projects Office will finalize the Denny Yard plan at the end of June, and renovation will take place section-by-section in coordination with the renovation of surrounding buildings or as funding becomes available.


More information will be available on the Capital Projects Web site as the project progresses.