Saturday, January 16, 2010

Urban Open Space Award

My first thought upon seeing mention of the ULI Amanda Burden Urban Open Space Award, which "celebrates and promotes vibrant, successful urban open spaces by annually recognizing and rewarding an outstanding example of a public destination that has enriched and revitalized its surrounding community," I figured the The High Line would be a no-contest winner. But taking a look at the rules I noticed that projects must "have been open to the public for at least one year and no more than ten years" (my emphasis). Section 1 of the High Line opened in June last year, making it ineligible for the $10,000 award "made possible through the generous contribution of Amanda Burden, New York City Planning Commissioner."

Another New York project unfortunately not eligible due to the same restrictions is the West Harlem Waterfront by W Architecture. It is a much less well-known park but one with as strong an impact on its community as the High Line. So what North American "public destination that has enriched and revitalized its surrounding community" should win? Here are a handful of places in the US that come to mind.

Millennium Park, Chicago, 2004
Watching, Waiting
[photo by archidose]
The Gehry Bandshell and Bridge, the Kapoor Bean, the Plensa Fountain, the Lurie Garden. Fortunately the half-a-billion-dollar park is more than the sum of its parts. Not only does Millennium Park help draw tourists to Chicago, it has helped reshape the future demographics of the Loop, bringing residents to its borders and pushing offices westward. The Art Institute's Renzo Piano-designed expansion that links to the park via a slender pedestrian bridge strenghten's this large segment of Grant Park even more.

Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle, 2008
[image source]
One of the most popular landscapes in recent years is Weiss/Manfredi's brilliant design for a former industrial site between downtown Seattle and Elliott Bay. The bending, continuous landscape traverses roadways and rail lines to connect the waterfront to the city above. A pavilion and large-scale sculpture are an extra incentive for people to visit the place. The design shows that enormous constraints can lead to great solutions, a great precedent for other post-industrial urban areas around the country.

55 Water Street, New York, 2005
[photo by archidose]
This privately owned public space (POPS) in Lower Manhattan might be a bit too tucked away to have a large impact on its surroundings, but it is an excellent example of how a green roof can be accessible, beautiful, and have a presence beyond its footprint. Designed by Rogers Marvel Architects and Ken Smith, the space atop a parking garage is reached via escalators. It is anchored by a glass lantern in the far corner, an element that draws one through the space towards the water and the Brooklyn skyline beyond. A (faux?) grass area counters the native plantings that predominate. One does not even realize it is a green roof when there, it is so park-like.

Marsupial Bridge, Milwaukee, 2006
[image source]
La Dallman Architects' wonderful, multi-faceted design north of downtown can be seen as a parasitic intervention. Pedestrian functions (path, bike lane, outdoor cinema) use the structure of an existing road bridge to further knit two side of the Milwaukee River. My favorite element is the urban plaza, a seating area under the bridge on the east bank that can act as a theater, among other potential uses. It is a great example of finding potential in the underused, common in places like Tokyo but hardly in the American Midwest.

Chinatown Park, Boston, 2007
[image source]
On a recent visit to Boston, my first, I crossed the former elevated highway, now the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, a number of times, but I was never impressed by the treatment of the space. Seeing the wide swath of emptiness and the buildings on both sides, I yearned for more than just patches of green, benches, lights, and some sculptures. The open spaces needed some programming to fill the large voids along its length. One section of the Greenway I did not visit, but which looks more successful, is Chinatown Park at its southern end. Designed by Turenscape and Carol R Johnson Associates, the long and narrow space (it is located over an old off ramp) is now the largest open space in Boston's Chinatown, with open areas for celebrations balanced by intimate areas for solitude and relaxation. It shows that there is room in grand gestures for small, community-based environments.