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The carousel game is changing dramatically as cities look to revitalize their downtowns with family-oriented urban activity. This spring has seen two brand new carousels open, both of which are housed in contemporary architectural pavilions. Carol Ann’s Carousel opened in April at Smale Riverfront Park on the banks of the Ohio River. The 44-character, $1 million carousel sits inside of a $4.5 million glass pavilion designed by the Boston-area firm Sasaki Associates and Cincinnati architects KZF Design. It is situated alongside a public fountain plaza.
“The whole 30-acre park along the river is designed by Sasaki to be contemporary, and has really brought the downtown back to life. We wanted the carousel to add one more attraction. We already have the world’s largest [outdoor] foot piano,” said Steve Schuckman, superintendent of Cincinnati’s Division of Planning and Design/Program Services. “The glass box allows it to be an attraction year-round, as well as capitalizes on the stunning views of the Roebling Bridge.”
The all-custom carousel itself draws upon the history and culture of Cincinnati, including the architecture of what was once the epicenter of the pre-railroad Midwest. The figures were hand-carved by artisans at Carousel Works in Mansfield, Ohio, the world’s largest maker of wooden carousels.
The characters and landmarks were decided upon through a survey of the community. Final carousel figures include an elephant wearing the Cincinnati Zoo Elephant House as a hat, a giraffe wearing the “tiara” from Cincinnati’s tallest building, the iconic Great American Tower, and a gorilla that pays homage to the city’s former tallest building, the historic Carew Tower.
“Cincinnati buildings just have so much unique architecture, there was just a huge abundance of elements for us to look at and work with,” said Kate Blakley of Carousel Works. “We tried to take the concept and instead of doing a literal interpretation, we worked each building into a design. There are little details of architectural elements hidden in there, and there are Easter Eggs once you look closer. Even if you don’t know anything about Cincinnati.”
The building is a “jewel box” style design that is based loosely on Jean Nouvel’s Jane’s Carousel pavilion in Brooklyn. However, Schuckman explained that Cincinnati’s new building will have more amenities, including restrooms, support services for parties, and a conference space on the floor below. It is also built above the 100-year flood line.
Cincinnati is not the only city to be jumping on the contemporary spinning jinny bandwagon. Heading east, to Manhattan’s downtown tip, families can enjoy the SeaGlass Carousel at The Battery, an unconventional carousel that will feature a school of fiberglass fish that will bounce up and down on hydraulics, while glowing from inside. The carousel and modern pavilion were designed by WXY Architects, and will be an immersive environment that will feature integrated music as well.
Both of these carousel pavilions point toward a larger trend of carousels as urban landmarks embedded within urban revitalization schemes. Many older carousels have been refurbished and relocated to modern buildings. Jane’s Carousel sets the standard, and is cited as inspiration for both the Cincinnati pavilion and Cleveland’s new merry-go-round, the Euclid Beach Carousel, encased in a glass building by Richard Fleischman + Partners Architects of Cleveland, which opened in 2014.
Bette Largent, president of the National Carousel Association and publisher of the carousel trade magazine the Merry-Go-Roundup, explained the importance of the buildings, whether for wooden carousels or for fiberglass renditions. “New or old, the carousel is becoming more profitable if it is climate controlled. Many owners of old signature style buildings are understanding this and are adding air-conditioning for summer operations and have seen significant ridership and profit due to this. It also is more comfortable for the public and protects the wooden figures.”
Although many new air-conditioned spaces have opened for a variety of carousels old and new, the Ohio pavilions along with New York’s are setting the standard for modern carousel design. The Ohio-New York axis is nothing new in urban design, as Cincinnati’s Roebling Bridge (1867), served as a prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883. While bridges and large infrastructure were a defining feature of cities in the industrializing 19th century, the advent of small-scale urban interventions, such as parks, improved landscaping, and of course, carousels, are playing integral roles in shaping today’s urban experience.
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For most of the last century, Downtown Brooklyn’s streets have formed a tangled knot that has confounded urban planners. Urban renewal beginning in the 1930s ripped out vast swaths of the borough’s urban fabric, putting back disconnected parks and plazas. Highway building campaigns tore at the street grid and ramps to the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges complicate access to and from the waterfront.
In the summer of 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined a series of initiatives aimed at positioning the borough’s civic core as a technology hub called the Brooklyn Tech Triangle. Part of that plan—redeveloping a 21-acre expanse of parkland called the Brooklyn Strand—has come into focus with a new concept plan by WXY Architecture + Urban Design that gives shape to the community’s recommendations from more than 40 stakeholder groups and nearly a year’s worth of public input.
The Strand links together a series of disconnected and underutilized green spaces to form two unified corridors—the Cadman Connector and the BQE Connector—between Downtown Brooklyn and the waterfront in DUMBO, creating safe and visually appealing streetscapes and parks from the heavy-handed planning mistakes of the 20th century.
“We want to rectify the mistakes of urban renewal,” WXY principal Claire Weisz told Curbed after a recent community board meeting. “We want to create a sense of identity for the Strand so it doesn’t feel like no man’s land. There are many opportunities to reimagine streets… And that would become the brand of the Brooklyn Strand.”
Redesigning streets around Borough Hall would bolster pedestrian and cyclist safety while adding new park space. One idea calls for burying a parking lot to create new park space on the surface. The ground plane rises up to form a retail space with an occupiable roof above. The design pedestrianizes the narrow Cadman Plaza West, bringing in a new streetscape and porous edges to the Korean War Memorial Plaza and the new Brooklyn Public Library designed by Marvel Architects.
In Cadman Plaza, significant renovations to another War Memorial creates a glassy learning center, overcoming accessibility challenges with a carved out entry plane incorporated into the landscape. At the tip of Cadman Plaza, dramatic earthworks create the “Brooklyn Eye” overlook space with dramatic vistas of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Where the grid erodes at the foot of the bridge, the Strand improves pedestrian flow to and from the waterfront with lighting and new retail at underpasses. A signature open market occupies space beneath the bridge viaduct’s enormous stone archways. These pedestrian corridors weave through small remnant spaces to create a legible path between the bridges. Five major new bike lanes are proposed, including implementing key portions of the Brooklyn Bridge Gateway Area Plan to remake bike lanes along Tillary Street.
In April, the plan’s BQE Connector portion will begin a round of community engagement initiatives with arts group Superflex, including public art installations. Before the larger plan can be implemented, however, the Strand must run a gauntlet of approvals from various city agencies and raise significant funds.