About this Article
Written by: Neil Gokal
Written on: September 2nd, 2002
Tags: civil engineering, building & architecture, lifestyle
Thumbnail by: Matthewcieplak/Wikipedia Commons
About the Author
In the fall of 2002, Neil Gokal was a second-year student majoring in Biomedical Engineering with an emphasis in Biochemistry at the University of Southern California. His career plans included medical school after he completes his undergraduate studies, and eventually, a degree in Education. Neil finds the studies of various engineers and their applications in today’s society very appealing and continues to research the work of others in his spare time.
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Volume IV Issue II > Engineering Outdoor Spaces: USC's McCarthy Quad
Once a crowded and dull parking lot, McCarthy Quad has been transformed into a recreational area meant to provide a sense of self and community for USC students. The planning and development of the project involved political, economic, spiritual, and environmental aspects, as well as budgetary concerns. In engineering the layout of the site that depicts the spacing of materials implemented, a creative and spiritually artistic sense was important. Due to the importance of preliminary statistical data and evaluations, the actual planning of the project began years before implementation. Site analysis included soil testing for texture, chemicals, and structure, the inspection of foliage, the manner in which growth relates to environmental concerns, and the space available, among many other things. Elements of foliage and physical features such as light poles, benches, and fountains all constituted regions of focus whose locations were noteworthy. A balanced pattern involving symmetry and complexity was vital in creating a powerful environment in which one feels spiritually nurtured. Though the planning tactics of this project were intense, the end product is truly a work of art.


If you have ever joined in a game of Frisbee, tossed around a football, or simply basked in the sun on the soft new lawns of McCarthy Quad (see Fig. 1) at the University of Southern California, you have benefited from the fruitful endeavors of a team of engineers. Though it may seem small, the intricate and extensive planning and development involved in creating this recreational area is astonishing. Who would think that such a place could combine analytical, technical, political, social, cultural, and even spiritual aspects? These facets and more contribute to the creation of any landscape, whether for recreational, educational, or business purposes. Once a crowded parking lot and passenger pick-up area, the land upon which McCarthy Quad exists proves to be a much more effective use of the space in its purpose to support students in their daily endeavors at USC.

Preliminary Planning

How, exactly, was the area created? The actual stages of planning for any landscape area are intense and comprehensive, starting many years before the plan is actually implemented. As in all engineering, the process followed a set of "shifting objectives" [1]. Civil, mechanical, electrical, environmental, and landscape engineers worked together in various teams passing plans and ideas back and forth. Each evaluated individual proposals to critique the feasibility of the available options. In the preliminary stages, engineers focused on analysis and design while moving toward the desired target. The lot was drawn and exists both "as a plan view and an elevation view, while a plat of survey will indicate any physical structures and dimensions of the property" [2].
While surveying the land, knowing the amount of space available was crucial in order to determine the most effective utilization of space. The primary focus of any engineer was the purpose of the area in question. More specifically, an answer was sought to the question: "How can the space be used to best satisfy the consumer's requests?" Landscape Designer Ronald Biondo remarked that a knowledge of the site's offerings helps the designer enhance the positive features and correct the negative ones (35).
For obvious reasons, a common area where students can enjoy the warmth of a sunny day has greater appeal than a parking lot, especially in a prime university setting. Planning was of vast importance--the ideas and designs ought to be as solid and certain as possible before physically implementing the plan, for "the element of time is a component vital to purposeful and beneficial change" [1]. Once construction began, it was imperative to move forward at a steady and continuous pace. Fallbacks or extended periods of time involve seasonal changes that bring varied weather. The resulting impact on soil character, plant life, and social interaction can, in turn, delay and possibly impede the project's expansion.