The project goals called for applying leading edge urban design and architectural strategies to create a dynamic and aggressively sustainable research university in the heart of California's fastest growing region, the San Joaquin Valley.
The 815-acre (329 hectare) site is bordered by 30,000 acres (12,140 hectares) of permanently protected grasslands that boast views of Lake Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The new university will educate 25,000 people, house 12,500 students and provide 6.25 million sq ft of academic and research space. The unique plan is orientated around a dense, interdisciplinary academic core designed for bicycles, transit and pedestrians. Two linear, mixed use pedestrian corridors connect the campus and its student neighbourhoods to an adjacent 'University Community'.
The University Community provides housing, social activities and services for 30,000 people and 5,000 jobs within a 10 minute walk to campus. The plan's high density orthogonal urban grid is strategically orientated maximise the potential for roof top solar generation and minimise the solar impacts on buildings. Two historic irrigation canals weave through the grid, providing a visual counterpoint and informal means of navigating the campus by bicycle or on foot. A program of iconic bridges cross the canals and serve as pedestrian landmarks. A network of multifunction open spaces support activities on the campus - such as recreation and ceremonial events - while an integrated system of bioswales, ponds and lakes manages stormwater. The project already generates 20% of its annual electricity needs from solar. By 2020, the university will be zero net energy, zero waste and zero net emissions. Solar and other renewables will satisfy all of its energy needs.
A dedicated transit centre will provide multimodal linkages to transit and California's future high speed rail system. Building efficiencies, LEED Gold minimums and a robust landscape plan are part of the plan to achieve carbon neutrality. Reclaimed water will irrigate the low water landscape design. Currently in phase I, future development will be phased with enrollment demands. The plan and implementation process for the University of California, Merced provides a model for growth in rapidly growing region.