Founded in 1885, this 8,180-acre university was underwritten by railroad magnate Leland Stanford and his wife, Jena Lathrop Stanford. Placed on the Stanfords’ vast stock farm, the institution was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., and Leland Stanford, assisted by the architectural firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge. Olmsted Sr.'s vision of open, interlocking quadrangles and strong axes was gradually lost due to campus development throughout the twentieth century. From 1960 to 1977 landscape architect Thomas Church created a master plan that sought to unify the sprawling campus by replacing paved thoroughfares with open pedestrian malls, promenades, and plazas. Church set the precedent of replacing internal carparks with courtyards that was continued by the SWA Group following the destructive 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. After the earthquake, the university established campus-wide design principles aimed at recovering Olmsted’s 1886 design intent.
The campus’ historic core is centered on a three-acre quadrangle that is uniformly covered in red pavers, with eight inset circles containing native flora reminiscent of the surrounding landscape. The core consists of twelve Mission Revival-style buildings and is linked to other sections of the campus through strong axes in all four, cardinal directions. Forming the main, northern entrance is the Memorial Court, a partially enclosed courtyard with a long vista that begins at a four-acre, tear-drop-shaped lawn and culminates in Palm Drive, a tree-lined road designed by Olmsted Sr. that stretches one mile into the horizon. To the east and west, outdoor spaces ornamented with regional plantings, including the White Memorial Plaza by Thomas Church and the Sandhill Corridor by SWA Group, maintain strong linear sightlines to the central core. The university has been an epicenter of work by notable designers, including architecture firm Foster+Partners, PWP Landscape Architecture, Aidlin Darling Design, Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture, Tom Leader Studio, Scott Sebastian & Associates, and Hargreaves Associates.