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DA Journal 2010 Volume XX $4.00

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DesignAlabama Volume XX

Cover: A dusk photo of the recently completed Hallman Hill along its primary street frontage in downtown Homewood shows lights in the windows of the four residential floors. The ground floor features retail space that extends the active urban frontage found nearby in SoHo Square and the original downtown. Photo by Hilltop Design Group

Board of Directors Elizabeth Ann Brown, Chair Alabama Historical Commission Montgomery Nancy Mims Hartsfield, Vice Chair of Publications Auburn University, Professor Emerita Montgomery Bo Grisham, Vice Chair of Operations Brookmont Realty Birmingham David Fleming, Secretary & Treasurer Main Street Birmingham Inc. Birmingham HB Brantley Brantley Visioneering Birmingham Mayor Jim Byard City of Prattville Prattville Chip DeShields Sherlock, Smith & Adams Montgomery Janet Driscoll Driscoll Design Montgomery Scott Finn Auburn University Auburn Cathryn Campbell Gerachis Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood Inc. Montgomery Bob Howard Alabama Power Co. Birmingham Darrell Meyer KPS Group Birmingham Cheryl Morgan Auburn University Birmingham Debbie Quinn Fairhope City Council Fairhope L. Craig Roberts L. Craig Roberts Architect Mobile Linda Swann Alabama Development Office Montgomery

Gina Glaze Clifford, Executive Director Philip A. Morris, Director Emeritus

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This issue of the DesignAlabama Journal is dedicated to Ken Groves, a man whose confidence in the principles of planning and good design made Alabama a better place to live.

Submission Information DesignAlabama encourages submissions from its readers. Articles about work from all design disciplines are requested, as well as copy related to historic preservation. Please submit copy along with visuals (photos, slides, drawings, etc.) to DesignAlabama Inc., P.O. Box 241263, Montgomery, AL 36124. Items for DA online newsletter or our annual journal should include a paragraph summary detailing

This publication is made possible through funding by the following contributors:

the nature of the project, the design firm, principals and associates involved and any other details that may be of interest such as unusual or special design features, completion date, approximate cost, square footage, etc. Also include the name, address and phone and fax number of the client and an individual whom we may contact for further information. Direct inquiries to (334) 549-4672 or mail to: designalabama1@bellsouth.net. www.designalabama.org Past journal issues are available for $6.00 including postage and handling. Contact DesignAlabama at the above numbers for

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availability information and to order.

The Daniel Foundation of Alabama Nimrod Long and Associates A special thanks to Philip Morris for his ongoing

Williams Blackstock Architects

Gina Glaze Clifford Tomie Dugas Nancy Hartsfield Wei Wang June Corley Romaine S. Crockett Bruce Dupree Samantha Lawrie Contributing Writers: Jessica Armstrong Susan Braden Gina Glaze Clifford Samantha Lawrie Philip Morris Gita M. Smith

Editor: Managing Editor: Art Director: Associate Art Director: Assistant Art Directors:

assistance and advice with this publication.

Š 2010 DesignAlabama Inc.

ISSN# 1090-0918 This issue of DesignAlabama was designed and produced on Macintosh Computers utilizing InDesignCS4. Proofs were printed on a HP 4000N and final output on a Compugraphic 9400.

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DesignAlabama CONTENTS

Increasing density to create a sense of wholeness. p.5

Promoting events with an artistic aesthetic. p.18

Designing the built environment to complement its natural surroundings. p.22

Engaging the natural and cultural layering of a site. p.30

FEATURES DENSITY-BY-DESIGN Compactness can create a sense of place


DesignAlabama is a publication of DesignAlabama Inc. Reader comments and submission of articles and ideas for future issues are encouraged.

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THE MAIN EVENT Posters & Events Graphics


RAILROAD PARK A New “Urban Line” in Birmingham



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Capturing the Magic: Silverock Cove


Thomasville’s Downtown Revitalization Energizes a Community


Opelika’s Community Cultural & Conference Center


Forging Ahead


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To subscribe to DesignAlabama’s digital newsletter, DA Online, please visit the DesignAlabama website at www.designalabama.org and sign up under “Subscribe to Journal.” It’s easy to sign up and it’s free!

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SoHo Square covers a large block in downtown Homewood with a single underground level of parking that enables it to be urban in character. From this prominent corner with its curved façade, one of the two long buildings that frame City Hall Plaza with retail ground floors and residential above are visible.

Homewood Downtown Photography by Wes Frazer (unless otherwise noted)

[far left] The west side of SoHo Square steps down to a single-story storefront to complement Homewood’s streetcar-era downtown shopping district. The architects developed a layered massing, avoiding monolithic forms, to blend into the context. [left] As the SoHo site plan illustrates, the residential/commercial buildings that flank city hall hold the street edge. Parking is below with additional at-grade parking between SoHo Square and the rest of downtown (right on plan).

When SoHo Square, the $55 million mixed-use development in down-

Covering 5 acres – a single large block that adjoins Homewood’s

town Homewood, received Birmingham Business Journal’s 2004 Real

pedestrian-scale ‘Main Street’ left over from when it was served by

Estate Deal of the Year, not everyone was convinced it was a good idea.

streetcar – SoHo Square is genuinely mixed-use: a new city hall set back within a public plaza framed by two four-story buildings fronting

“We had people stopping us in the grocery store saying ‘You’re destroy-

streets with retail and restaurants and a total of 76 condominium units

ing downtown Homewood,’” says Scott McBrayer, then a council mem-

on upper floors. Key to its success? The entire block was excavated

ber and now Homewood’s mayor. “Now, anybody who goes down there

one level for 400 free, below-grade parking spaces that keep the block

on any given night of the week and sees how busy and popular it is…

tight and urban. (As a partner with developer Scott Bryant of Cyprus

well, it just speaks for itself.”

Partners LLC, the City of Homewood funded the parking that serves the whole downtown.)

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by Philip Morris

What is it about density that makes it such a bugaboo? In just about any newspaper report about development other than a single-family subdivision, the opponents cite density as an evil. No doubt this reflects the suburban prejudice in favor of roominess. And poor examples – ugly ‘deficiency apartments’ as preservationists describe them or so-called ‘townhouses’ that are all garages and paving with no town in sight – may come to everyone’s mind. But traditional urbanism, of the sort that people revel in on visits to Charleston or New Orleans or any town or city in Europe, was built on density. And in the movement toward being green or sustainable, the benefits of urban location cannot be denied. Manhattan, by far, is the greenest city in the U.S. based on walking, transportation and the inherent efficiencies of dense, common-wall building. DesignAlabama has previously reported on the revival of tighter, walking-precinct development patterns championed under the new urbanism movement. In this survey, “Density-by-Design,” we look at four places across the state where steps are being taken to permit and even encourage compact development. Combined with mixed-use, good planning and design is the key to success in: Downtown Homewood, Downtown Mobile, Birmingham’s Highland Park Neighborhood and The Village at Auburn University.

Note: There are many studies and reports about how to plan for density with the purpose of reducing average vehicle miles traveled, supporting transit, encouraging pedestrian activity and other benefits. Here are several we discovered: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy www.lincolninst.edu (Visualizing Density) Brookings Institution www.brookings.edu (The Benefits of High Density Development) EPA www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/creatinggreatneighborhoods Smart Growth America www.smartgrowthamerica.org Congress for the New Urbanism www.cnu.org

Philip Morris has more than 30 years experience in magazine work including tenures as executive editor and editor-at-large at Southern Living , Coastal Living and Southern Accents. Although he retired in 2000, Morris remains active as a freelance writer and respected lecturer on design, as well as a major contributor to DesignAlabama.

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The City of Homewood partnered with the developer of SoHo Square, building its new city hall and plaza and the 400-space parking level beneath. Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds also designed city hall to have a civic monument quality.

[far left] This view shows the street-side residential entrance with its canopy set between brick-clad storefronts. Residential units vary in size, layout and orientation with generous balconies and terraces. [left] The residential buildings have retail and restaurant spaces facing City Hall Plaza on the inside and adjacent streets on the outside.

It was the specter of density that had many residents upset, but without the

Though it gets little mention, what really makes the new, denser components

density the project would not have worked as it has. McBrayer credits fellow

of downtown Homewood work is the quality of design: plans, placement,

elected officials and some business leaders for having the vision to push

massing, materials and details. To some extent, Homewood lucked out. The

ahead. Even as SoHo started construction, the city decided to place the site of

developers and architects (most local) had a good grasp of what it would take

the old city hall across the street up for redevelopment bids. The same devel-

for the larger scale and new building types to fit in.

oper came up with the winning proposal: a new 111-room Aloft Hotel that opened in 2009.

Big as it is, SoHo Square melds well with the existing one- and two-story urban fabric. “We used a rhythm of individual storefronts at the base of the

“The hotel has the highest occupancy rate in the metro area,” says Mayor

residential buildings,” says Richard Carnaggio of Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds.

McBrayer. “Visitors love it because it offers lots of choices. They can walk to

“And above that we used varied materials and façade elements to help break

our restaurants and shops all over downtown, they can rent Rosewood Hall [at

down the mass. The only negatives I’ve heard about the architecture is that it’s

city hall] for events. Anything they might want is convenient.” The mayor con-

a mish-mash, but that’s exactly what we sought, to reflect the existing variety

trasts the new urban vitality to the conditions before SoHo was built. “Most

all around.” Those who would want the buildings to ‘read’ better would have

of it was taken up by a lumberyard, and if you weren’t looking for a 2x4 you

also made them look more massive. All the quirks in balconies and windows

didn’t have any reason to be there.”

accomplish something else: These look like places where people live, not office blocks.

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At dusk, lights glow from upper residential floors along Hallman Hill’s 19th Street elevation. Ground-level shops support rooftop terraces for the first level of condominiums. A townhouse façade rhythm breaks down the building mass. (Photo by Hilltop Design Group)

This view shows the generous interior courtyard for Hallman Hill residents built atop the two-level park-

Hallman Hill, in response to adjoining neighborhoods, stepped down to two-story townhouse-scale flats

ing deck. Architects Garrison Barrett Group drew on Arts & Crafts tradition for the four-story residential

along the Oxmoor Road edge, seen here from the interior courtyard designed by Dix Lathrop Landscape

building visible on the left.

Architects of Orlando. (Photo by Hilltop Design Group)

Hallman Hill, another major addition to downtown Homewood located

about scale and impact on adjacent neighborhoods led to some major

between the Aloft Hotel and Oxmoor Road, was also designed to reflect the

changes. The original proposal for Phase I and the yet-to-be-built Phase II

city’s architectural mix. The 5.4-acre site, occupied by blocks of two-story

called for 236 dwelling units and 53,000 square feet of retail. The revised

garden apartments, has completed a first phase with 72 condominiums in

master plan calls for 194 units and a total 12,550 square feet of retail. The

three buildings served by an interior two-level parking deck. The limited

Oxmoor Road frontage was scaled down to two-story townhouse flats in

retail (10,500 square feet) fronts 19th Street between the hotel and Oxmoor

response to neighborhood concerns.

Road. The architects were Garrison Barrett Group (now separated into two firms, LIVE Design Studio and Barrett Architecture Studio).

“They did a great job with Hallman Hill, stepping down the hill with the parking deck out-of-view and picking up on Homewood architecture,”

Though the main frontage reaches five stories, it achieves a pleasing

says Carnaggio. The city’s review also led to changes in the Aloft Hotel for

scale by being broken down like SoHo Square into storefronts along the

which his firm was the local architect. “The architects started with more

base (actually a liner building fronting the parking deck behind) with a

metal panels and a lot of stucco, but at the city’s request, they went to

townhouse-rhythm above. All three residential structures front a richly

more brick cladding.”

landscaped interior courtyard that tops the deck. In this case, concerns

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This plan at the level of the courtyard plaza shows the disposition of buildings for Hallman Hill’s first phase.

[above] The contemporary-style Aloft Hotel, on the site of the old Homewood City Hall, bridges between SoHo Square and Hallman Hill (out of view behind the hotel). An independent local restaurant occupies the corner. There are plans to replace the city’s jail (just visible opposite the hotel) with a new mixed-use building. [left] A prime retail corner with a landmark tower anchors the corner of Hallman Hill at 19th Street and Oxmoor Road.

Public concern about these large-scale projects did trigger a

But as the plan moved ahead, it became clear that downtown

long-overdue master plan for the whole city. “A lot of the con-

Homewood is very large (more than 30 square blocks) and large-

cern about SoHo and Hallman Hill was that there was no overall

ly under developed. “Strange as it seems, downtown has the low-

plan,” says Darrell Meyer, who led the master plan project for

est building coverage of anywhere in town,” Meyer says. There is

KPS Group. “ As we developed the plan, it was clear from town

more room there to grow and strengthen the city’s tax base than

meetings that Homewood residents live in clearly defined neigh-

anywhere. The city has recently reactivated a downtown develop-

borhoods with neighborhood centers, and they didn’t want that

ment committee chaired by retailer Leo Shaia to develop a plan.

to change. They were rightly upset about a Florida developer’s

The difference now is there are fine models at hand.

proposal to greatly change Edgewood’s commercial area.” “I think what we’ve built recently gives us confidence that we can re-energize downtown and extend it without losing what people like,” says Mayor McBrayer. ■

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The new Battle House Tower and restored Battle House Hotel have introduced new synergy to downtown Mobile, but this aerial photograph shows ugly gaps in the urban fabric next to Bienville Square and elsewhere. Waterfront open space and attractions, like the cruise terminal, give the Mobile River new community focus.

Downtown Mobile Aerial Photography by Tad Denson

Downtown Mobile’s historically dense urban fabric, still evident along

Also flagged for early action is reinforcement of existing attractions

Dauphin Street, was seriously weakened by demolition over many

with a Dauphin Street/St. Francis Street Retail, Arts & Entertainment

decades. Even iconic Bienville Square has a parking lot on its west

District and a Spanish Plaza Mixed-Use Event & Entertainment Village.

side, where buildings once defined the space. A downtown plan com-

Longer term, the plan identifies numerous opportunities to reclaim

pleted in 2008 calls for increased density at key locations to recapture

vacant street frontages with buildings served by parking at the rear. As

a sense of wholeness.

the plan overview states:

Prepared by EDSA, landscape architects and planners, the plan calls

A large portion of the Downtown area falls within one of three

for strategic infill development at locations throughout downtown. “The

recognized Historic Districts: The DeTonti Square Historic District, the Lower

timing couldn’t have been worse with the economic crisis in late 2008,”

Dauphin Historic District, and the Church Street East Historic District. Prior

says Elizabeth Sanders, president of Downtown Mobile. “The out-of-

efforts for the Downtown area focused primarily on the areas in and around

town developers who were looking at Mobile have disappeared. But

these historic districts, the Business Improvement District and the riverfront.

most of the concepts are timeless, and as a community, we can start

The New Plan for Mobile takes a different approach in that it highlights

gathering energy around some key initiatives.” Among those priorities:

development initiatives spread equally across the Downtown and suggests

a mixed-use building to fill in Bienville Square’s gap and an ambitious

specific public and private development concepts for every opportunity site

proposal to remove interstate ramps around the isolated Fort Condé

found during field reconnaissance.

Village and backfill with compatible urban blocks. DesignAlabama 10

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The new downtown plan completed in 2008 identifies streets and blocks for strategic infill buildings and a mix of uses (darker shades). Plugging the gap next to Bienville Square is on the priority list as is replacing interstate ramps that isolate Fort Condé Village (lower right) with buildings.

This rendering shows how realignment of the I-10 tunnel ramps and infill with new development would reconnect Fort Condé Village

The rich historic fabric of downtown still exists along Dauphin Street where efforts by the city and Downtown Mobile

with downtown.

Alliance have led to new uses including residential.

The vision is conservative, in the root meaning of the word, and remedial. For

Hampton Inn across the street, has turned Royal into a real place. Everything

example, a now-empty stretch of St. Louis Street in the northwest quadrant of

was so scattered and dead before.”

downtown would be lined with office buildings modest in scale but effective because they front the street with parking behind.

So Mobile begins to rediscover that the essence of true city making is putting things in just the right place. It’s not just density, but the right mix of uses and

Daunting as this broad-based plan might seem, Sanders says downtown

building ensembles that add up to more than the sum of their parts. ■

Mobile’s success in revitalization shows the way. “The Battle House Tower and hotel projects by David Bronner and the RSA have given Royal Street new life,” she says. “The Battle House Hotel brings activity to the street. Together they generate so much more energy than if they were isolated. What they did to give Renaissance Riverview Plaza better street presence, along with the new

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Viewed from the Redmont neighborhood atop Red Mountain, Highland Park has its own skyline of residential towers rising above the tree-canopied lower slopes of Red Mountain. With a population of about 6,000, its largest non-residential neighbor is the St. Vincent’s Hospital campus (upper left).

Highland Park Neighborhood Plan Photography by Wes Frazer

The Highland Park neighborhood on the lower slopes of Red Mountain

Detailed analysis of Highland Park (240 acres, population about 6,000)

has always had higher density than usual for Birmingham. The

showed that most of the taller residential buildings were clustered near

100-foot-wide avenue that curves past three small, bowl-shaped parks

Caldwell Park at the western end of the avenue, part of denser urban

and ends at Highland Park Golf Course was originally a streetcar route.

fabric that extends past St. Vincent’s Hospital to Five Points South.

Tall apartment buildings were built in the 1920s, and a spate of new

Many of the larger buildings occupy larger lots fronting Highland

ones precipitated a plan adopted in early 2010 that gives more control

Avenue originally for grand houses. Surveys of residents made clear

over development.

that the variety and diversity is considered a plus, along with the parks, sidewalks and trees. The main descriptive words were: historic, walk-

Incorporating the form-based codes that have grown out of the new

able, convenient, diverse, beautiful, green, friendly and unique.

urbanist movement, the Highland Park Neighborhood Plan prepared by Gresham Smith & Partners’ Birmingham office creates a new tool

To build on these characteristics, the new regulating plan (an overlay

for saying where higher density buildings will go and how they fit the

that deals with building form and leaves uses covered by zoning) has

urban setting. It was funded by the Regional Planning Commission’s

five sub-districts, two of them covering mainly single family areas and

“Building Communities” grant and by the City of Birmingham’s neighborhood funds.

the others managing a range of higher density building types from courtyard apartments to mid-rise towers. As the map shows, the darker, denser districts are concentrated in areas where existing uses and zon-

“This gives us a say over future development with specific require-

ing for it already exist.

ments for truly urban buildings that address the streets and sidewalks, not the kind of suburban apartments built in the 50s, 60s and 70s,” says Alison Glascock, president of Highland Park Neighborhood Association. “We can now really shape how things fit.” DesignAlabama 12

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The landmark Highland Plaza (1924) which marks the western gateway to Highland Park shows the street presence that new buildings will be required to have. Next door are the Bottega restaurant and café, among the many popular places within an easy walk for residents.

The new 2600 Highland condominium tower frames one edge of Caldwell Park, one of three small parks that give Highland Park a green necklace. The new neighborhood plan calls for any new mid-rise residential buildings to be limited to the Caldwell Park end of the avenue.

The regulating plan for the form-based overlays shows the highest density residential (darker shading) near Caldwell Park (lower right). Note: the dark area at top is the St. Vincent’s Hospital campus categorized as General Urban.

The kind of pedestrian-scaled street frontage that 2600 Highland extends at the corner of Highland Avenue and Niazuma has been mandated for all new construction in the new form-based code.

Much of Highland Park already fell under the city’s design review process because 160 of its 240 acres are covered by a local historic zoning district established in 2003. But the new overlay codes cover areas outside that zone. Applied to all new development, the overlay regulates:

This page from the plan includes illustrations demonstrating how form-based codes shape aspects of new buildings.

*Placement of the building on the site *How the building relates to the street and adjacent buildings *Size and height of the building *Parking *Pedestrian and vehicular access *Landscaping *Signage

In conjunction with the Birmingham Planning Commission, the city has created Neighborhood Form-Based Overlay District Regulations that guide any neighborhood or district that decides to pursue them. Each would be tailored block-by-block as was done with Highland Park, which took four years to develop and four public hearings prior to adoption. Tedious as that might seem, form-based codes and plans relieve neighborhoods from having to fight the same battles

Another page from the plan illustrates minimum/maximum setback range, height

over and over again. ■

range and location of parking for the second highest level of density.

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All buildings in The Village are four-story and clad in brick and limestone, but architectural variations create distinctive places within the whole. Towers flanking the main pedestrian spine at the west edge create a gateway. (Photo by Robert Fouts)

The Village at Auburn The Village, a new ensemble of eight Auburn University residential buildings at the west end of the campus, has a total of 1,700 dormitory beds on a 16-acre site formerly occupied by parking lots. It is deliberately dense, but the design by Williams Blackstock Architects of Birmingham is a completely different approach from the modern towers-in-a-park dorms many major schools built in decades past. “Those were more object buildings,” says Joel Blackstock, the same sort that failed so miserably in public housing blocks because the surrounding space became a no-man’s-land. “These are designed to react to the campus around them and to create defined and useable

This site plan shows the relationship of The Village to the Auburn campus with the lines demark-

spaces between.”

ing the main pedestrian streets that make clear links to the campus and the transit stop to the north (top).

The Village straddles a major pedestrian link that extends east-west through the campus all the way to College Street on the east. The plaza and green set between the residential buildings and a new dining hall

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Spaces between buildings are key to the character of The Village, and the structures’ mass is moderated by projecting bays,

An arched portal carved out of this building creates the main entrance to The Village from the south. (Photo by Robert Fouts)

rustication at the ground-floor level, distinctive brick patterns and other details. (Photo by Sherwood Cox)

The dining hall, also designed by Williams Blackstock, frames and animates the plaza even at night with architectural illumination. The rendering shows how the space will appear with completion of the new arena (right). (Photo by Sherwood Cox)

and arena designed as part of the whole, occupies the highest point of the

The Village is also animated by incorporating sorority houses with chapter

site to provide views across the campus in both directions. The two buildings

rooms on ground floors of some buildings. There are also classrooms on

flanking the spine at the west end have tower elements that create a gateway.

ground floors and space for faculty. As part of a master plan prepared by

On the south, the entrance to The Village is through a large arched portal in

Sasaki about 10 years ago and updated since, Auburn University adopted

the building enclosing that edge.

a growth boundary to preclude the kind of sprawl that started in the 1960s, says University Architect Greg Parsons. “We want to keep things close

Clad in brick and trimmed in limestone, the four-story buildings take archi-

together and within walking distance,” he says. “The Village is the first resi-

tectural cues from historic campus buildings. They step down the gently

dential initiative under that plan. Last year for the first time in a long time,

sloping site, creating variety and a sense of a village with visible roof lines.

less than 50 percent of students, faculty and staff arrived on campus each day

Differing architectural features also work to create a sense of place depending

in single passenger automobiles. Walking, bicycling and transit enable the

on where you are. The dining hall that fronts the plaza with generous glass

core of campus to be animated with people in lieu of vehicular congestion,

openings and an expansive veranda for dining and socializing features a cor-

noise and pollution.”

ner tower that serves as a central landmark. Going into its second year, The Village has proved enormously popular and As with more popular contemporary student housing, The Village has suites

has a deep waiting list. The university transit system now carries 10,000 pas-

with four private bedrooms, two baths, small kitchen and a common living

sengers per day. Chances are this student generation will learn that density,

room. Each floor also has study and social areas. Williams Blackstock decid-

too, can be lovely. ■

ed to use projecting bay windows for each suite living room. “It was daunting to think there would be 3,000 windows,” says Blackstock. “It could have been monotonous. The bays break up the mass, and students can tell where their rooms are by locating their bay.” 15 Volume XX

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Maritime Science Center: By Gita M. Smith

In a highly visible location south of Hwy. 90 as you enter/exit the causeway, the Maritime Science Center celebrates and broadcasts Mobile’s port history through its design. Resembling a loaded container ship, it features a gangway entry, wooden beam-like walls and a back partition that mimics the bow of a ship with a water marker.

From concept to completion, some design projects are harder to launch than others. Alabama’s

The architectural firm Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood Inc. in Montgomery began drafting plans in 2009. “There were numerous challenges, to say the least,” says architect and project manager Dan Woods. A list of those challenges would include the following:

new $12 million Maritime Science Center, however, might

• Construction was planned on a brownfield site, where no business had operated for almost 20 years.

deserve a category all its own.

• The site is in a flood plain.

From an architect’s point of view,

• Materials had to withstand a hot, South Alabama environment with salt as a component of soil, air and water.

this very challenging project could be called a perfect storm. The purpose of the 100,000-square-foot, container-like structure is to provide a space where the Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT) department can train workers for the shipbuilding industry. AIDT provides job-specific, preemployment and on-the-job training as a way of recruiting industries to the state. That function will take up half the space, with the other half allotted to the AUSTAL Corp. to build ships. AIDT acquired a 20-acre parcel on Pinto Island near Mobile adjacent to Interstate-10 and Highway 90 and kicked off construction in June 2009. It seemed an ideal location, as it is close to four shipbuilding companies: Austal USA, Atlantic Marine, Bender Shipbuilding & Repair Co. and C&G Boat Works.

• The original land parcel, although 20 acres, allowed only four buildable acres because it contains wetlands that had to be protected or, if disturbed, mitigated. • Portions of the ground were covered by heavy cracked asphalt, concrete and industrial debris.

“To be frank, much credit goes to our client for sticking it out to the end,” Woods says. “Our projected completion date was June 2010, and we expect it will be user-ready in October. Other clients, I don’t think, might have lasted.” Besides the lengthy site preparation required due to wetlands, another related “speed bump” was the flood plain elevation level. “We had hoped we would not disturb more than 1/10th of an acre, but we exceeded that,” Woods says. “We had to create a boardwalk that goes across the wetlands. The grading and installation of a silt fence

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disturbed more. We ended up having to mitigate 4/10th of an acre.” To do so, Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood used the Weeks Bay Mitigation Bank. “We also had to deal with the flood plain location,” Woods says. “First, we had to work with FEMA to propose to change the site designation from VE to AE [a less hazardous designation]. We had to raise the elevation of the site with fill dirt and spend an additional $700,000 to construct a sea wall as our northern border to make the site buildable.” But the biggest challenge probably was the contaminated soil making the parcel a brownfield site. GMC’s environmental staff had to acquire a permit from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and show how they would clean

the control deck of a ship. “The cargo container design is an allusion to Mobile’s cargo industry. I wanted it to feel like a landlocked ship,” Steen says. One stainless steel wall is curved to look like the hull of the ship. The design is meant to work on different scales. “There are 30-foot-tall letters on the steel span that say AIDT, which are meant to be read from I-10 and far away,” says Steen. “It is such a huge building that the entire length of it – almost 600 feet – is the same size as one of those cargo ships that carries containers across the ocean.”

The interior includes second-story classrooms overlooking a high bay, open floor main industrial space. It is not a typical classroom, having a two-story, hands-on environment with

The chief materials used for the MSC include poured-in-place concrete, painted masonry walls, an open ceiling with exposed

electrical and computer labs and welding shops and with interior and exterior learning environments.

up the toxic chemicals. The path they chose, phytoremediation, is a progressive alternative to removing contaminants and dumping them elsewhere. It uses plants that “hyperaccumulate” contaminants to soak up the toxins from the surrounding soil and water. The cleanup plan proposed using water on site and future storm-water runoff from the parking lots to irrigate the plants. The task of planning the brownfield site remediation fell to Jymalyn Redmond, an experienced environmental engineer with GMC. Among the plants she installed were Pteris ferns, which soak up arsenic; cottonwoods, which absorb petroleum products; cypress trees, which also remove petroleum and its byproducts; and sunflowers, which take up chromium from the soil. Unfortunately, the soil at the long-unused site was poor and depleted, as well as toxic. “We were trying to re-establish plants where there was cracked asphalt and concrete,” Redmond says. “When you take poor soils and try to make them viable, you need microorganisms, and you apply or add organic materials.” The specific plants were chosen by doing soil and water analyses. Once it became clear that the environmental challenges and multiple permits were under control, the GMC architects focused on the design of the building. The initial design concept from architect Scott Steen incorporated nautical and shipbuilding aesthetics. “I used cargo container imagery, and the form of the building has elements like concrete textured to look like wood grain that are reminders of old wood boats,” Steen explains. A mast and flagpole cast into the elevation imply

trusses and decking, metal siding on the exterior and floors of sealed and stained concrete. The total look of the MSC is industrial, in keeping with its function as a welding training facility.

To revitalize the 22-acre brownfield site for sustainable

Dan Woods also noted that the finished ships and components will have to be lifted out of the building by cranes. Therefore, an overhead crane rail running the length of the building had to be incorporated into the design. Finally, the plan had to include parking space from which runoff would be directed towards the wetlands area.

reuse, Alabama ADEM approved a three-part remediation plan developed by Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood environmental engineering to make the site reusable and economically practical again.

“All in all, it has been a longer trip than we originally planned to take,” Woods said, “but it’s a great feeling to finally arrive at the finish line.” ■ Gita M. Smith is a freelance writer based in Montgomery. 17 Volume XX

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The Main Event An

acquaintance of mine, a well-known designer, frequently engages in a life of crime. He steals posters – not just any posters, only the most worthy. In fact, he maintains that theft is proof of a successful poster. by Samantha Lawrie

The poster burst onto the visual scene in the early 19th century with the advent of the steam-driven printing press. Literally millions of posters were printed and displayed on every available surface along busy city streets. The poster was the most visible form of advertising in the urban environment and often promoted the latest entertainment spectacular or cultural event. Initially, a poster was intended to last only a day or two before it was covered over by the next layer of postings. But soon the poster transcended its commercial origins. For many illustrators and poster artists, the street became an art gallery. The distinction between mass-produced works of graphic art and unique works of fine art was blurred. Posters became collectible artifacts of popular culture. Today the term event graphics is used to denote the printed materials associated with theatrical performances, concerts, festivals and other entertainment events. And, in many instances, the poster remains the primary form of event graphics. Jacksonville, Ala., native and Auburn University alumnus Zach Hobbs is a prolific and successful designer of gig posters. In the tradition of 19th century poster

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2010 Gulf Coast Ethnic & Heritage Jazz Festival by Daniel Wildberger: directly above. Graphic designers are often passionate about poster design and Daniel Wildberger is no exception. Wildberger is an assistant professor of graphic design at the University of South Alabama and has designed posters for film, festivals and musical performance. He finds numerous reasons to love poster design – “it’s power of synthesis, the quick and precise delivery of a message, the [range of] approaches one can have when it comes to the execution of a piece, the role played by posters in graphic design history, [and] the fact that it’s designed for immediacy but may become atemporal.” But Wildberger is most “fascinated with the capacity a good poster has of connecting with someone on both an intellectual and emotional level.” His poster for the 2010 Gulf Coast Ethnic & Heritage Jazz Festival does just this; it suggests a wave of sound while conveying the rhythm of music and sweep of time. “Ultimately,” says Wildberger, “ the greatest quality a poster can have is its ability of telling a good story.”

artists, he works with bands and club owners to promote the latest acts on the music scene. Hobbs says his goal is to “make a connection with SOMETHING that will resonate with the band and the audience.” He wants his work to break through the cultural clutter and make an impact on the street – “You gotta be seen.” When asked about the distinction between posters as promotional items vs. collectible art, Hobbs says the difference is significant. In recent years the demand for collectible rock posters has increased dramatically. “Bands and management are hip to merchandising more than ever, especially since record sales are so poor.… In some cases the poster is designed and printed specifically to be sold at the show: a one time only pressing of 50–500 depending on size of band/venue, etc. The fans are eating this stuff up. There are INSANE collectors out there.” In spite of the gig poster craze, Hobbs says he enjoys the fact that many of his posters function as “old school” advertisements. “The poster that actually gets rained on or ripped down is just a little bit more special to me.”

2010 Pepper Place promotions by Michael Alfano Design & Advertising: on the opposite page and above left. Pepper Place Saturday Market was conceived by Cathy Sloss Crenshaw as a way to promote locally grown produce and the slow food movement. The market provides a venue for local farmers and artisans and is currently in its 11th season. Michael Alfano has been involved with the project since its inception, contributing to its original concept development, as well as creating the market’s branding and marketing campaigns. As the market has evolved into a significant feature of Birmingham’s cultural scene, Alfano and his team have been challenged by the need to maintain the market’s recognizable aesthetic personality while keeping each year’s promotion fresh and inventive. Shown on the previous page are just a few of the printed graphics produced for the PPSM. The primary poster features surrealist watermelon balloons floating serenely over an agrarian landscape. The imagery and antiqued aesthetic is carried through a variety of media including a newspaper ad, a crate label poster and a thank you card featuring Ms. Crenshaw in a witty homage to “American Gothic.” Also shown is a selection of work for the Pepper Place Spring Event – an extension of the market, yet a distinct event in its own right. The event signage, newspaper ad and poster all feature a flower formed from a sunflower, strawberries and endive leaves. The antiqued aesthetic and surrealist theme is maintained to relate the Spring Event to the PPSM, but the Spring Event materials use only the Pepper Place logo. Both campaigns have been admired for their inventiveness and artistic quality.

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A selection of letterpress posters by Slaughter Design Group: in box above. Sometimes an event such as a natural catastrophe inspires a visual response to pull people together. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti motivated the eloquent request of the poster on the left. Birmingham’s Rickwood Field is the oldest active baseball field in the United States. The commemorative posters above celebrate Rickwood’s 100th anniversary. All of these posters were designed by Terry Slaughter and printed by Kempis Press, a letterpress studio owned by Terry Slaughter and operated by his son Jonathan.

While posters maintain an important role, event graphics have expanded well beyond the needs of the entertainment sector. For years nonprofits have organized events for fund-raising, to raise awareness of important issues and to share information. Collateral for these events often includes invitations, programs, informational booklets, environmental graphics, take-away gifts, etc. Michael Alfano of Michael Alfano Design & Advertising in Birmingham, Ala., has extensive experience with event graphics for clients such as the Pepper Place Saturday Market, the Peace in My World Foundation and the American Diabetes Association to name but a few. Alfano observes that even for-profit companies increasingly are sponsoring events that range from entertainment and charity events to conferences and speaking engagements to webinars – with “the emergence of social media and the decline in traditional advertising … more companies and organizations are using events as a means of gaining exposure through social networking and as a catalyst for PR opportunities.” According to Alfano, event sponsorship provides companies “more bang for the buck” in a tight economy.

The “event” as a marketing tool is nothing new. Yet in the age of social media, the event, like the poster, transcends its more practical motivation. By their very nature, events have a social orientation and the potential to transform a target audience into a community. Events have a way of connecting people with people – through shared interests, causes and passions – and people with places – whether it’s a city, a beloved historic site or an emerging cultural destination. A poster, an invitation or a program can anchor a memory to a specific place and time. Event graphics are the visual expression of a shared identity and the tangible artifacts of a shared experience. So while it’s the polite norm to purchase a poster from the event organizer, theft may indeed be the more visceral indicator of a successful poster and a successful event. Perhaps that stolen poster is just a little bit more special. ■ Samantha Lawrie is an associate professor of graphic design at Auburn University.

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A selection of gig posters by Zach Hobbs: above on this and the opposite page. For gig posters, a designer’s personal style is part of the appeal for both the client and the audience. Hobbs’ influences include punk rock graphics from the ’70s and ’80s, psychedelic posters from the ’60s, historical Cuban posters and Polish circus posters, comics, folk art, music and more. Hobbs approaches poster design through a variety of media – sketching, scanning ephemera and found imagery and, lately, collage. He says it’s the process tthat is important to him. Gig posters provide an opportunity to take chances and have fun. “The fact that people like them is amazing to me .... I am really, really lucky.”

A selection of event collateral by Michael Alfano Design & Advertising: center right on the opposite page and directly above. The Peace in My World Foundation is a nonprofit initiative founded by Shamsi-Basha, an internationally recognized photographer, writer and advocate for peace. The foundation develops art therapy and outreach programs that give teens a voice in their culture through art, dance, theatre and music. The poster and bookmarks shown on the previous page were created by Michael Alfano Design & Marketing to promote a pilot program at Homewood High School in Birmingham. Materials not shown include t-shirts, large displays, sponsor signage, e-mail blasts, a website and event program. Alfano describes the American Diabetes Association 2008 Fundraising Gala as “a blue jeans and diamonds sort of affair with a bit of rock and roll attitude thrown in for good measure.” Print materials for the event shown here include (clockwise from the top left) program covers, invitation inside, t-shirt, poster, invitation cover and VIP lanyard. All pieces feature an original event logo also designed by Alfano. Carefully crafted details such as the peeling stickers, stencils and sewn leather ADA logo make these pieces richly tactile and unique. According to Alfano, the rock and roll aesthetic developed for the event graphics was carried through to the decor and music for the gala and the entire production was fun and well received.

You can find more from these designers: Michael Alfano: www.alfanodesign.com Daniel Wildberger: www.danielwildberger.com Zach Hobbs: www.weareyoungmonster.com Slaughter Group: www.slaughtergroup.com

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Design■Makes A Difference Overlooking rows of gleaming docks in the fog, these Silverock Cove homes were placed on the site to take full advantage of lake views and preserve towering trees. A call to the boat concierge brings fueled boats to the docks at a moment’s notice, allowing fishing enthusiasts to concern themselves only with the day’s catch.


the Magic:

Silverock Cove By Jessica Armstrong Photography by Luker Photography

From the beginning of my work as a craftsman, my object has been to develop types of houses and house furnishings that are essentially cheerful, durable and


he houses of architect and furniture designer Gustav Stickley – a founder of the American Arts and Crafts movement in the early 1900s – were constructed of materials left as close as possible to their pure state. Wide overhangs displaying exposed rafters, chimneys made of stone, natural wood finishes and natural light. Above all, Stickley believed a house should never fail to harmonize with its surroundings. “We felt a kinship to the Arts and Crafts period… more than mere style; it was a movement, a way of life,” reads part of the design philosophy of Birmingham-based Dungan Nequette Architects, who thoughtfully re-interpreted Craftsman for today’s modern living at Silverock Cove, a wooded development in north central Alabama overlooking Lewis Smith Lake. Project architect Louis Nequette designed the houses and cottages for casual, no-tie-required (or even shoes) living on Smith Lake, actually a reservoir created by Alabama Power. The waterfront properties complement the natural surroundings while conveying timelessness sure to outlast the whims of changing tastes.

appropriate for the kind of life I believe the intelligent American public desires. — Gustav Stickley, “A Word about Craftsman Architecture”

New Approach to Alabama Lake Communities. “At Silverock Cove, we started with an amazing site that begged to be preserved as much as possible,” Nequette explains. “The areas that were disturbed were designed to blend with the natural surroundings, so they felt like they belonged to the woods rather than invaded it. Nothing too sophisticated by design. It’s a lake; keep it lake-y. Building materials are all natural – real wood and stone – so they age with the environment rather than remain pristine or fake.” The density of the Silverock Cove properties is uncharacteristic for Alabama lake developments, so it “took effort to paint the picture for the first buyers,” adds Nequette. Yet many of the founding owners were familiar with Gulf Coast traditional neighborhood communities such as Rosemary Beach and Seaside in the Florida panhandle, which made it easier for them to grasp the higher

A row of four-pane windows that wrap around the upper floor of this two-story, gray-sided house add warmth and historical appeal. Another focal point is its chimney made of stone, a prominent material used in Arts and Crafts design, as well as many Silverock homes.

density component of new urbanism. Also setting Silverock apart from other Alabama secondhome developments is its common use amenities such as the docks, boardwalk and clubhouse, which are communally owned. The land outside the home footprint is also owned by everyone in the community, with the exception of the undeveloped land owned by Silverock Cove developer Hughes Capital Partners in Birmingham.

Indoor – Outdoor Living. Neutral colors were used on both the exterior and interior of the Silverock homes. Interiors feature pine flooring, pine walls, slate tile in the bathrooms and granite and slate countertops. Furniture is slip-covered and jute rugs are used to withstand sandy bare feet. Nothing overly designed in keeping with the lakeside lifestyle.

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By using the shades of the surrounding vegetation, the houses seem to disappear into the woods, notes Doug Davis, an interior designer with Tracery Interiors, the firm’s interior design division, which operates out of the Birmingham office. The cottages and row homes are even named after trees. Inside, the color scheme was “lightened up” with white and natural linen shades, adds Davis, to break up the darker hues and “prevent feeling like you’re living in a barn.”

Collaborative Creativity.

Exposed rafters and rows of windows exemplify this

Dungan Nequette provides not only architectural and interior design services, but also branding development – from overall identity and signage to marketing materials and advertising. Key to Silverock Cove’s success was this cooperative approach to project development. The project broke ground in 2008, says Sarah Hyche, a broker with H2 Real Estate, launched by Hughes Capital at the beginning of 2010 to focus on Silverock Cove and other exclusive properties on Smith Lake.

between the homes and the waterfront.

Tracery studio and retail shops are also located at Rosemary Beach. Principals Jeff Dungan and Louis Nequette created Tracery and remain part owners, along with co-owner and managing partner Paige Schnell. Tracery designers work on Dungan Nequette projects, along with independent projects.

Silverock Cove home. A timber walking trail meanders

This was at a time when other lake projects were failing to garner even moderate interest, notes Chad Martin, who manages the firm’s branding division, known as G Brand. “The best attribute at the time the project started was the site and its multiple views of the water,” adds Martin. “Then you mix in the architecture with a little branding and Silverock Cove began to breathe in a market where other developments

Landscape architect J.K. Terry of J.K. Terry and Company in Birmingham also worked to enhance the natural ambiance of Silverock Cove. In addition to using native plants and

(Below) Interior lighting seen through the wood slats of the Silverock Cove pool house creates a striking nighttime radiance. A row of chaise lounges

(Below right) Colors found in nature and simple trim work – from the walls to the beamed ceiling – are

sit ready, waiting to provide a bit of rest and relaxation. All Silverock Cove

common features found in Silverock Cove and were used in the pool house. The furniture follows the same

amenities, including the pool and pool house, are communally owned.

simple lines, echoing an unfussy approach to design characteristic of the Arts and Crafts movement.

designing walking trails, Terry also worked with the contractor on the placement of homes in order to preserve larger trees. “So many developments bulldoze a site, even mature trees,” says Terry. “I used mostly natural materials that are drought resistant and environmentally sensitive.” Terry placed parking spaces in wooded areas using crushed pea gravel, creating a permeable surface to prevent runoff.

were already showing signs of decline. I don’t think we would have had as much success if [G Brand] wasn’t involved from the very beginning stages of development. The branding and architectural vision wouldn’t have been as cohesive.” The branding campaign started with naming the development after native rocks in the cove that cast a silver reflection. Every aspect of the project was inspired by nature – the site’s most prominent amenity. “The main objective after the name was settled was to try and achieve a resort feeling through all the creative efforts – from the website logo, custom laser-cut metal entry gates, to the signage and printed materials, Martin explains.

Sunlight beaming through French doors casts a windowpane pattern on this living room floor. Light-colored pine walls and floors, along with natural

Expanding the Vision. F. Carter Hughes of Hughes Capital Partners identifies several reasons why Silverock Cove has been such a success – the overall look and feel of the community, access to amenities such as concierge boat service and value (homes priced less than those in other lake developments). Silverock Cove consists of about 85 acres of developed and undeveloped land. About to be introduced is Phase III, consisting of 20 homes offered at a lower price point beginning at $239,900, says Hughes. Existing properties are priced from $330,000 to $500,000 and range from 1,200 to 2,200 square feet. Phase IV is expected to start at the beginning of 2011. As Silverock Cove grows, good design will undoubtedly remain at the forefront, guided by Stickley’s belief that a house should harmonize with its natural surroundings. In this case, the natural beauty of native vegetation alongside the deep, clear water of a three-fingered lake.

linen-colored curtains and furniture, brighten this interior even more.

“Our design philosophy is to capture the magic that happens when you mix the unique needs of a client with a special or beautiful building site,” says Nequette. “We envision a few key experiences that could occur to capture that magic and wrap architecture around the vision until it becomes a reality.” ■ Jessica Armstrong is a freelance writer based in Auburn. 23 Volume XX

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Energizes a Community


Downtown Revitalization By Susan Braden Photography by Susan Braden


lthough it is more than 100 miles from any metropolitan area,

Thomasville is transforming its pastoral Clarke County setting into a regional center of activity. The city’s website proclaims Thomasville as southwestern Alabama’s “success story,” and anyone visiting this town of about 5,000 people notices the many new and renovated commercial buildings. The city has an historic, revitalized downtown, a handsome new civic center (2008) and new businesses and industry. In July 2010, Lakeside Steel chose Thomasville for its American headquarters, bringing 120 jobs to the area. Plans are on the books for a new $30 million hospital, industrial park expansion and further renovations downtown. So much has been accomplished in Thomasville that it’s easy to see why much larger towns would be envious of its amenities and can-do spirit. But Thomasville’s success story didn’t happen by accident. Much of the credit goes to the town’s energetic mayor and to the enthusiasm of its citizens in supporting a new vision for their

The clock at the core of Thomasville’s downtown is a time-honored urban symbol and a gift from local businessman Tim Watts.

historic downtown. The transformation has stirred civic pride and demonstrates the value that Thomasville citizens place on its past and, also, the bold confidence they have in its future.

A Railroad Runs Through It. Situated among the rolling hills, pine forests and scenic riverways of Clarke County, the town lies about midway between Tuscaloosa and Mobile on Highway 43. It is neither the county seat nor the county’s largest town. The primary industry is still timber. Surrounded by many smaller towns, Thomasville has made itself the regional hub for rural areas in Clarke County, neighboring Alabama counties and Mississippi. Out-of-town visitors are drawn to the many businesses and large retail stores along Highway 43 and a surprising number

Across the railroad tracks from downtown are the five Boardwalk Cottages, designed to recall Thomasville’s historic bungalows. The two- and three-bedroom houses are located on a bluff and easily visible from West Front Street.

of civic amenities, recreational areas and services. These include the downtown historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, tournament-quality

As has occurred in many small towns, commerce in Thomasville began to

sports complexes for baseball and softball and the Dixie Majors World Series.

move outside the downtown core in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Many businesses

A branch campus of Alabama Southern Community College houses a museum

relocated to Highway 43, drawing retailers and residents away from downtown

honoring Thomasville native Kathryn Tucker Windham. The town also is an

and leaving numerous empty buildings. In 1997, led by newly elected Mayor

Alabama Community of Excellence (2005), a host for business and supplier

Sheldon Day, the city asked Sherlock, Smith and Adams to design a plan to make

conventions and home to the Southwest Alabama Chamber of Commerce and

Thomasville’s downtown more appealing and accessible while still retaining the

the Alabama-Tombigbee Resource Conservation and Development Council.

atmosphere and character of its heritage as a railroad town.

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The center of Thomasville’s downtown is the intersection of West Front Street, which parallels the railroad, and Wilson Avenue. The popular People’s Corner café serves breakfast, lunch and ice cream.

This heritage is an important part of the image portrayed in its newly revitalized downtown. And it’s easy to see why. In 1888, Thomasville’s original

or add cobblestones; instead, the plan featured improved concrete sidewalks, attractive and safe pedestrian areas and the very practical addition of parking lots.

pioneers ambitiously moved their settlement from Choctaw Corner to the site of Thomasville to be near the new railroad. With the arrival of the railroad, businesses quickly grew up along West Front Street, one block west of the tracks. Following a fire that in 1899 destroyed much of downtown, business owners optimistically rebuilt for the future using brick. Commerce and the timber industry drove the railroad town’s economy, and prospering citizens built comfortable homes near their businesses. Clearly, it was important to all that something of the authentic, original character of the town’s past be preserved in SS&A’s new plan for downtown.

Downtown Plan Ties Community Together. The Montgomery-based firm devised a nine-block master plan that emphasized

A look at Thomasville’s downtown today shows how well the master plan has worked. SS&A’s landscape design brings color, texture, coherence, convenience and beauty to the downtown core. Starting at the intersection of West Front Street and Wilson Avenue and radiating out into the surrounding blocks, willow oaks and crepe myrtles shade the sidewalks and soften the geometry of the buildings. Ground-level planters containing dwarf yaupon and decorative grasses add texture and pattern. Sidewalks wrap the blocks, and corners are distinguished by brick pavers and concrete stamped to resemble brick. In addition to making the downtown more attractive, the master plan brought new unity to the area through streetscape design. The vintage street lights provide illumination, but, importantly, they also tie together the historic

maintaining the historic vernacular brick commercial buildings along West Front

area and reinforce the boundaries of the downtown. Jeff Sexton, SS&A’s

Street and preserving the down-to-earth, confident character of a railroad town.

landscape architect for the project, described the lights as “connectors” that

Even as the design created eye-appealing landscaping and a new cohesive order

also pull people toward downtown. Similarly, new sidewalks and the wooden

to downtown, it also appeared unpretentious – reflective of the hospitality and

Craftsman-style benches give the downtown a more unified character. Perhaps

values associated with a small town. No attempt was made to hide the tracks

even more importantly than their design function, the benches offer places for people to sit and feel welcome and participate in the life of the street. Marlo Anderson, director of the Southwest Alabama Chamber of Commerce and a Thomasville resident for 17 years, especially values the sidewalks and street lights because they have “brought our community closer.” SS&A also added parking lots and infrastructure improvements to downtown. The city requested parking lots, correctly assuming that the need for them would grow. Skillfully sited and attractively landscaped, the parking lots are more than practical; they can be used as gathering spaces for Thomasville’s 4th of July fireworks and the Ghost Walk at Halloween. The parking lot on West Front Street between Wilson and Nicole avenues is cleverly designed and landscaped to function as infill: it respects the street wall, and the crepe myrtle-flanked entryway references the neighboring storefronts. According to Sexton, “We wanted to

Comfortable, sturdy wooden benches and redesigned curbs make Thomasville’s downtown inviting and pedestrian-friendly.

continue the idea of a wall even though it’s greenery.”

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Success Spurs More Innovation. A measure of the master plan’s success is that it has been expanded. Thomasville’s downtown master plan has gone through three phases: SS&A’s original plan and implementation (finished in 2004) and two expansions of infrastructure improvements and a continuation of the streetscaping by Sentell Engineering of Tuscaloosa in 2006 and Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood of Montgomery in 2007-10. The transformation of downtown inspired property owners to renovate, redecorate and rehabilitate – and to try something new. Thomasville’s Old Bank Gallery on West Front Street is in a 1901 bank building and is an especially pleasing example of restoration and adaptive reuse as an art gallery and tourism office. Another is the former Bedsole department store, renovated in 2008-09 by local property owner and businessman Scott Lewis and architect Joseph Donofro of Donofro and Associates, Dothan. Innovatively, Lewis’ Bedsole Building brings mixed-use and “urban” apartment living to downtown. Other developers, too, experimented with the new idea of adding houses (the Craftsman cottageinspired Boardwalk Cottages, 2008) and an apartment building (the red brick Maison de Ville, 2007). Having residents living downtown brings new street life to downtown, encourages stores and services, increases security because people

wood floors and retain the original steel window frames and their placement.

are there around the clock and brings revenue to the city. Mayor Day stated

New balconies allow apartment residents to sit outside, something encouraged

that the downtown residences (there are more to come) are one of “the best

by Donofro, who likes the idea of conversations between residents and passersby.

things we’ve done.”

Marlo Anderson, who has worked downtown, also described the pleasure of hearing voices from the balconies in the evenings.

The Bedsole Building has a long history in Thomasville and is featured in the author Kathryn Tucker Windham’s recollections of growing up in Thomasville.

Probably the most important reason for building residential units in the

Owner Scott Lewis wanted to preserve the building’s character and chose

downtown core is to encourage activity. And this has happened in Thomasville.

Donofro as his architect, because he knew he had “a passion for old buildings.”

The city’s reinvigorated downtown has reemerged as a core downtown: It has

Today the renovated building’s apartments feature exposed brick walls and

the post office, local newspaper, the People’s Corner café, professional offices, the city water department, an art gallery/tourism office, a jewelry store, an antiques store, a hardware store, grocery, first-run movie theater, and a new restaurant soon will draw more people downtown at night.

(Below) Sherlock, Smith and Adams’ street lamps are a unifying design element and also add an air of nostalgia to the historic downtown. Balconies on the Bedsole Building (right) are for the second-floor apartments.

(Above) Apartments on the second floor of the renovated Bedsole Building are designed by Joe Donofro to offer loft-like living space to Thomasville’s urban pioneers.

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Photo courtesy of McKee and Associates

Sherlock, Smith and Adams designed the master plan for downtown Thomasville, located in the western part of Alabama’s Black Belt.

Prominently sited on a hillside, Thomasville’s dignified civic center/city hall is located on West Front Street north of downtown.

(Top photo) Graceful Tuscan columns on pedestals create a formal and welcoming lobby/ reception area to the civic center’s Bedsole Theatre, the box office and the mayor’s office. Photo courtesy of McKee and Associates

(Above photo) McKee and Associates placed the Bedsole Theatre at the heart of the civic center; the showcase theatre for southwestern Alabama features a 500-seat auditorium, actors’ dressing rooms and state-of-the art lighting, fly loft and sound system.

Civic Center: Making New Connections. The new Thomasville Civic Center (McKee and Associates, 2008) is also

in downtown; the Hille Hotel on West Front Street is being renovated to contain

part of the city’s revitalization, and although it is not in the downtown core, it is

apartments and offices for the Clarke-Mobile County Gas District. In summer

linked to downtown with sidewalks and a continuation of the vintage street lights.

2010, Thomasville was chosen as the location for a regional airport, and Lakeside

The civic center is located in the former Thomasville High School, a building that

Steel’s arrival in Thomasville will spur industrial growth.

McKee and Associates of Montgomery started renovating in the 1990s to house the city hall and police department. Not unusual for a small town, budget con-

Not surprisingly, the solid success of Thomasville’s downtown has helped

straints caused the project to stretch out over several years. Today the civic

invigorate the entire community and the local economy. Residents take pride

center features what has been described by its designers as “West Alabama’s

in their preserved heritage as a railroad town; visitors are impressed with

finest theatre/auditorium;” it also contains an elegantly and classically stylish

amenities and services; and the community benefits financially. Mayor Sheldon

interior that includes an events venue, conference rooms and the mayor’s office.

Day, who has been in office since 1996, credits his city’s downtown revitalization

The 500-seat auditorium in the center’s Bedsole Theatre accommodates plays,

with persuading new businesses and industry to locate in Thomasville. In the

traveling musicals, the Thomasville orchestra and a local thespian group.

mayor’s words, “Companies look at and care about downtowns when choosing a community. They know it takes work and pulling together.” And in Thomasville,

On The Fast Track.

design excellence, innovative ideas and hard work have succeeded in transforming the little railroad town into its own ongoing “success story.” ●

And the building activity in Thomasville goes on. Future plans include extending the vintage streetlights along West Front Street and Wilson Avenue and creating a gateway to downtown where Wilson Avenue meets Highway 43.

Susan Braden is an architectural historian and is retired from teaching art history at Auburn University.

The hospital project is waiting for funding. A new library may occupy a building 27 Volume XX

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Opelika’s Beloved Brown Elementary Now The Community Cultural & Conference Center By Gita M. Smith Photography by Bruce Dupree

The crisp, classic design of the schoolhouse was par for its time, the 1920s. This look was adopted by the state Board of Education for schools across Alabama.


ricks and mortar remain long after laughing voices have left them. Some are bulldozed, but others are saved to be used again. Civic planners might see a sturdy, unused building and think, we can put that structure back into meaningful use. Sometimes, they go a step further and ask, what redesign will match up with an existing need?

The preliminary plan involved a few small or cosmetic repairs to make the central section of the school usable for fund-raising performances by groups like The Civic Chorale or exhibits by local artists. To arrive at the actual redesign and begin major construction took another six years, during which many different groups came together cooperatively to find a specific use for the facility and raise money. “With grants, you do a little bit at a time, then do a little more grant writing and get a little bit more money,” says Barbara Patton, executive director of Envision Opelika. “It does seem like this took a long time, but we were raising funds all along.”

The 1920s-era Miriam Brown Elementary School in Opelika is a case in point. It has been the focus of revitalization efforts by the nonprofit group Envision Opelika Foundation and several design teams who saw potential in the old school for new uses. Since 2003, efforts have been underway to adapt the building and, through redesign, create The Community Cultural and Conference Center to serve the arts and further Opelika’s growth.

From April 2004 to May 2006, the building underwent structural and termite inspections, electrical and mechanical evaluations, a cleaning to get rid of debris inside and out, bat removal and ceiling and roof demolition and repairs. Initial inquiries were made to the Auburn University School of Architecture, and students did appraisals, examined building code issues and offered a rendering for the concept plan for the building. Initial grant proposals were sent out, and some funding was provided by Alabama Power, the Alabama State Council on the Arts, Lee County Government, the Historic Chattahoochee Commission and numerous alumni from the Miriam Brown School.

The Miriam Brown School has a unique place in Opelika’s history. Communities often spring up when a new school is built. The Brown School attracted hundreds of young families to move to the city’s south side, which in turn fostered a construction boom there in the 1930s and 40s. In fact, its first name was Southside Elementary School, changed to honor a beloved teacher who died in 1950. Originally designed by the architectural firm of Lockwood and Poundstone, the building became the prototype for schools across the state at a cost of $100,000. Framed in wood and covered in

brick with limestone trim, the schoolhouse had a rectangular, utilitarian design with long hallways running from the central block to eight classrooms, all on one floor. Walnut and French gray were used for the interior of the auditorium, located in the center of the school. A gymnasium, cafeteria, library, office and teachers’ quarters completed the list of rooms. The cafeteria kitchen was extensive enough that lunches were prepared from scratch, not merely reheated. Each classroom had a closet and sink, making the school very modern for its time. There were other modifications over time to update the heating, cooling, wiring and roof systems, and in the 1960s, the left wing received an addition. But not until 2003, when the south side population of young children diminished and the new Jeter Primary School opened, did Miriam Brown close its doors.

“Thousands of Opelika children went through its doors over 79 years, and many of them became supporters of the current rehab project,” says Phillip Preston, director of the Arts Association of East Alabama. “This is a place where people feel comfortable, even though they left the Southside community, because they went to school there. When they visit the building, they want to go to their old classrooms, and they reminisce happily about ‘Mrs. So-and-so’ who was their teacher.”

That year, the Opelika City School System donated the building to the City of Opelika with a contingency that it would have five years to explore cultural uses for the schoolhouse. Could a cultural project be a viable and financially sustainable venture? If, after five years, the project did not appear to be sustainable, the building would revert back to the school system and be sold. Wisely, the city at that point acquired 4.3 acres directly across the street from the school to provide parking and green space to enhance a new facility. DesignAlabama 28

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The grand design for The Community & Cultural Center has been built in stages due to financial constraints. The auditorium was the first order of business with completion expected by October.

The adaptive redesign

makes use of the inviting and welcoming feeling that the original central section of the school always provided to school children and their parents. In the latter half of 2006, Envision Opelika signed a lease for space in the building. “We were very excited to finally move our offices in,” Patton says. That same year Envision hired the firm of Giattina Fisher Aycock (now Giattina Aycock Architecture Studio) to design Opelika’s new cultural and conference center. Architect James Wilson says his design aesthetic for the school renovation was based on historic preservation. "I wanted to keep the look that is echoed in schools elsewhere in Alabama, since Miriam Brown school was a prototype. We visited sister schools in Dothan and Enterprise, and we listened to former pupils who expressed their fondness for the old design." In the absence of a mammoth infusion of funds to the project, the organizers agreed to complete the renovation one section at a time, beginning with the central block that houses the performance space. Restoration of the wings will come later. “One wing will house an art gallery and possibly studio space for artists to rent,” Preston said. “The wings may also be used for small conferences by nonprofit organizations that can’t afford to rent hotel spaces.” The adaptive redesign makes use of the inviting and welcoming feeling that the original central section of the school always provided to school children and their parents. The entrance is spacious and leads directly to the auditorium, whose original wood floors remain in good condition because they were protected for many years by carpeting. The plans include new heating and air conditioning; some drop ceilings are raised and the original principal’s offices are reconfigured to be brighter and more spacious.

The property directly across the street was purchased by the city for parking, and its design adds, and flows, to the school.

In fall 2009, the Arts Association of East Alabama started to use the 250-300 seat auditorium for Civic Chorale performances and lectures. The facility will provide much-needed rehearsal and performance space for groups in the area that cannot fill the other 1,200-seat venue in Opelika, such as the chorale, chamber music ensembles and community theater, says Preston. Envision Opelika’s Patton looks forward to completion of the first phase in fall 2010. “The Main Street organization will hold their fund-raiser in September. We plan to host the Auburn Community Theatre for a fund-raiser in December. The city has maintained the facility and utilities all along, and the extra acreage across the street opens it up and makes it more visible. So overall, we are fortunate to have a working and viable space, which the community really will now start using.” Patton says that Opelikans are very happy with the outcome. “Adaptive reuse of this facility meant a lot to a lot of people. Now, the beloved old school will have a new life and continue to bring education and culture to the community.”❦

The new, wider entrance overhung with a broad awning, shown here in an architectural model, leads to the heart of The Cultural and Conference Center, the auditorium.

Gita M. Smith is a freelance writer based in Montgomery.

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Philip Morris Photography by Sylvia Martin Aerial Photography by Aero Photo

Railroad Park "One of the first key issues was to find a way to let people circulate and experience the trains up at the level of the railway, instead of down within the park...The city liked the idea…This also provided people with an overview of the space on the other side of town and the park itself and thus helped to link the two parts of the city. We created a rail trail, which consists of both an on-grade walkway on top of small hills and of elevated walkways that connect the hills. This rail trail really helps visitors understand what the place is about and where it came from." Tom Leader Studio: Three Projects Princeton Architectural Press


irmingham’s public-private partnership that developed Railroad Park opened in September got a lot of bang for its $17.5 million construction budget: a 19-acre open space strategically set between downtown and the UAB campus, a brownfield industrial site transformed into a model ecological system and a powerful catalyst for an emerging mixed-use urban district.

It also got an important piece of design by Berkeley-based Tom Leader Studio described in a new book on his work as “among the most exciting new voices in landscape architecture today.” Designed and executed in collaboration with Macknally Ross Land Design, the Birmingham partner in the project, Railroad Park is shaped by the modern abstract school of landscape architecture but also firmly rooted in place.

A before photo shows the flat site located just south of the mainline railroad lines that were elevated through downtown Birmingham in the early 1930s. Part of the Railroad & Mechanical Reservation incorporated into the city’s original 1871 plan, it was used primarily as a railroad freight depot.

The lake next to the 17th Street Plaza brings the allure of water into the park with dining and activities overlooking its serene expanse. A local industrial history landmark, the Powell Avenue Power Plant, originally supplied electricity for the city’s street railway system. Currently used to provide steam for older downtown buildings and UAB (heating and sterilization), it will be decommissioned in 2013 for conversion to an as-yet undetermined purpose.

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A longer-view aerial photo shows where the Railroad Park lies in the larger Birmingham city center context. Along with office and commercial uses, there are now more than 4,000 residents in the Loft District and elsewhere. The four historically warehouse blocks fronting the park on the south are viewed as prime for redevelopment into residential and mixed-use, and ONB has worked with the city to develop guidelines.

There are several children’s play areas including this one that doubles as a smaller performance venue, but the entire park with its water features, bridges and other features becomes one large adventure. Landscape architect Tom Leader introduced more topographical changes as the design evolved with a series of rounded hills lifting the Rail Trail level with the elevated tracks. “It is interesting in its own right to see how inexpensive generated topography as a design tool is, but how unbelievably permanent it becomes,” he states in the book, “Tom Leader Studio: Three Projects.”

Expanses of lawn throughout the park provide casual recreation opportunities framed by the downtown skyline to the north and east and the UAB skyline to the south.

Railroad Park Design Team Landscape Architect:

Site Lighting Design:

Tom Leader Studio

CRS Engineering and Design Consultants

Associate Landscape Architect:

Macknally Ross Land Design

Recirculation System Mechanical:

Georgia Fountain Company Civil Engineer/Hydrology Consultant:

Walter Schoel Engineering

Irrigation Design:

Irrigation Consultant Services Electrical Engineer:

Khafra Engineering Consultants

Wayfinding/Graphic Design:

Radius Graphic Design

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Another aerial photo made from the southeast concentrates on the 17th Street Plaza with the amphitheatre on the right and lake on the left. The Railroad Park Foundation will maintain and program the park, with this zone used for a wide range of performance and activity. Following the original alignment of Powell Avenue, the main eastwest walkway extends between the main lake and the smaller lake and marshland to the north. A pedestrian bridge (right) extends from the Rail Trail to the mound wrapping the rear of the amphitheatre.

A restaurant building originally planned to edge the 17th Street Plaza ran over budget, so Tom Leader Studio designed large canopies with boxcar-like structures below that to house paired restrooms with the park office between, a catering kitchen and storage. The fronts of each can roll open for vending during events. Giattina Aycock Architecture Studio of Birmingham handled design details.

The overall plan for the park changed as various site constraints were encountered, but the basic delineation responding to the urban grid remained. A major underground power line extending along the Powell Avenue right-of-way mandated that the lake be divided to either side.

After working in the office of Peter Walker and Partners, a leading proponent of the minimalist, sculptural approach that contrasts with the Olmsted-naturalism that has dominated landscape architecture for a century, Tom Leader established his own practice in 2001. In the Q&A format “Conversations with Tom Leader” that opens the recent book on his work, he explains how he gradually moved from applying abstract designs on prepared sites – almost like Versailles – to engaging the natural and cultural layering of a particular site. On the section about Railroad Park (one of just three projects included in the book), he describes various factors that came into play, like the elevated mainline railroads that border the park on the north and give it its name (see p. 30):

"Another important consideration was the fact that the park site was so strongly connected to the urban grid. Five streets touch the park: Fourteenth and Eighteenth streets run along its eastern and western edges, and Fifteenth, Sixteenth and Seventeenth streets all deadend right on the south side of the park. We decided to create gateway plazas at each end of the streets that intersect the park blocks, all based on the urban grid and with the idea that they would draw a fair amount of retail activity and create a populated corridor that would feed directly into the park. This idea

An east-to-west slope generated small dams that impound water next to each plaza, and the little waterfalls, along with sprays, aerate the water. Dams are faced with large granite curbstones salvaged from the cobblestone-paved Powell Avenue that extended through the site.

also allowed us to break the park down into structured zones that can be used separately or combined as one larger open space."

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Macknally Ross Land Design of Birmingham worked hand-in-hand with Tom Leader Studio in designing the water system, which occupies roughly one-third of the Railroad Park’s 19 acres. The lakes, streams and ponds play off the overall framework. The firm also specified plants and developed planting plans. The wide expanses of grass that dominate at the western half of the park are for casual recreation and large-scale events.

The Strolling Garden with walks paved with fine, packed limestone particles, establishes a strong edge along First Avenue S. It is a contemporary version of a border garden that uses contrasting masses of plants rather than the traditional varied mix. Separately funded street improvements will have a broad walk and a second row of street trees.

The diagrammatic response can be easily read in the master plan where major north-south walkways extend the grid pattern from the plazas across the park to connect to the elevated rail trail along the northern edge. These also demark subtle grade changes from east to west. Another site constraint, a right-of-way along a former street (with a major electrical line buried beneath), was turned into the major east-west pedestrian passage. Playing against this rectilinear framework are two curving and undulating components: one, the sculpted earth forms introduced to the formerly flat site that carry the rail trail, surround the amphitheater and shape a series of sub-spaces; and, two, a system that captures, stores and filters water. Leader describes the latter in his book:

"The area had once been a marsh and the lowest point in the city, but the entire site had been filled in as industry grew and the railroad flourished. We decided early on to make use of the larger watershed and collect as much water as we could and funnel it into a storage facility, which would become a lake or reservoir at the high end of the site. From this reservoir, water would descend through a system of streams and ponds and finally reenter Valley Creek which is connected to the west end of the park."

The main walk that follows the line of historic Powell Avenue through the park is bordered by continuous seat walls. The gabion construction, a steel cage filled here with loose limestone, reflects the straight-forward industrial aesthetic found throughout the Railroad Park.

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This isometric is one of four developed by Tom Leader Studio for the Railroad Park Foundation to show how events can be staged using parts or all of the park. (This shows an earlier version of the amphitheatre).

This aerial photo made in early September as the finishing touches were being made shows the four-blocklong Railroad Park responding to the urban grid with plazas at each street connection and wood-timber walks that extend north to connect with the elevated Rail Trail. A subtle grade change from east to west also accommodates the stone-edged stream and pond system that captures and recycles rainwater. A contemporary rectilinear strolling garden along the First Avenue S. edge contrasts with this curvilinear feature.

Prior to developing the plan for Railroad Park, Tom Leader Studio prepared a master plan for the Railroad Reservation District that calls for linear open space and related development leading east to Sloss Furnaces and the city’s Lakeview District. The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, which was instrumental in fund-raising for Railroad Park, has expressed strong interest in seeing the corridor link implemented.

This water system, along with the selection and placement of plants, was the major contribution to the design by Macknally Ross Land Design (along with their tending to day-to-day issues in getting the park built). “Storm water retention and filtration has been one of the key parts of our practice,” says Lea Ann Macknally. “We were excited to be working with Tom. We worked closely with him to integrate all the design elements into the site, incorporating structured pieces into the landscape and vice versa. We fed back and forth, so everything ties together.” Speaking of the plantings, which put the emphasis on natives, Macknally notes that special care was taken so that as trees mature they will focus, but not block, view corridors from the park to the surrounding city. That sense of urban connection, which Tom Leader emphasized in his approach, is one of the most exciting aspects of Railroad Park. “Even though there are straight lines, it still feels natural when you are in the park, and your eyes are constantly drawn to elements of the surrounding city,” she says. “It’s anything but a standard, institutionalized park. It feels part of the place, part of the history of Birmingham, but it also evokes how progressive the city is. It shows what can happen when a lot of stakeholders come together and do what’s best for the city.” Those stakeholders included city and county governments, local foundations, companies and individuals. Their collaboration will continue as the Railroad Park Foundation maintains and operates the park. Visitors will likely notice it’s nothing like they’ve seen before, even though they may not understand that the design is cutting edge. They only need to feel connected to the place in a new way. ■

As seen from the elevated Rail Trail, the Railroad Park is a walk or bicycle ride away from the UAB campus. Major hospitals are within four blocks, and the expanding on-campus housing concentration is about eight blocks south.

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Ahead By Gina Glaze Clifford

2010 has been an exciting year for DesignAlabama, despite a weak economy affecting the state and the design arts sector. With proration declared, DesignAlabama saw a 9 percent cut in funding from its primary partner, the Alabama State Council on the Arts. Our organization also saw a reduction in general sponsorships because of the hardships facing so many of our supporters. However, even with these setbacks, DesignAlabama was able to accomplish most of its primary programming for the year because of planning and support in other innovative ways. Our newest programming staple is DesignAlabama Online. The organization distributed four digital issues, reaching nearly 800 people through our online newsletter. The publication’s frequency allows more design projects and designers from across the state to be represented. Along with our online newsletter, DesignAlabama Journal was printed in 2009 with additional pages and a different format more in line with an annual journal. We also were able to host our 5th annual DesignAlabama Mayors Design Summit. This special event took place February 1718, 2010, at The Legends in Prattville and, again, was a very successful event. The mayors participating this year were Mayor Sheldon Day of Thomasville, Mayor Gary Wright of Eclectic, Mayor George McCain of Tallassee, Mayor Bobby Herndon of Northport and Mayor Byron Pittman of Chickasaw. Each mayor spent a busy two days in discussions focusing on design principles and issues for their communities. The mayors were recognized at the annual League of Municipalities Conference for their participation during the opening luncheon, which was highlighted with a keynote address by Gov. Bob Riley.

In addition to these fundamental programs, DesignAlabama also hosted a screening of a PBS-produced documentary, “Beyond the Motor City.” Partnering with the historic Capri Theatre in Montgomery, this screening was shown to an audience of nearly 50 on a Saturday afternoon in June. DesignAlabama also participated in the annual League of Municipalities Conference as an exhibitor, sponsored a Southern Growth Policies Board Forum and many of the programs of the Alabama State Council on the Arts. Despite the economic challenges, DesignAlabama does have an ambitious schedule of events planned already. In the first quarter of this fiscal year, DesignAlabama will sponsor Thomas Hylton from “Save Our Land, Save Our Towns” as the keynote speaker at the Alabama Communities of Excellence annual kick-off on September 23rd, host a screening of “Citizen Architect” with the Montgomery chapter of the AIA and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, print and distribute the 2010 DesignAlabama Journal, plan for its 6th annual DesignAlabama Mayors Design Summit and produce radio shows to air on the Troy University Radio Network. Even with our smaller budget, DesignAlabama is working hard to continue in our role as the primary advocate of quality design arts in Alabama. We hope you will continue to support us through word of mouth and financially, if possible, because without you, our work is without an audience. ➧

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DesignAlabama Volume XX

PUBLIC DESIGN AWARENESS AND EDUCATION DesignAlabama Inc. works to increase awareness and value of the design disciplines that influence our environment. We believe that the quality of life and economic growth of this state are enhanced through attention to and investment in good design. D E N S I T Y- B Y- D E S I G N

“When people shake their “There is no greater joy than heads because we are living that of feeling oneself a creator. in a restless age, ask them The triumph of life is expressed how they would like to live by creation.” –Henri Bergson in a stationary one, and do without change.” “People seldom improve –George Bernard Shaw

when they have no other model but themselves to

For additional information about DesignAlabama, please call (334) 549-4672.

00484 DESIGN AL BC 1

–Oliver Goldsmith

P.O. Box 241263 Montgomery, AL 36124

copy after.”

10/7/10 12:56 PM

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