Saturday, September 26, 2009

Urban Design: Macon, Civic Square

Civic Square, Macon, Georgia proposed development. Click image to zoom.
A Texas native, I joined Dennis & Dennis, Inc., an old Macon firm, in 1987. One of the things that drew me to the city was the promise of its historic downtown.
A few years after moving here I worked with another Macon architect, Shannon Fickling, to develop initial plans for a park located on land between City Hall and the Macon Auditorium. The land was roughly triangular in plan, because downtown's one diagonal street, Cotton Avenue, cut through the site. Cotton Avenue is believed to fall on what was the old Federal Road from Washington to New Orleans, commissioned by President Jefferson in 1806.
The land in question had housed several buildings, visible in this photograph. Click on photo for full view.
City Hall is visible at lower right. The site initially ran from the building with the Uneeda Biscuit sign and buildings immediately behind it. The two-story house to the left of the Biscuit sign is the present site of the Shrine Temple building.
The project languished due to funding. I started my own practice after several years with the Dennis & Dennis firm. Funding was finally secured for basic parts of the project. I was selected by the City of Macon for overall, long-term planning and the immediate, specific design of the paving, landscape and lighting.
(The Georgia Department of Transportation decided to close off Cotton Avenue in this block because the relatively small triangular layout posed the problem of traffic backing up into adjacent streets. This left a rectangular site to work with, and improved pedestrian safety, at the cost of breaking up the function of the historic path of Cotton Avenue.)
The photo below, viewed from the opposite direction of the preceding early 20th-century picture, shows the site prior to early work on this project. The last buildings that had always separated the 1841 City Hall from the 1925 Macon Auditorium had been removed.
City Hall at center. Al Siha Shrine Temple right. Volunteers' Armory at left. Macon Auditorium off the photo, lower right area.
This is a long-term plan. The essential fact of the park, with walkways, lighting and plant material was completed in the Mid-1990's. Further property acquisition remains for completing the landscaped square.
The proposed eventual solution features a realignment of 1st Street, which runs back from the left foreground in the above photo; elimination of one block of the diagonal Cotton Avenue; landscaping of the main space running from City Hall to Macon Auditorium.
The overall plan above shows existing buildings City Hall at top, Macon Auditorium at bottom. Macon Volunteers' Armory is at left, and Al Sihah Shrine Temple at right. A diagonal walkway, made with underlying original brick street pavers, is shown, centered on the Cotton Avenue corridor. If the street was to be interrupted, the view of the historic path would be preserved. An optional fountain was proposed, pending acquision of the final sections of property between City Hall and the Macon Auditorium.
Along each side of the main lawn are two rows of trees, with 15-foot by 20-foot seating areas defined by the trees and rows of azaleas. Each of the "rooms," based on the design of the Charleston Waterfront Park, enable commemoration of a number of individual people or events, while maintaining an overall civic square. The overall square was named Rosa Parks Square in 2003.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Urban Design: Paris' Axe Historique

Axe Historique. Click image for full view.

Paris' Axe Historique is a shaft of space running east-west along the Champs Elysees. Few places are so steeped in the history of a country as this. The Louvre began as a medieval fortress on Right Bank of the River Seine, built by Philip II in the 12th century. West of the Louvre, the Place de la Concorde, originally named Place de Louis XV in 1755, was the site of over 1,000 public executions in the 18th century. These were initially execution of convicted criminals, and concluded with execution of royalty, previously spectators, during the French Revolution. Today this large square is centered on the Obelisque de Luxor, a 3,500-year-old Egyptian relic given to France in 1833.

Obelisque, at Place de la Concorde. This view is perpendicular to Axis, facing north.

The axis began as a vista to the west from the Louvre. Construction of the Champs-Elysees was, in effect, commissioned by Marie de Medici in 1616. Initially defined by rows of trees running parallel to its length, this avenue ran west through open fields from the Tuileries Palace toward the eventual location (1810-1833) of the Arc de Triomphe.

Champs-Elysees. 1890.

The Louvre, the older palace, is adjacent to the Tuileries site, and survived the fire set by the Paris Commune that consumed Tuileries in 1871. After destruction of the Tuileries, its site was landscaped, becoming the Tuileries Garden. The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, a smaller version of Arc de Triomphe, is located on the axis between the former Tuileries Palace site and the Louvre.

Camille Pissaro. Morning, Winter Sunshine, Frost, the Pont-Neuf,
the Seine, the Louvre, Soliel D'hiver Gella Blanc. 1901.

So, the arrangement of the Axe Historique was cast, with the Louvre at the east end, the Arc de Triomphe at the west.

Facing east from the Arc de Triomphe.

The Champs-Elysees quickly began to develop with shops, homes and offices behind its defining rows of trees. After the French Revolution in 1789 and the end of monarchy, the Louvre was officially designated a museum in 1793. It had functioned as a museum for a hundred years, since Philip moved the household to Versailles. As the east end of the Axis, the historic, prominent site has been nurtured and carefully expanded over the years, now containing over 650,000 square feet.

Facing west. Oblisque in foreground, Arc de Triomphe beyond. La Defense on the horizon.

This monumental construct of national pride is the definition of pomp. The Axe Historique might be too vast and ostentatious to be enjoyable, were it not for the context of its intentions, its intricate, fascinating history and the charm of all its adjacent streets, the river and interconnecting places. As it is, this primary space of what is widely considered the world's most beautiful capital seems fitting and properly scaled for its nature. It's truly magnificent.

Below, Current photo of the Louvre at dusk. I.M.Pei's pyramid. Wiki.
As all images this post, please click on image for full view.

Link: Thomas Mayer's photos of the Louvre Pyramid.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Urban Design: Charleston Waterfront Park

Waterfront Park's pier at sunrise.

Facing the city from the pier, aligned with Queen St beyond.

Charleston is probably the US's most prominent historic preservation city. Other cities had as much or more history, but they haven't matched Charleston's preservation efforts. The Preservation Society of Charleston preceded the National Trust for Historic Preservation by almost 30 years, and is one of the most successful preservation operations in the world. The National Park Service has a concise page on the means by which the city's preservation has been accomplished.

Promenade, facing north. The pier and Ravenel Bridge beyond.

Approaching the city by car from the west, you cross the bridge and see the skyline. Thanks to the city's building height restrictions, nothing exceeds probably four stories except seven or eight tall church steeples. All of them were built prior to enactment of the height restrictions.

Charleston holds a number of places that are rewarding to visit and to study. There are few places where urban design has been so interwoven with historic preservation. Even the most casual visit is rich in images, good restaurants and recreational opportunities. It's a world-class stop on any tourist's list. I recall one visit when standing on the outer walkway of the Waterfront Park's pier, a film crew was shooting scenes in a movie, and the Queen Mary II was part of the backdrop.
The Waterfront Park owes its existence to Mayor Joe Riley. Shortly after election in 1975, he began making plans for a park in that location. It took 15 years (Charleston doesn't have term limits for the office of Mayor,) but the park opened in 1990, even after damage during construction caused by Hurricane Hugo.

Shaded walk. A series of shaded "rooms" with chairs or
benches are to the left. One is shown below.

Designed by Sasaki Associates' Stuart Dawson, this park is a significant amenity in a city already rich in amenities. (Note, the link to the Sasaki site has an excellent aerial view of the entire half-mile-long park.) This design benefits from mature and refined judgment, in addition to plenty of talent. Too many efforts to design places of this nature contain overwrought, busy spectacle of too many "flowers" and not enough "grass." That is, special features are too numerous, so that they become undifferentiated and the design loses resonance and an appropriate sense of the drama that truly significant features deserve. This one gets it right. The ratio of "flowers" to "grass" feels perfect.
Special features here are the view of the harbor, Ravenel Bridge, Fort Sumter, the fountain, the pier, the long row of shaded seating areas, the promenade. All this is mentally framed within the adjacent context of the historic city. There is a serenity in the broad expanse of the harbor and the lawns, which act as background, or "grass" for the focal points, the "flowers," of this place.
The city is incredibly walkable - it's one of those places that, when you're driving, you immediately want to find a place to park the car so you can get out and walk - and each street in its historic area is a delightful experience. The beautifully appointed park offers a place to sit, take in the view of Charleston Harbor and the sea, watch people and rest before diving back into the often tighly-defined spaces of the streets.

Fountain. Formed as a pineapple, symbol of hospitality.
(Excellent photos of this fountain and the area are in anadelmann's flickr set here. )

Photos in this post are my own unless otherwise noted. You are welcome to use them as long as you give me credit, by noting

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Urban Design: Navy Memorial, DC

Washington, DC has some of the world's most enjoyable urban landscape. Like Chicago's Grant Park, some of the larger landscapes such as parts of the Mall are utterly lacking in human scale. However, the city is thoroughly saturated with more compact parks and streetscape that combine with the grander landscapes in a satisfying way.

The Navy Memorial is a successful urban space. Beautifully landscaped and paved, the site is positioned across Pennsylvania Ave from the National Archives. A steady stream of pedestrians come and go from the Archives Metro station entrance in the trees at the edge of the space.

A group of fountains surround the main paved space, with its map of the world set in two colors of granite. At the edge of the street, two masts flying signal flags are set between the curb and a straight section of fountain with heavy, rising water jets. The edge of the pavement parallel to the curving building facades contains cascading fountains and bas-relief brass depictions of historic Navy events. The surrounding presence of the sight and sound of splashing water provides a lively background to the plaza. There is a palpable sense of place.The landscape materials are beautifully chosen and placed.

The plaza itself is well-defined spatially by the immediately adjacent twelve-story buildings. The spatial relationships between other related buildings, some dramatically axial, are highly articulate. Particularly remarkable is the spatial axis from the National Archives, through the Navy Memorial plaza and to the Smithsonian Art Museum to the north.

I think it's one of Washington's most enjoyable spaces.

Facing west. The Archives Metro entrance just past the low wall at right.
Click on photos for larger image.

Turning to the East from preceding photo.

National Archives across Pennsylvania Ave.

The National Archives, beyond the Navy Memorial plaza.
The Lone Sailor statue is at right.

Masts with signal flags near the curb.

Photos in this post are my own. You are welcome to use them as long as you give me credit, by noting with the photo.

An excellent separate photo set is here at Flickr, with a shot inside the Metro entrance. Mr T in DC.