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Stanford lies at the heart of Silicon Valley, where orchards have given way to knowledge-based industries and the environment is more urban than rural. The university, too, has grown and changed dramatically over the past few decades – yet about 60 percent of our total contiguous land (8,180 acres) remains undeveloped. Our ability to use this land sustainably is a key factor in ensuring that Stanford remains a vital, productive community and a pleasant, healthy place to work and live. 

Stanford land supports a substantial stock of housing, in addition to academic buildings. A residential university since its inception, Stanford provides student and faculty housing plus rental units available to the public. In addition, university land encompasses varied ecosystems and provides habitat to three federally protected species: the California red-legged frog, the steelhead trout and the California tiger salamander. These undeveloped lands support teaching and research as well. The 1,200-acre Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, for instance, provides fertile ground for field studies by researchers from Stanford and other universities. It’s also an outdoor classroom for Stanford and other college and university researchers and students, hundreds of K–12 students, and members of local organizations.

About 60 percent of Stanford’s total contiguous land remains undeveloped.

Heritage resources on Stanford land contribute significantly to the university’s academic success. Efforts to mitigate the potential impact of development on these resources include policies protecting archaeological sites and historically significant buildings as well as consultation with the indigenous Muwekma Ohlone tribe to ensure respect for their cultural values.

Stanford land supports:

  • A major medical center that provides state-of-the-art health care meeting community and national needs while fulfilling the basic academic mission.
  • A federal research facility (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory) that supports advancement of knowledge in energy and sub-atomic particle science.
  • Commercial development that provides significant direct revenue to local jurisdictions and space for important local businesses (which, in-turn provide additional revenue and jobs).
  • Agricultural uses including organic crop farming, plant nurseries and grazing.

Reflecting all these needs, Stanford’s land use and campus planning decisions consider a wide range of factors, including academic capital plans; the rate of land development; reuse, redevelopment and compact development possibilities; land productivity; retention of open space; and preservation needs.

Goals & Results

Stanford’s land use and campus planning policies are designed to conserve undeveloped lands and natural resources and maintain the campus’s character, heritage and quality of life – all while accommodating development of facilities needed to uphold our academic mission. To support these goals, the university strives to:

  • Balance academic, research and residential uses and leverage existing land holdings and real estate to financially sustain the university’s mission and vision.
  • Create a framework for growth and development that encourages flexibility, adaptability and connections that foster interdisciplinary research and education.
  • Situate buildings to maximize opportunities for natural light and ventilation.
  • Maintain current on-campus undergraduate residential accommodations and create a graduate student residential community to reduce commuter traffic.
  • Pursue opportunities to use exterior spaces for residential and academic programming to minimize demands for new building square footage.

Overall development

In 2008, an additional 425,000 net new square feet of academic and 350 housing units resulted in site reuse through the demolition of existing buildings and parking lots and relocation of several historic homes to new sites on campus.

In 2009, the County of Santa Clara approved a Sustainable Development Study aimed at promoting compact development of the campus and continued protection of resources in the undeveloped foothills. The study was prepared and submitted in compliance with requirements of a general use permit (GUP) issued and administered by the county.


The Science and Engineering Quad was completely redeveloped to maximize land use efficiency and addresses current academic needs. The new quad restored the historic campus axis and character and integrates innovative technologies and significant upgrades to utility and circulation systems. The Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building, the first building completed in the quad, recently earned LEED Platinum certification, and the others will built and designed based on lessons learned to target even higher sustainability goals. 

The new Graduate School of Business Campus, a collection of buildings that support the new academic curriculum of the business school, is one of the largest LEED Platinum certified business schools in the country, this complex replaces low density office buildings (80,000 sq. ft.) surrounded by asphalt parking with higher density academic buildings (420,000 sq. ft.) integrated with exterior program space.

Historic reuse

Several historic Main Quad buildings have been adapted for new academic programs, upgraded to meet seismic strengthening requirements and interior space has been reallocated to create higher workplace densities that increase land and building capacity. The university restored the historic Leland Stanford Junior Museum after the Loma Prieta earthquake and added a wing to expand its collections capacity. It reopened as the Cantor Arts Center.

The renovation of the one of the campuses architectural gems, the Old Union, has been recently completed and serves as a student center housing key student government groups, diverse student clubs, and the religious life program, which supports over 30 student religious organizations.

Renovation is also underway for Peterson Labs, a historic stucco and sandstone structure, which will house multiple engineering programs. Additionally, the Old Chemistry Building, built in 1903 but not occupied since the 1989 earthquake, will be transformed into the Science Teaching and Learning Center and will promote sustainability through reuse of materials. The building will house teaching laboratories for chemistry and biology and a new library facility.

Habitat restoration

Stanford has worked to restore our land’s predominate oak woodlands by adopting a 25-year vegetation management program. More recently, the University has begun working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries to develop a long-term Habitat Conservation Plan for the California tiger salamander, California red-legged frog, steelhead, western pond turtle, and San Francisco garter snake.

Land Use and Environmental Planning


  • Best Green Buildings in the Bay Area - Yang and Yamazaki Environment + Energy Building (Y2E2), San Francisco Business Times (2008)
  • Site Design for Storm Water Pollution Prevention, Santa Clara Valley Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention Program (2007)
  • Governor's Historic Preservation Award, for Historic Houses Project of faculty houses, State of California (2007)
  • Special Recognition, for oak reforestation project partnership, U.S. Congress (2006). The project also received commendations from the State Assembly and Senate, and San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.
  • Seismic Strengthening & Historic Restoration Award, National Trust for Historic Preservation (2001)
  • Design Award, for Hanna House stabilization and preservation, California Preservation Foundation (2001)