The following is a Q&A with Tim Rosenbury, of Butler Rosenbury & Partners, about the continued renovation 0f Park Central Square. I conducted this interview by e-mail last week. The .pdf files linked in the text were supplied by BR&P.
CT: When does the final phase of renovation begin, and when will it be finished?
Rosenbury: Construction of the renovation of the interior of the square will officially commence Monday, November 8, following a “brick breaking” ceremony on the previous Friday during First Friday Artwalk. The Square should reopen in November 2011.
CT: What’s the vision for the completed Square? What will it make possible?
Rosenbury: The vision for the square is twofold: (1) to renovate and restore landscape architect Lawrence Halprin’s design of Park Central Square and (2) while doing so, make improvements which improve the functionality, safety, accessibility and vitality of the square as a pedestrian-focused urban space.
For many years Park Central Square has had the reputation of a dysfunctional space. The City of Springfield, when seeking a design team, suggested a partnership between a Springfield firm and a consultant who specializes in the analysis and design of public spaces. Butler, Rosenbury & Partners proposed a collaboration (please see BRP-PPS 01.pdf) with Project for Public Spaces (www.pps.org), and was selected for the project.
PPS began by performing an in-depth analysis of existing conditions, with particular emphasis on the physical barriers to its success as a public space (please see PPS 01.pdf). These were shared in meetings with representatives of constituencies of the square, as identified by staff of the Urban Districts Alliance. During these meetings PPS received feedback, and these findings were shared with a Technical Committee advising the City (please see PPS 02.pdf). A few weeks later PPS began preparing conceptual diagrams for a reimagined square (please see BRP-PPS 02.pdf).
A schematic design – which was to become the eighth version of the square since Springfield’s founding — was developed from these conceptual diagrams (please see BRP 01.pdf). It was intended to fulfill the vision for functionality, safety, accessibility and vitality, emphasizing people on their feet. Soon after the design was released to the public, Park Central Square was successfully nominated by Lawrence Halprin advocates to the National Register of Historic Places, due to its provenance. Park Central Square is the first Halprin design to be named to the National Register.
The overwhelming majority of project funding comes from the federal government. Any modifications to a project on the National Register that receives federal funds must undergo a review by the state historic preservation office. The review affirmed that Halprin’s design is historically significant, and modifications could not compromise the significance. The schematic design had to be abandoned, and a second component of the vision emerged: to renovate and restore Halprin’s design.
Our challenge has been to merge the principles developed by PPS (which has over the years been identified by many Halprin aficionados as “the anti-Halprin,” because PPS often holds up Halprin designs as examples of failed urban spaces) with Halprin’s vision (please see BRP 02.pdf). We are attempting to do this by:
- Removing outer perimeter retaining walls designed by someone else, thus removing a barrier between the inner square and the outer square (which conceptually includes the ground-floor spaces of buildings which front the square)
- Removing trees not specified by Halprin, and all shrubs, which were never in Halprin’s plan and visually isolate the inner square from the outer square
- Providing additional ramps which comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was not in effect in 1970 when Halprin’s design was constructed
- Providing sidewalks around the perimeter of the inner square, improving access around and into the square, as well as additional places for outdoor dining and other activities
- Restoring Halprin’s original landscape, using a pest-resistant tree specie
- Restoring the fountain, gazebo, concrete walls, planter bowls and installing new brick paving
- Installing lighting sensitive to Halprin’s design, a sound system and security cameras.
CT: I understand there has been some concern about the trees. What role will trees play in the new design?
Rosenbury: One major difference will be the number of trees. When it opened Park Central Square had over 70 trees. Today it has 36, fourteen of which were not specified by Halprin. Accessibility improvements will require several original trees to be removed. 58 new trees will be planted, in the same locations as Halprin planned. 71 trees will be in the inner square.
This may help to overcome an unfortunate situation which occurred during the construction of the sidewalk improvement on the outer square. Our design of the outer square included a number of street trees. During construction, as excavation for the trees was underway, several building owners expressed concern that the trees would cause leaks in their basements. After considering options, City staff decided to eliminate trees in the sidewalks, and instructed us to design planters for ornamental trees.
CT: How will traffic flow work for cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists?
Rosenbury: From the very beginning of the project – which began in our office almost 4 years ago – reconciling vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the square has been a priority. The notion of a primarily pedestrian-oriented environment that welcomes vehicles as guests is unusual in Springfield, where streets and motor vehicles predominate – but this is exactly what our design team has pursued from the start. Narrowing the drive lane around the square is intended to calm vehicular traffic. The street profile, curbless with color-tinted concrete paving marking traffic zones, is intended to establish a connection between the inner square and outer square. Visual cues are intended to subtle and intuitive. The square may not be the definitive model for reconciling vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle traffic, but we expect it may offer cues for other places in our community.
That was the scene at yesterday’s “brick-pulling” ceremony on Park Central Square. After the gathered dignitaries pulled up a brick, the public was invited to yank one for a souvenir. And, yes, mine is sitting here on my desk while I write this post
Here’s video of Mayor Pro Tem Dan Chiles’ remarks: