George Mason University Wilkins Plaza

Fairfax, Virginia

Staging the Future on New Foundations
Wilkins Plaza began as a highly practical Capital Project to replace 4 miles of aging underground utilities and extend the plaza that featured the statue of George Mason IV, whose Virginia Declaration of Rights informed the Bill of Rights.

But digging up the infrastructure meant reimagining the aboveground spaces. During the planning process, we created a hierarchy of landscape opportunities, and soon the project scope expanded to focus on placemaking at the center of campus.

Through multiple phases and pandemic disruption, a new student-life corridor emerged. In addition to the historic, thought-provoking Enslaved People of George Mason Memorial, Wilkins Plaza integrates a variety of spaces for social engagement and extracurricular education. The onetime commuter campus now feels like a place rooted in historic ideas, public expression, and healthy activity.

Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
GMU community members and historians guided the landscape design toward a transformation of the campus fabric and a stronger reflection of its culture.
The plaza's inclusive banding in the paving makes navigation easier for those with visual impairments.

Designing for the Spectrum of Well-Being
The new Wilkins Plaza recognizes that true well-being encompasses individual physical and emotional health as well as meaningful social engagement. We designed the corridor to host a broad range of campus functions. Extended to a thousand feet in length, it makes space for student-group activities and welcome-week events as well as opportunities for quiet reflection. At its east end, closest to student housing, the program nurtures a “hangout culture,” responding to the university’s shift away from being a predominantly commuter campus.

Penny is one of two memorial figures who recontextualize the history of George Mason, the state of Virginia, and the founding of the United States.
One of its serene spaces, the plaza’s fountain honors Roger Wilkins, the civil rights leader, assistant district attorney, and GMU history professor.

Memorial to the Enslaved People of George Mason
As the plaza has fundamentally transformed the campus fabric and environment, the Enslaved People of George Mason Memorial has fundamentally shifted the understanding of the university’s namesake. A diverse group of GMU stakeholders and student researchers shaped the design of each memorial panel to communicate the vulnerability and acts of resistance that defined the daily lives of enslaved people. Alongside the fountain honoring civil rights leader Roger Wilkins and other plaza elements, the memorial asks viewers to consider the balance of power over time and encourages dialogue around and encourages dialogue around truth and reconciliation on campus and in society at large.