Public Square Studio

American common space is in a state of flux. As demographics shift, technologies advance, cultural mores morph, and economies + politics churn, our cherished public spaces are becoming obsolete empty vessels of nostolgia. How can architects and urban desingers alter these spaces to accomodate the new and ever-changing character of American public space? This is the question that Kent State University's CUDC Fall 2006 Graduate Studio will investigate.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Public Square as An Organic Growth of the Urban Condition

In the analysis of the Downsview project in Toronto, it is interesting to look at some of the processes proposed in the competition and see how they might be applied to Public Square. The winning proposal by Tree City, a multi-disciplinary team headed up by OMA and Bruce Mau, looked at creating a park that would be developed in phases, and respond to its changing condition as time passed on. A framework was established to identify where the major program elements would be located and subsequently connected by a system of "1000 paths". The proposal took into account that in five years, ten years, and fifteen years from now, the condition of the city and the programmatic needs of the park would change. By setting up only an initial framework for the park, these shifts in program can be managed and still not compromise the main principles that organized the park in the first place. In addition to the framework, the concepts behind Downsview relied on sustainablity both in terms of finance and ecology. The park was to create sociological and physical connections with the city but still operate independent from government and external infrastructure.

An approach similar to the Downsview proposal can be used at Public Square as well. The primary difference in the two projects is scale with Downsview being 100 times the size of Public Square. It is also important to note that while Downsview may be considered an urban park it is actually locate in the suburbs of Toronto, 11 miles form the CBD whereas Public Square is open considered the heart of Cleveland's downtown. Aside form the differences in context though, the approach to creating a phased, financial and ecologically sustainable downtown park is still in the best interest of Cleveland. The idea of building a framework for Public Square rather than a complete design might be conducive to gaining public interest in the park. It seems that there have been many proposals through the years to design a public space that would be used by the citizens of Cleveland and also become a draw for people to come downtown. But many of these proposals have failed to create interest in changing the space and perhaps the greatest incentive for changing the space is the lackluster design the is built there right now.

By creating an initial framework of infrastructure that can redefine the physical characteristics of the space, specific program elements and financial structures can take shape in the future. By creating a framework for the park design to grow out of, an open ended design solution is created. This can spark interest in the future of Public Square amongst all parties that have a connection to downtown Cleveland. With an open ended design solution the framework can guide the project into a certain direction but will also be flexible enough for community leaders to bring more input and creative solutions for the final design. It might also be important to note that Cleveland could be a completely different city several years from now. Advances in technology and healthcare may finally transform the economic engine of Cleveland from one that is an outdated manufacturing base to one that relies more on intellectual property. This major economic shift could have a dramatic effect on how the space that represents the "heart of the city" would change in response to the different program needs. The city could also remain where it is today as a severely poor city with no long term potential for growth. The needs of this civic space would vary differently which is another reason for establishing a framework for the park to grow from.

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