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Mirror Lake Makeover

Story: Derek Eckstein, Design: Bob Craig, Images: Winston Underwood

If there is one color that every Ohio State student sees on his or her daily journey to class, it is grey. Cold buildings, dark worn sidewalks and endless construction sites greet students at every turn. This is no surprise for such an urban campus, but hidden deep within the urban sprawl lies the ultimate student oasis. On a typical spring day, one can see a caterpillar inching along a
feeble leaf, ducklings trying their best to keep up with their mother, and newborn flowers emerging from the fresh green hillside. This of course, is Mirror Lake, and it is about to look much different.
For over 100 years, Ohio State students have flocked to this place to find serenity in the midst of a restless day. Ironically, the seemingly natural escape from the humdrum of urban life is all man-made. Since 189,1when the initial natural spring dried out, Mirror Lake has been routinely tweaked by the university.
Whether it’s to change the lake’s appearance as seen with the addition of the Memorial fountain given by the classes of 1927, 1928 and 1930, or to change the source of water, the university has always been quick to look for improvements. It comes as no surprise then, when in October 2016, Ohio State formally announced a comprehensive restoration of not only Mirror Lake, but the entire Mirror Lake district which includes the Browning Amphitheater, Oxley Hall and Pomerene Hall.
Initially proposed in 2013, the project’s goal is to return Mirror Lake to its natural roots while increasing biodiversity and sustainability. One of the leaders of this new change is Keith Myers, Associate Vice President of Planning and Real Estate. Before coming to Ohio State in 2013, Myers ran an urban design and planning firm that was responsible for a number of projects around the Columbus area including the Arena District.
Regarding the initial stages of the restoration, Myers states, “There was a charter about a few years ago when I first got here. The overwhelming consensus was to return Mirror Lake to what it had originally been. We wanted it to be much more natural and sustainable.”
This idea of returning Mirror Lake to its roots is one of the driving factors of the restoration. Past renovations, such as in the 1930s, focused on “urbanizing” the lake and the surrounding area by laying brick and concrete. However, Myers and his team are looking to create a Mirror Lake that better represents the natural body of water that existed over 100 years ago. By combining this vision with a mindset of sustainability, the Mirror Lake District will be completely transformed.
This vision of sustainability is mainly being realized through storm water treatment, “Mirror Lake is more than just a feature on campus, it’s one of the University’s most important landscapes right next to the Oval. Because the lake is in a hollow and much of the stormwater is directed there, we have the ability to treat the stormwater through wetland planting and filtration. In years to come, the master plan envisions a landscape that extends to College Rd. where We could pick up water from all the rooftops around and channel it to the lake’s filtration system as well.”
A key idea kept in mind throughout this restoration is the word, ‘district.’ In addition to Mirror Lake itself, the University is also making changes to the surrounding area including the historic Pomerene Hall as well as the Browning Amphitheater. The current layout of these structures in reference to Mirror Lake is rather disconnected and separate, but with this new restoration, Myers hopes to create one central hub where students can study while enjoying views of the lake.

“The idea became, ‘Can we pull these [separate restorations] together and create a better project by marrying them up?’ Pomerene is a beautiful historic building, and it’s really great that we will be able to reinvent in it. The improvements on Pomerene will complement the improvements to Mirror Lake and likewise. There will be a nice terrace that overlooks Mirror Lake, both an upper level and a lower level, for students to eat and study,” Myersremarks.

In addition to bringing the district together, Myers intends to make it more accessible as well, “Because we’ve been able to combine these projects, I think we will be able to create much simpler pathways down into the hollow. Much of the pathways now are not ADA-accessible. There are stairs that are too steep, and lots of things. I think this project is going to help us fix these problems.”
While Mirror Lake has always proved to be that perfect natural student escape from the trials and woes of a modern, urban life, it’s been so in name only as for much of its existence it has been constantly altered to resemble more of a public pool than an actual lake. Myers and his team are planning to change this to not only improve Mirror Lake, but to provide sustainable and accessible restorations to the surrounding district as well. Once the restoration of the Mirror Lake District is complete in Spring 2018, just in time for the caterpillars and ducklings to emerge from their winter retreats, this body of water will finally be given the natural aesthetic it deserves.

1 Comment on Mirror Lake Makeover

  1. Hello! Cool post, amazing!!!

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