Smith Plaza has been described as the heart of the University of New Mexico (UNM) campus despite it being an area where campus-goers mostly just traverse without stopping.  The UNM Board of Regents approved the $3 million renovation project that will transform this iconic space into a so-called “living room” to sit, relax, mingle, and attend various campus events in a welcoming outdoor environment.

The UNM department Planning, Design, & Construction (PDC) have spent countless hours over many months gathering information from the UNM community in order to design a well-considered gathering place for the next generation of students, faculty, staff and UNM visitors. A majority of those surveyed would like to use the space to eat lunch, socialize, and relax with shaded seating and landscape.

“There will be places where you can sit under trees with different types of seating," said Amy Coburn, director of PDC and UNM’s university architect. "We will still have a very functional hardscape space so we can continue to have big events, but we are looking to create a space with better usability for everyone at UNM."

Albuquerque-based firms MRWM Landscape Architects and McClain + Yu Architecture & Design, and San Francisco’s Surfacedesign Inc. formed a collaborative to design the new space based on PDC’s survey and forum findings while incorporating New Mexico’s distinctive mesas and plateaus which reflect the state’s landscape. 

The new Smith Plaza will encompass:

Elevated Study/Lounge Plateaus

Elevated “plateaus” provide a usable perimeter to an open space offering lounge areas, outdoor classrooms, study areas, and café seating. These low site walls are elevated approximately two feet above the large open plaza giving users the opportunity to witness activities in the open space from a shady, comfortable perch. Tables and benches give way to mounded lawn space shaded by trees.

Improved Accessibility

The proposed schematic design will dramatically improve physical access within and through Smith Plaza for people of all abilities. The major transition from Union Square down into Smith Plaza is now negotiated by a single inclined walkway. The new design is direct and doesn’t require users to choose between stairs or a ramp, but mixes all users into the same route and incorporates best practices for sightless wayfinding.

Construction is scheduled to begin during the Fall 2017 and will be completed in the Spring 2018.