Consisting of 1,322 acres, this suburban campus is situated along the banks of the Grand River. The former logging site was chosen because of its nearly equal distance from the cities of Grand Rapids, Muskegon, and Holland. The land sloped sharply up from the river, and provided several large areas of buildable terrain. The site plan emphasizes the deep ravines and narrow plateaus that are native to the area, evidenced by the placement of roads and infrastructure. The campus is bounded by the river to the east, farmland to the south, the Meadows Golf Course to the west, and a state highway to the north. The main entrance is located at the center of its northern edge. Athletic facilities are situated on the western side of the campus (adjacent to the golf course), with student housing at its northern and southern ends, and academic buildings concentrated at the center. Between the campus and the river is the seven-acre Grand Valley State University Arboretum, established in 1990. It contains several hundred trees of nearly 200 different varieties. Marking the center of the campus is the 100-foot-tall Cook Carillon Tower, built in 1994. The golf course, which was designed by architect Michael Hurzdan, opened in 1995. The campus also features the Shakespeare Garden (1993), the Memorial Garden, the Japanese Garden, and thirteen rain gardens.
Johnson, Johnson and Roy were commissioned to design the site plan in 1961, and architects Meathe, Kessler & Associates of Grosse Point, Michigan, were selected to design the college’s first buildings in 1962. Modernist in design, it set a standard of employing upright arched supporting columns of cast concrete and split Michigan fieldstone. Utilizing native stone, a practice that continues today, the goal was to impart the impression of living structures growing from the landscape.