The Gathering Place, Tulsa, Oklahoma’s newest public park, is anything but basic. Opened in early September, the 66.5-acre riverside landscape looks more like an ultra-green theme park than a typical urban park with trees thrown in for shade. Designed by landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), the $465 million project was dreamed up by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and backed by over 80 other local corporate and philanthropic donors. It’s located just 2 miles from downtown Tulsa on a formerly flat, scorching site along the Arkansas River. After four years of the first phase of construction, it’s now one of the city’s greatest amenities, providing spots for sport, relaxation, and water play underneath a sprawling tree canopy and atop grassy open lawns. MVVA transformed the topography of the existing site by creating various elevated landscapes and other sunken spaces with access to water. The firm also accentuated the native ecologies of the parkland and introduced wetlands, meadows, streams, and dry areas that inspire different types of interaction with nature. Thick logs for seating, fingerlike tree trunks for gathering, and local stone used for walls and mazes were additionally incorporated to connect the landscape as a whole and link it to the surrounding region. While the park boasts threads of regional bike trails, courts for ball-handling sports, and 21 points of entry and exit, it’s the surprising structural elements of play that make it stand out. MVVA designed a 5-acre adventure playground for kids age two to 12 that features seven thematic spaces: Volcanoville, The Land of the River Giants, Royal Tower, Fairy Land Forest, The Ramble, Spiral Connector, and Mist Mountain. According to the architects, these play areas are “boldly expressive and richly programmed,” with normal playground elements such as towers, suspension bridges, and slides, but also fantastic designs like climbable, large-scale animals, flowers, and fruit. Many of the play accessories are clad in steel as well as timber imported from the Alps. Accessibility is a key component of The Gathering Place. MVVA describes the guiding vision of the park to be a democratic space where all Tulsans can come together and experience an array of physically challenging and leisurely activities. Children in wheelchairs can easily access the playscapes through elongated ramps on all of the structures, like the giant, wood-slatted elephant with a truncated slide. The park also includes a pond and boathouse where families can check out kayaks, canoes, and paddle boats. A coffee and ice cream cafe, as well as a dining patio and other picnic areas are situated in the northern part of the parkland near the play spaces to encourage extended stay. Toward the park’s south side, MVVA designed the Sky Garden and Four Season Garden, as well as Swing Hill, situated on the highest point of The Gathering Place with prime views of downtown Tulsa. At the farthest end of the park, visitors can enjoy courts for basketball, volleyball, street hockey, and soccer, or ride over to the skateboard and bike park, which offers courses for all ages and levels. A 50,000-square-foot children’s science museum will also be constructed in this area, coming late summer 2020. Phases 2 and 3 of construction, beginning next spring, will bring the park to a total of 100 acres.
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Rios Clementi Hale Studios (RCHS) plans to transform Houston’s Jones Plaza from a sterile concrete jungle into a verdant, multi-functional space for locals and visitors to enjoy. The 1.5-acre design concept called “Urban Choreography” aims to embody the charm and appeal of Houston’s celebrated Theater District. With the growing number of workers, residents, and visitors to the area, there has been an increasing demand for pedestrian and transit-friendly environments with an abundance of green and open space. “Within Downtown, the Theater District and its many venues create a ‘magnetic field’ of culture that generates buzz and catalyzes investment in the surrounding neighborhoods,” RCHS said in a statement. “Jones Plaza, at the epicenter of the Theater District, can provide an inviting green oasis that enhances downtown life and it can flexibly accommodate a wide range of outdoor performances and special events that serve the entire region.” Inspired by the fluid, dramatic, and theatrical movements of the performing arts, the Urban Choreography design concept will connect Jones Plaza to its surrounding environment while creating a unique and artistic space for gathering. The vast plaza is reminiscent of a theatrical stage, where various steps and levels culminate to a plateau of lush green space. The expansive Street Theater, tree-filled Gateway Gardens, and dynamic Spring Stage, characterized by water cascading toward the street, can be found in three corners of the plaza. Each distinct space is connected by a proscenium walk, with multi-functional media towers that allow for various performances, activities, and special events. Meanwhile, a grand staircase and elevator connect the park to an upscale restaurant on Capitol Street. Perhaps the most substantial impact Jones Plaza can have on its surrounding environment is its ability to attract people to the heart of Houston's Theater District. Its presence will only heighten the cultural growth of a region known for its art, creativity, and diversity. RCHS will collaborate with Houston First Corporation, the City of Houston, and Theater District stakeholders on the project.
Minneapolis will be getting an elevated amphitheater on the banks of the Mississippi River courtesy of New York’s SHoP Architects. The firm was chosen by Minneapolis music institution First Avenue Productions to design the new Upper Harbor Terminal Community Performing Arts Center (CPAC); a combination park-performing arts center-event venue. CPAC will create a new 2.3-acre public park on the waterfront on city-owned land that will double as a performing arts space. SHoP’s “Gantry,” a multi-story metal seating structure, will float most of the venue’s 6,000 seats above ground level and free the park up for public use when not scheduled for events. The stage, segmented into its own separate building, can also be enclosed during inclement weather for smaller performances. The Gantry leaves its structural elements exposed, and the catwalk-like design is a callback to the waterfront’s industrial past—a past that, from renderings, will be heavily referenced in the new park’s design. CPAC will seat up to 10,000 visitors, with room for 4,000 standing attendees, and 10 private boxes. “Minneapolis and First Avenue have a long history of creative transformation, and a rich legacy of music and culture,” said founding partner of SHoP Architects Gregg Pasquarelli. “We are thrilled to be working together to expand upon this tradition. In designing the UHT CPAC, we were inspired by what makes First Avenue one of the country’s most intimate and special music venues, focusing on the idea of creating an inclusive venue where everyone feels like a VIP, while also allowing for a larger, open park and green space open year-round for the North Minneapolis and surrounding communities to enjoy.” The renderings released last Wednesday were the public’s first look at plans for the north Minneapolis site, of which CPAC is just a small part. If the plan is approved by the City Council and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the 50-acre Upper Harbor development would bring residential and office buildings to the waterfront as well. Construction on the project’s first phase, including CPAC, could begin in 2020 depending on how fast the development clears the approvals process. In the meantime, developers United Properties, Thor Companies, and First Avenue will be soliciting public feedback on their current scheme.
After years of planning and handwringing over fundraising, the first phase of Philadelphia’s own “High Line,” the transformation of the Reading Viaduct rail line, was opened to the public last Thursday. Although the Rail Park’s first spur is only a quarter mile long, the rail line will be twice as long and wide as New York’s High Line when fully built out. The first section of the linear park, located on the northern edge of Center City and designed by landscape architects Studio Bryan Hanes, reflects the neighborhood’s industrial past. Native plants and trees were planted on top of the viaduct’s steel arches, and remnants of the embedded rail track are woven throughout the zigzagging walkway. Riveted I-beams have been turned into seating, and structural steel beams are used to support the hanging benches. A timeline of the neighborhood and a historical list of the city’s industrial manufacturers have been cut into a weathered Cor-ten steel “history wall” that visitors can walk beside. Unlike New York’s High Line, the Rail Park is wide enough to include both dedicated bike trails and footpaths for pedestrians, creating new links to traditionally underserved neighborhoods when the three-mile-long park is complete. Construction on the $10.8 million elevated park was beset with delays. In planning since 2010, the project finally broke ground in October of 2016 after SEPTA, the site’s former owner, agreed to lease the rail spur to the nonprofit Center City District (CCD) during construction. Now that the section is finally open, ownership has been handed over to the City of Philadelphia, with maintenance and management split between the CCD, the nonprofit Friends of the Rail Park, and the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation. Funding for the Rail Park’s 25,000-square-foot first phase was raised in combination by the Friends of the Rail Park and through a $3.5 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant from the state government. According to the CCD, this section of the Rail Park will serve as a design proof-of-concept and fundraising tool for the rest of the viaduct’s development. No timeline or estimated construction dates have been given for the second and third phases.
The first part of phase 1 of the San Pedro Creek redevelopment in San Antonio, Texas, is now open to the public, and the waterway’s rejuvenation has been touted as a celebration of Latino culture in the city. San Antonio-based Muñoz and Company was tapped in 2015 to design the 2.2-mile-long restoration of what was then a concrete drainage ditch. The completion of phase 1.1, a 2,200-foot-long stretch of riverwalk christened San Pedro Creek Culture Park, marks just one part of a four-phase plan to revitalize the 2.2-mile-long creek. “As the Trump administration boasts about building a wall between us and our Mexican roots, San Pedro Creek will be a national symbol for Latino and Anglo communities actually coming together to celebrate their shared values, history, and future,” said Henry R. Muñoz, Principal in Charge at Muñoz and project lead. “This unveiling marks the start of San Pedro Creek’s restoration, turning this neglected creek into the ‘Latino High Line,’ which exemplifies the community’s rich heritage and stands for a national dialogue playing out in nearly every city across the country.” The opening of the first phase on May 5 coincided with the 300th anniversary of San Antonio and was commemorated by the unveiling of Rain from the Heavens, a public art installation cut on stainless steel panels depicting what the stars looked like that night in 1718. Also on display in the Cultural Park are murals that honor the local culture of San Antonio and surrounding Bexar County, by artists Adriana Garcia, Katie Pell, Alex Rubio, and Joe Lopez. San Pedro Creek once flowed freely through the city but has been deepened, rerouted, and sometimes covered entirely since the 1700s. Each area of the river will eventually have its own design and accompanying visual identity, but retain a focus on the local ecology, history of San Antonio, and the water itself. The San Pedro Creek Culture Park section is hemmed in by historic limestone walls, and features widened walkways, a new boardwalk overlook, benches, and new landscaping that uses indigenous aquatic plants and trees. The widening and deepening of the creek also boosted the waterway’s ability to sequester stormwater, in addition to the five new bioswales that were installed. Phase 1.2 of the project is under construction and set to finish in 2020.
Beating out a pool of over 80 international design teams, a team with Brooklyn-based landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) and Sir David Adjaye have been chosen to transform the 22-acre West Riverfront Park in downtown Detroit. While the nonprofit Detroit RiverFront Conservancy has stressed that they were choosing a team, not a design, MVVA’s presented plan for the park would substantially change the waterfront. While the final four competitors for the park presented big names in landscape architecture, including James Corner Field Operations, Hood Design Studio and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, the diverse programming proposed by MVVA ultimately won out. The $50-million redevelopment will present all-ages options throughout the shore, including the carving out of a beach inside of a secluded cove. Now that the design team has been chosen, the MVVA-led team and Detroit RiverFront Conservancy will solicit input from the community to nail down the final design details. The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy will also fundraise to reach the rest of the $50 million goal in the meantime, meaning the construction and completion date for the project are uncertain at the time of writing. MVVA’s design for the riverfront park mixes active uses with more passive recreational areas and mingles the park’s natural systems with the city grid, similar to firm’s approach at Brooklyn Bridge Park. On the western side of the park, there will be a pool house and built up “performance hill,” complete with a clamshell-shaped amphitheater that will sit on a pier in the river. The circular “Sport House” will go up to the east, which from the renderings looks like it will float above a basketball court and feature a green roof on top. Moving east, a tall, artificial bluff will surround the park house and picnic grove. Perhaps the most prominent feature in the proposal is the aforementioned beach at the park’s center, which will be hemmed in by a stone jetty to the west and a fishing pier to the east, likely to prevent erosion. MVVA’s renderings show kayakers and beach-goers relaxing in the summer and skating on the frozen river in the winter, part of the Conservancy's vision for an all-year-round park. Capping off the eastern edge of the park is the enormous “Great Lakes Play Garden” for children, and “Evergreen Isle.” The stone island sits parallel to the playground in the river and is designed to break up ice floes and anchor ecological improvements by creating a shallow, biologically diverse channel. The shore of the entire park will be bounded by the Detroit Riverwalk. “It was love at first sight when I saw the Detroit River,” said Michael Van Valkenburgh in a press release. “I immediately recognized that this new park could draw the city to the water’s edge.” West Riverfront Park is bounded by Rosa Parks Boulevard to the west and Eighth Street to the east, a stretch that had been in private hands for nearly 100 years before the Conservancy purchased it in 2014. A $345,000 grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation’s “Livable Communities” focus area financed the West Riverfront Park Design Competition. MVVA’s team for the project, besides David Adjaye, will also include Utile and Mobility in Chain, and local partners LimnoTech (Ann Arbor), PEA (Detroit) and NTH Consultants (Northville).
Los Angeles–based AHBE Landscape Architects and the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering have revealed renderings for a new $8.5 million public park slated for L.A.’s Chinatown neighborhood. The so-called Alpine Park will take over a bare hillside currently marked with rudimentary paths that are heavily used by the local community to cut across the hilly neighborhood. The hillside currently connects a densely-populated cluster of homes and apartment complexes at the top of a hill with a local public library branch down below. Evan Mather, principal at AHBE, told The Architect’s Newspaper that the community had been calling for the park for years, explaining that the challenge of the site has “always been about accessibility and the fact that the neighborhood [generally] lacks outdoor open space.” In place of the informal paths, AHBE is proposing a series of formal recreational terraces and paths anchored by three outdoor rooms. The composition follows the steeply-sloped site, which climbs over 30 feet in height across its narrowest exposure and over 100 feet between the library and the residential section of the neighborhood. The landscape architects have added a series of staircases, ramps, and an elevator to help with the change in elevation. The stairs anchor the L-shaped pocket park along one end, with a lotus plaza, bamboo garden, and so-called “heavenly garden” located at the bottom, middle, and top of the site, respectively. The three secondary gardens are connected by sloped ramps lined with native Palo Verde trees, roses, bamboo, Chinese Flame Trees and other native and drought-tolerant specimens. The project is expected to begin construction in early 2018 and open to the public in early 2019.
You won't be able to drink from it anytime soon, but the fetid, toxic shores of the Gowanus Canal will soon be graced with a new park that filters stormwater as it enters the canal. Designed by Brooklyn's dlandstudio in partnership with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, the Gowanus Canal Sponge Park will be an 18,000 square foot public space on city-owned land, where Second Street meets the canal. Due to the canal's Superfund status, multiple federal, state, and city agencies are involved in environmental remediation, on and offshore (see diagram below). The $1.5 million project is publicly and privately funded: New York-based Lightstone Group will bankroll a boat launch for the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club. The developers are planning a 700 unit residential high rise adjacent to the park. Initiated in 2008, the project stalled for seven years as funding was secured. dlandstudio chose plants for their ability to filter out biological toxins from sewage, heavy metals, and other pollutants that overwhelm the canal, especially when it rains. Floating wetlands adjacent to shore will filter runoff further. Due to the canal's Superfund status, multiple federal, state, and city agencies are involved in environmental remediation, on and offshore (see diagram above). The first phase of the park is expected to open early 2016. State and local officials plan for the Sponge Park to be part of a network of green space that will mitigate flood risk while cleaning incoming stormwater.
The redevelopment of Indianapolis' Market Square area continues with the announcement that Deborah Berke Partners of New York City will work with locally based RATIO Architects on a 10-story office tower and “significant public green space” to replace a surface parking lot. In renderings released Wednesday, a slim, glassy tower hefts the bulk of its block-wide breadth southward, collecting sunlight as it reaches a low-rise mass around lush green space bordered by Market, Alabama, Washington, and New Jersey streets. Green roofs blanket both buildings, which will each have about 15,000 square feet of first-floor retail fronting onto a pedestrian plaza. The programs include a parking garage and conference center, as well as office space and retail. Columbus, Indiana–based Cummins makes and services natural gas engines and other fuel systems, employing about 48,000 people worldwide. About 250 workers, including top executives, will move into the building immediately, reported the Indianapolis Star, assuming the plan passes a City-County Council vote that could come as early as December 17. Mayor Greg Ballard has already voiced support for the project, which he said in a statement “raises the bar for architecture in Indy and will stand as a bold and visually compelling gateway into the city.” The building's form, a kinked rectangular prism, is slightly stepped and shifted to maximize natural light inside the office tower. Black, rib-like mullions vary the facade's texture when viewed from an angle. Local architect Wil Marquez told the Star it represents "a new type of architecture for Indianapolis." “This is the new vocabulary in architecture, tying together buildings and green space,” Marquez said. Along with a 28-story residential tower planned across the street, a rebuilt plaza space nearby and a sleek, new $20 million transit center by the City-County Building, Cummins' plans represent somewhat of a rebirth for this long neglected corner of downtown Indianapolis. Deborah Berke Partners beat out New York colleagues SHoP Architects and Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects for the job.