Posts tagged with "Parks":
The City of Baltimore is hosting a citywide design competition to seek proposals for the redevelopment of McKeldin Plaza in downtown Baltimore. The call follows plans to demolish the existing McKeldin Fountain later this year and the Department of Planning will supervise the open competition.
This follows years of talk about redesigning the plaza, which is currently dominated by the 1982 Brutalist concrete McKeldin Fountain. The fountain stands adjacent to the Inner Harbor area and memorializes former Baltimore mayor Theodore McKeldin, who was instrumental in revitalizing the harbor area in the 1960s.
The Waterfront Partnership recently released plans for “Inner Harbor 2.0,” which will improve the area with new green spaces and pedestrian connections using Brooklyn Bridge Park and Waterfront Seattle as precedents.
McKeldin Plaza is an important fixture of Downtown Baltimore, and a designated free speech zone that was the focal point for the city’s Occupy and Black Lives Matter protests. In addition, the fountain is a historically significant holdout from the Brutalist movement, and its design attracts tourists and office workers from the surrounding area.
The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore supports redevelopment of the plaza into an open space, while many local artists, designers, and architects support its preservation as a public art piece.
The fountain itself has fallen into disrepair, and according to the Downtown Partnership its mechanics are prone to expensive breakdowns that leave it non-functional for months at a time. However, maintenance and enhancements could also go a long way toward revitalizing the plaza while preserving the fountain.
Up until recently the Brutalist design of the fountain matched the nearby Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, which was demolished in 2015. The theater was designed by John M. Johansen and opened in 1967, remaining in use until 2004. After its owners chose not to renew the lease on the building in favor of the newly reopened Hippodrome Theatre, the building fell into disrepair. A new high-rise residential and commercial space is now under construction on the site. Since the demolition of the Mechanic, McKeldin fountain is the only example of Brutalist architecture in Baltimore.
The fountain has its share of defenders, including Baltimore’s City Council president, who introduced a bill to block the demolition last year.
A Change.org petition calls for the postponement of demolition until a new design is approved. Others—including the fountain’s designer—are against the demolition entirely and want to preserve the site.
The Downtown Partnership plans to move forward with the demolition in Summer 2016 pending approval of permits. The fountain and the skywalk across Light Street were recently closed to pedestrians.
The architecture firms Ayers Saint Gross, Mahan Rykiel, and Ziger/Snead will oversee the project and finalize designs. Details about the public competition are still taking shape.
From the 1880s to the late 1960s, El Paso’s San Jacinto Plaza was the place to see alligators at alarmingly close proximity. Crowds would sit around the fountain in the middle of the park to watch the sad spectacle of captive reptiles circling their enclosure. When the city asked landscape architecture firm SWA to redo the plaza seven years ago, the firm’s Los Angeles office had the tall task of designing a park that would preserve the turn-of-the-century Arcadian layout beloved by residents and draw crowds, just as the alligators once did.
SWA found harmony between programming and design, despite the trend toward “shoehorning” as much programming as possible into outdoor spaces. “The community wanted a concept that respected the formal axes [of the Arcadian layout], so the axes are still there, but now you come to a destination,” explained Gerdo Aquino, CEO of SWA. SWA collaborated with San Antonio, Texas–based Lake|Flato, which designed a cafe and shade canopy that activate the heart of the roughly two-acre park.
The canopy shelters “Los Lagartos,” Luis Jiménez’s fiberglass alligator statue, an homage to San Jacinto’s one-time residents. SWA encircled the statue with a balustrade and decorative mosaics that radiate out toward a botanical garden, custom chess and ping-pong tables, an outdoor reading room with a lending library, a produce market, and an area for washoes (a game similar to horseshoes but played with washers).
Aquino noted a recent shift in emphasis in park design from beauty and ecology toward beauty, ecology, and programming. According to him, the reason can be distilled to: “One word: Millennials. They ask, ‘Is the landscape a place where I can play? Is it a place where I can meet my friends? Can I FaceTime here?’ It’s all about me. You can’t design a park like you did five years ago.”
Second- and third-tier cities are luring all demographics, not just Millennials, back to the city center with open space projects, Aquino explained. San Jacinto’s landscape plan preserved existing older trees, while pairing native species of oak, agave, and grasses with non-native, but adaptive, plants for pops of color. “If mayors want to make their downtowns more livable,” Aquino said, “they need open space that’s ecological, financially feasible, programmed to the hilt, and also beautiful. You don’t have to live in New York, L.A., San Francisco, or Boston to have access to great design. Great design can be created right where you live.”