Though still mired in the roar of construction, UW-Madison’s Alumni Park will soon offer a stunning view of Lake Mendota on one end, and the social center of the campus on the other.
The 1.3-acre park, which opens to the public in early October, will feature a wide walkway cutting between the university’s Memorial Union and Red Gym. The new greenspace will feature more than 50 museum-like exhibits honoring major campus alumni.
The park will unite the lakefront and the two campus malls — Library Mall and East Campus Mall — in a continuous stream of activity. The area was formerly a parking lot.
The last phase of construction, termed the “Lakefront Gateway,” has been in the works since summer 2015. The first phase of the project, the Goodspeed Family Pier, opened in 2013.
The “first germs of the idea” for Alumni Park emerged in 2009, as the Wisconsin Alumni Association prepared for its 150th anniversary in 2011, said Mary Carbine, managing director of Alumni Park and an alumna of UW-Madison. Ongoing discussion yielded the concept of a gift from alumni to campus, she said. Roughly 4,000 donors contributed to the $8 million project, which is entirely funded by the donations.
Carbine called the elevation of the park, which is now on even grading with the Union, an “engineering marvel.” The park is located on top of a loading dock — which has an entrance now adjacent to the Red Gym instead of the union.
The alumni association collaborated with Ralph Appelbaum Associates, a design company known for its work on the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., to best “tell the story of the Wisconsin Idea,” Carbine said.
The result is “a mosaic of the alumni experience,” Carbine said. Ten different sections carry their own thematic emblems, such as the “government and social policy” area. Alumni quotes are cut into weathered steel, and slabs of granite await iconic bronze sculptures, which will represent the work of specific alumni.
The park entrance, on Langdon Street, opens onto a large slab of a fountain. A set of steps leads to the central path, bordered by various planters, and ending in a platform termed “Progress Point.” The platform juts out over a grassy area, just short of the lake. A vacant circular panel on the platform awaits placement of the university’s Numen Lumen seal. Shade trees, just beginning to bloom, dot the area — there are a total of 50 throughout the park.
A rolling pathway veers from the main path, allowing access to a visitor information center in the alumni association building, which is tucked between the Red Gym and the lake. The brick pathway also circles an outdoor classroom, a two-tiered granite space meant for educational demonstrations, performances and social gatherings.
The park’s opening will allow it to feature its exhibitions in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s fall Gallery Night. A series of events from October to mid-November will highlight the park’s opening by unveiling the park’s exhibits, offering tours, and hosting Wisconsin Science Festival programs.