Universities In The Southwest Design Eco-Friendly Campuses

By Mónica Ortiz Uribe
July 15, 2015
Mónica Ortiz Uribe
The newly completed Centennial Plaza at the University of Texas at El Paso features a handcrafted Bhutanese temple.

Universities across the Southwest are redesigning their campuses to make them more environmentally friendly. That includes one college transformation in West Texas that combines desert landscaping with Himalayan architecture.

Few would expect to find an homage to the Kingdom of Bhutan along the U.S.-Mexico border. But that's precisely the design concept that's flourished at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) for the past century. Back in 1914, the dean's wife suggested the Bhutanese style after looking through a photo spread in National Geographic Magazine.

Today $25 million dollars worth of landscape reconstruction is ongoing at the school. This spring, UTEP unveiled a new central plaza that marries its exotic architecture with vegetation native to the Chihuahuan desert. Designer Christine Ten Eyck describes what she saw in old photos of the campus.

"Four lone little buildings in the desert with these are arroyos going all around and that was the inspiration to bring back some of those veins of water, through the campus," she said.

Ten Eyck tore out parking lots and recreated the arroyos with recycled rock. The idea was to combine native beauty with utility. Arroyos naturally capture rainwater and allow it to soak into the soil. That will nourish newly planted mesquite trees and desert plants.

"The path water should be celebrated everywhere, but especially in the Southwest where we so long for water," Ten Eyck said.

The new plaza also features walkways and a handcrafted Bhutanese temple.

Mónica Ortiz Uribe
Recreated arroyos in the central plaza at the University of Texas at El Paso allows a nature capture of rainwater that nurtures a desert landscape.

This summer elementary schools have been touring the campus and learning about conservation. Nine-year-old Layla Falcon said the visit helped her better understand what it means to live in the desert.

"Because we live in the desert and in the desert we don't get much rain or water, we have to save it," Falcon said.

Other colleges are also embracing conservation measures.

The University of New Mexico reduced its water consumption by 100 million gallons in the last two decades. Arizona State University plans to cut it's landfill waste by 90 percent this year through composting and recycling.