DA Journal 2011 Volume XXI $4.00
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DesignAlabama Volume XXI
Cover: Design review has become a vital part of shaping various districts in Birmingham. Under design review for the Five Points South Commercial Revitalization District, the new Chick-fil-A follows an urban model with street-front arcades. An outdoor dining terrace under the Highland Avenue canopy adds to the urban scene. The recently renovated Terrace Court apartments are in the background. The inflatable cow on the roof, part of a signature ad campaign, was approved by the committee for a three-week grand-opening period. Photography by Lewis Kennedy
This publication is made possible through funding by the following contributors: Submission Information
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 Bravis Building Solutions Inc. Birmingham Jim Byard Jr. ADECA 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 Darrell Meyer KPS Group Birmingham Debbie Quinn Fairhope City Council Fairhope L. Craig Roberts L. Craig Roberts Architect Mobile Merril Stewart Stewart Perry Birmingham Linda Swann Alabama Development Office Montgomery Robin White Alabama Power Co. Birmingham
Gina Glaze Clifford, Executive Director Philip A. Morris, Director Emeritus
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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 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
Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs
number of the client and an individual whom we may contact for further information. Direct inquiries to (334) 549-4672 or mail to:
Alabama Tombigbee Regional Planning Commission The Daniel Foundation of Alabama Nimrod Long and Associates
email@example.com. www.designalabama.org Past journal issues are available for $6.00 including postage and handling. Contact DesignAlabama at the above numbers for availability information and to order.
Williams Blackstock Architects A special thanks to Philip Morris for his ongoing
Gina Glaze Clifford Tomie Dugas Nancy Hartsfield Wei Wang June Corley Bruce Dupree Samantha Lawrie John Powell Jerrod Windham Contributing Writers: Jessica Armstrong Susan Braden Gina Glaze Clifford Shelley Hildebrand K. Faith Morgan Philip Morris John Powell Jerrod Windham
Editor: Managing Editor: Art Director: Associate Art Director: Assistant Art Directors:
assistance and advice with this publication.
ÂŠ 2011 DesignAlabama Inc.
ISSN# 1090-0918 This issue of DesignAlabama was designed and produced on Macintosh Computers utilizing InDesign CS5. Proofs were printed on a HP 4000N and final output on a Compugraphic 9400.
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Shaping Communities to Enhance Character. p.5
Reconnecting a City Through Disaster Recovery. p.16
Combining Traditional with Contemporary Design. p.20
Creating a Transition Between Old and New. p.26
FEATURES DESIGN REVIEW AT WORK MOBILE
A tool for creating better communities
ARTICLES DesignAlabama is a publication of DesignAlabama Inc. Reader comments and submission of articles and ideas for future issues are encouraged.
UAB GETS A GREEN Open space transforms campus gathering
WORKSPACE DESIGN WITH LIFESTYLE COMFORTS Work/play appeal in an office environment
ALABAMA INNOVATION ENGINE Design-driven approach to problem solving
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Lea Ann Macknally
Public Safety Building Renovation
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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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Any Alabama city or town wishing to shape itself as an appealing, livable place has a fine tool available. It’s called design review. Though the term may sound esoteric to some, those who now use design review find the process to be a practical and effective way for a neighborhood, district or whole town to build on existing strengths. As this look at “Design Review at Work” illustrates, you can see the effect of many decisions add up to something quite transforming.
by Philip Morris
First to initiate design review in the state was the City of Mobile, where establishment of local historic districts in the 1960s included an architectural review board. This is the way many other places across the South got into the process of managing change. In the larger picture, it became a way to conserve and revive older neighborhoods in decline. Anywhere local historic districts are created under a zoning ordinance, design review kicks in. But the procedure of reviewing and shaping projects – be they renovations or new buildings or signage or where parking and landscape go – can be applied more broadly. As we show here, since 1979 the City of Birmingham has created not only local historic districts (mainly residential) but commercial revitalization districts (mainly business) where everything comes under the same design review committee staffed by the city but with volunteers (many of them design professionals). Their work at resolving controversial projects has become a part of civic culture. Similarly, the City of Mountain Brook established in 1997 a Villages Design Review Committee that focuses on what the suburb considers its “crown jewels.” There are many others located across the state doing something similar. Among them are Gadsden, Hartselle, Trussville, Helena and Vestavia Hills. The applications of design review can be as varied as the places where it’s used. 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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Mobile’s residential neighborhoods, like this one along Georgia Avenue in Oakleigh, are what the Mobile Architectural Review Board deals with most. The city’s use of local historic district zoning has stabilized once-threatened neighborhoods and created a climate for individual investments. All
Mobile Historic Districts exterior changes are reviewed, but primary attention goes to maintaining open porches and other street façade features.
Photography by Craig Roberts
or most cities and towns across the South, design review boards have been introduced to oversee changes in local historic districts – part of a community’s zoning ordinance. In Alabama, Mobile was the first, with its architectural review board established by special state legislation in 1962 as part of the Mobile Historic Development Commission (MHDC). The process is gradual, but it can make a profound difference in the character of a place. “Our ordinance will have its 50th anniversary in 2012,” says Devereaux Bemis, director of MHDC. “Design review has been the salvation of our historic districts. Many that were suffering from abandonment and neglect have been stabilized and seen higher property values. Yes, if you look at historic photos on our website, you will see that Mobile has lost a lot, but we have saved whole neighborhoods and seen much new development that fits in.” The ‘fitting in’ comes from design review, as does the maintenance of historic urban fabric. And, in Mobile, the effects are widespread. MHDC oversees seven local historic districts spread over 600 square blocks in the historic urban core and containing 5,836 structures, 350 of them antebellum. The 11-member architectural review board (all volunteer), which meets every two weeks,
is supported by a six-person MHDC professional staff that currently includes two attorneys and two architectural historians. Sets of guidelines, refined in line with experience over the years, direct both staff and board in reviewing cases. “Roughly 90 percent of our reviews are residential, and we look at all exterior features, front and back, from fences to roofs,” says Bemis. “The board tends to be forgiving at the back to allow residence owners to enclose a porch or add on needed space, but they would not permit a front porch to be enclosed because it impacts the street.” Commercial changes (renovations, additions, new buildings) are reviewed based on the particular urban setting. “They may be only 10 percent of cases, but they take about 30 percent of our time,” says Bemis. “If it’s new construction on a vacant property, the first thing we look at is where it’s placed on the lot. Usually we require the building to be in line with existing historic structures.” Site improvements like driveways, parking and landscaping, included in both residential and commercial reviews, are particularly important for commercial development. Replacement of combined service station/convenience stores can be especially tricky since the buildings are secondary to the canopies and
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When a new Hampton Inn on Royal Street was first proposed, the developers sought out early direction from the architectural review board. Member Craig Roberts suggested balconies on the two street frontages as places to view Mobile’s Mardi Renovated buildings along Dauphin Street downtown provide a pleasing scale contrast to the skyscrapers in the distance, including the RSA’s Battle House Tower. The main issue for
the Lower Dauphin Street District is how to adapt once-retail buildings to new uses like restaurants and bars without compromising their architecture.
Along Government Street many grand houses were lost, but magnificent 300-year-old live oaks have been protected by landscape
A condominium fronting Government Street in the Oakleigh Historic District was placed to protect live oaks and
and tree ordinances. Maintaining and enhancing landscape character along commercial streets is a priority of design review.
designed by architect Don Bowden to recall the grand houses elsewhere on the street.
Side-by-side infill developments in the DeTonti Square Historic District include an office building
A row of new houses for moderate- and low-income residents constructed by the Mobile Housing Board on
(right) designed by Craig Roberts to resemble a house and a row of attached townhouses evoking the
a vacant site illustrates how design review seeks a good fit within districts.
denser pre-Civil War neighborhood.
pumps. “We recently had applicants turn one building sideways to protect an important frontage, but then they had to redesign the building to give it a proper front,” says Bemis. “We try to work with them, but they usually just want to stick with their standard product. Most are used to suburban settings and often don’t understand the urban environment. Sometimes it takes push back from the board to get something acceptable.”
The ordinance specifies the 11 architectural review board member selection process: six put forward by the MHDC, one by the Historic Mobile Preservation Society and four by the local American Institute of Architects chapter. (The board also provides design support for applicants on request).
“I have lived here for many years, and the design review process has made a very big impact on the quality of our districts and neighborhoods,” says Architect Craig Roberts, who was appointed to the architectural review Roberts. “It can be a drawn-out process, but it works very well. It also helps board three years ago (terms are six years), points out how deeply grassthat we have developed strong sign, tree and landscape ordinances that let roots the MHDC is. “There are 36 different organizations that are members us shape what happens. I’m proud of how far we’ve come.” ■ of the MHDC including the historic neighborhoods. You could say that the MHDC represents more than 40,000 people.
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Submitted to the City of Birmingham Design Review Committee initially as its standard suburban model, the new Chick-fil-A at a key corner in Five Points South became an urban response with street-front arcades replacing suburban-style setbacks. Brick cladding gives the building more substance. A sidewalk arbor on the 20th Street frontage reinforces pedestrian character. Also approved by design review, the inflatable cow for a limited grand-opening appearance. Birmingham’s Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds was the architect.
City of Birmingham Photography by Lewis Kennedy
s in Mobile, the City of Birmingham’s design review committee manages change in eight local historic districts. But as set up in 1979 as a part of a wider urban renewal program, the process applies to designated commercial revitalization districts that now total 27. In contrast to the mostly residential historic districts, these are – as the name indicates – a mix of business, institutional and multi-unit residential.
Currently with 10 members, the committee reviews cases during sessions scheduled every two weeks split about 50/50 between historic districts and commercial revitalization districts. The recommendations from local committees for each historic district are usually followed, and the process gives confidence to homeowners that the character of their neighborhoods will be protected.
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Originally a new sign atop a downtown skyscraper for Wells Fargo Bank extended full width. Under design review it was reduced in size to keep distinctive chamfered corners of the building top visible.
A new Birmingham Parking Authority deck built to stimulate renovation of the neo-Classical style 1912 John Hand Building was approved with a classically inspired 20th Street frontage. But on the Morris Avenue side, it was changed to have a warehouse-like façade to complement other buildings on the street.
The first commercial revitalization district overlay zones, where design review was initiated in the late 1970s, were tightly focused on historic neighborhood retail areas. But the number grew to 27 and some, like Midtown, are quite large as seen outlined in this map. The Five Buildings that hold corners are a major priority under design review guidelines, so the new Alabama Power Company Credit Union establishes a strong
Points South Revitalization District is to the lower right. Most of downtown (above) falls under
visual gateway at the I-20/59 exit on 18th Street near the company’s downtown headquarters. Parking is to the side and rear.
It is in the more dynamic commercial districts, where signs, renovations and new buildings are all reviewed, that the most visible effects can be seen. “Design review has focused on avoiding blank walls facing streets, on assuring that buildings have street presence, on having designs that work with the existing urban context,” says Kathy Puckett, senior planner with the City of Birmingham, who has served as the committee’s staff “point person” for 26 years. “Over the long term, the work of these dedicated volunteers has affected so many places. The tweaks they recommend have really had an influence. I like to call it ‘urban design on an everyday basis.’ ” Puckett contrasts this process to many cities where urban design is focused tightly on projects with a clear beginning and end. “Not here,” she says. “All of our districts are still intact, and many have been active for 30 years. With our flexible guidelines, we have been able to adjust and refine our approach. We were on top of the loft conversion trend when it came along, and that has allowed us to clean up and revitalize a whole downtown district.”
The early commercial revitalization districts were tightly focused on neighborhood retail centers like Five Points South and North Birmingham, where public streetscape improvements were concentrated. With the addition of many others – some very large like Midtown between downtown and UAB, which covers more than 84 blocks – the procedure shifted. Instead of a proactive, district-wide, building-by-building approach, design review was triggered instead by building permit applications.
Two recent projects represent the range of the design review committee’s work: a new sign for a downtown skyscraper and a renovated fast-food outlet for a prominent corner in Five Points South. When Wells Fargo Bank came forward with plans to replace the former Wachovia Bank logo with a giant “Wells Fargo” atop the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill-designed tower originally built for SouthTrust Bank, the letters on all four exposures extended full-width. “The applicants made the case that it needed to be that large to be seen from the interstate highways,” says architect Cheryl Morgan, who heads the Auburn Urban Studio in Birmingham and who joined the design review committee four years ago. “But the signs would have obscured the
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These new drive-through and branch bank facilities, one near UAB and one downtown, were moved forward to hold corners in the process of design review.
One recent project that drew great public attention is a new Walgreens on Clairmont Avenue adjacent to the Highland Park neighborhood. In contrast to the standard model, the developer commissioned the Birmingham architectural firm Blackmon Rogers to design a contemporary version noted for larger glass areas and a corner entrance reached both from the sidewalk and side parking lot. The big box scales down at side and rear. The lighter brick complements the historic corner fire station saved as part of the project (to hold relocated businesses on site).
Review of signs has been modified recently to allow blade signs in certain locations. Here a building renovated for Dog Days, a pet
Corner towers were specified to keep this block-long, 700-car expansion of #3 Parking Deck for the Birmingham Park-
service facility aimed at downtown loft dwellers, was allowed to reuse an existing projecting sign and to paint a playful mural on the
ing Authority from being too bulky. “But Cheryl Morgan pushed us to give the south tower a more contemporary edge,”
side facing a parking lot.
says architect Joel Blackstock of Williams Blackstock Architects. The stairs within also offer fine views of the 1888-built First Presbyterian Church across the street and other nearby buildings. Ground-level storefronts can be retrofitted as retail should there be demand.
chamfered corners that distinguish the building top. We told them that views of the building from downtown streets or the Railroad Park were just as important. They agreed to pull the signs back from the corners.” As big and visible as it is, the bank sign issue received little media attention, but the renovation of a Ruby Tuesday restaurant at 20th Street and Highland Avenue in Five Points South became front-page news. Chick-fil-A brought forward a standard suburban model with a drive-through that the neighborhood and local businesses felt would negatively impact the district. The design review committee agreed.
Cohen, a former member of the design review committee, says her firm has projects before design review about a dozen times a year. “They want to see an almost completed design with materials selection. Even though it seems tedious to some of our clients, it’s a great process,” she says. “They work very hard to balance public and private to get the best solution.” Two key issues crop up again and again, according to all of those involved. One, designs and site plans found along suburban commercial strips don’t transfer to urban settings. And, two, the presentations almost never extend beyond the boundaries of the site.
In the process, Chick-fil-A retained Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds, a “There’s a bad habit of dealing only with a site in isolation,” says Cheryl Birmingham architecture firm with many urban projects to its credit. The Morgan. “Design review is charged with looking at the big picture, with drive-through was dropped, and the architects wrapped the existing building what’s next door, down the street. We really want good urban environments with substantial brick arcades that changed the two street elevations from for people to do business. If we can get them to do the right thing, it suburban to urban character. “Chick-fil-A was very accommodating,” says benefits everybody.” ■ architect Tammy Cohen. “They are seeing this more and more in other communities where they are dealing with urban settings. We are currently working with them on four locations across the Southeast where they face similar conditions.” DesignAlabama 10
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The Mountain Brook Villages
A 1985 city master plan identified Mountain Brook’s three villages as its “crown jewels.” Major streetscape improvements in 1995-96 were followed by establishment of the Villages Design Review Committee in 1997. In this view of the circle in Mountain Brook Village, original 1926 Tudor-style buildings have been joined by a new two-story, brick-clad building (center rear) on the site of a former service station. Guidelines and form-based zoning overlays call for new buildings on primary streets to meet the sidewalk.
esign review in Mountain Brook has evolved since its start in 1997 into a more refined process supported by an updated sign ordinance and, more recently, through adoption of form-based zoning. “The beauty of it over time is that the community has emerged with an aesthetic will to shape what the place looks like,” says planner Darrell Meyer of KPS Group, who helped establish guidelines and advise the Mountain Brook Villages Design Review Committee at its beginning. City Manager Sam Gaston says a 1985 City of Mountain Brook master plan identified its three commercial villages as its “crown jewels.” Then in 1995-96, a major streetscape program that was focused on the villages reinforced their pedestrian appeal with new sidewalks, landscaping, lampposts and other features. “Members of the city council felt there should be additional oversight for signs and other changes to enhance the villages, so the design review committee was established,” says Gaston. “The sign ordinance was subsequently updated with help from design review, and then the form-based master plans for the villages followed in 2007.”
Photography by Lewis Kennedy
One of the first cases handled under design review was the replacement of an existing quick mart/gas station next to the U.S. 280 spur in Mountain Brook Village. Brick columns and a dimensional roof for the canopy were recommended. For all new and existing service station canopies, logo colors are considered to be signage and are not allowed to wrap the canopy fascias.
The evolution of the process continues. The new Cahaba Village on U.S. 280 and Overton Village on the city’s south edge have been added to the original ones: Mountain Brook Village, Crestline Village and English Village. Distinctions between the five are now being refined. And for the past four years, the city’s first planner, Dana Hazen, has been there to help. “Some call it ‘the science of muddling through,’ ” says Hazen. “That’s what planning is all about. It doesn’t always follow the textbook. Design review started with just a few pages of guidelines. Now our overlay plans for the villages and our new zoning regulations refer back to them on basic matters such as requiring new structures to meet the sidewalk and having storefront character. The design review members work really well with the people who come before them. There’s always a better product in the end.” 11 Volume XXI
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Streetscape improvements show clearly in this view of English Village where a new two-story building by Rob Walker Architect (right) extends the existing pattern of storefronts. Shops with varied but straight-angle awnings and distinctive signage are encouraged under design guidelines, as are towers at prominent corners. (This is another former service station site.)
Architects Dungan Nequette are bringing a fresh take on tradition to English Village with renovation of an existing building for their new studio.
In Crestline Village, where post-WW II building styles are varied,
As it surveyed signage throughout the villages, the
this contemporary bank designed by Giattina Aycock Architecture
committee discovered that many buildings lacked
Studio was permitted, but with parking behind and an entrance at
the panels for signs above shop windows found in
the street corner.
traditional storefronts. All new buildings are required to have such designated sign spaces. All lettering is limited to 16-inch height.
Towns and cities that operate under guidelines with a review process that makes clear what they want soon find that results can be satisfying all around. Civic volunteer Ellen Elsas, the new chair of the Mountain Brook committee, points to a recent case. “When Iberia Bank came in with their standard, modern design, we worked with them about the context of our villages,” she says. “When they understood, they hired Henry Sprott Long to design their new branches in Mountain Brook and Crestline villages. They have been great to work with.” Elsas says the committee is currently fine-tuning the contexts of various villages. “Each one is different, and it will be good to have those distinctive qualities maintained and strengthened.” For example, the current sign ordinance that the committee oversees throughout the community doesn’t quite work. A yogurt shop in Cahaba Village wanted to use the same sign for a new operation in English Village, but it did not fit the context. They went from illuminated sign to awnings. Recent building additions and renovations approved under design review will make English Village even more its own place (see drawings).
When Iberia Bank submitted its standard suburban modern
This two-story Tudor-inspired building designed by
branch model for two of the villages, the committee reviewed
Henry Sprott Long will replace a deteriorated single-
with personnel the architectural context. Birmingham architect
story building in English Village and reinforce its
Henry Sprott Long was retained to do more compatible designs.
predominant style. Overlay zoning for the villages limits
This is the sidewalk-front elevation for one recently completed
height to two stories in the core of the villages with one
on a former service station site in Mountain Brook Village.
or two more floors at some edge locations.
One pattern that has emerged as Mountain Brook began giving special attention to its villages is the reuse of former gas stations. There are new sidewalk-frontage buildings complete or underway where there were gaps of paving: five in English Village, three in Crestline Village and three in Mountain Brook Village. The guidelines and plans adopted since 1997 turned negatives into positives. Making its villages more village-like and pedestrian-friendly, and linking all with sidewalks, has been a gradual but profound shift for Mountain Brook. It’s the sort of managed change that design review makes successful. ■
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Designed by Nimrod Long & Associates as an ensemble to include open space and facing buildings, the new UAB Campus Green has had a transformational effect on the western end of the urban campus. At its south, or upper end, the campus green links across 10th Avenue South to existing open space around which UAB residence halls are concentrated. There are now 2,200 students living on campus.
UAB GETS A
Green By Philip Morris Photography by Lewis Kennedy
s it has grown from its medical center core west across more than 85 blocks of existing urban grid over the decades, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has created pockets of open space and extended appealing streetscape improvements along block after block. But in one bold stroke, a new campus green has given the school a space as important as the quadrangles found in older universities.
A street and some minor buildings were removed to make way for the green (see ‘before’ photo). Flanking the University Boulevard edge are the new Campus Recreation Center (left) and the five-story Heritage Hall (right). Taller buildings seen against the Red Mountain ridge are residence halls.
Photo courtesy of UAB
Located at the evolving western end of its campus, the green emerged as a part of the regularly updated master plan that has guided campus growth since the early 1980s. To create it, UAB got approval from the City of Birmingham to vacate two blocks of 15th Street between University Boulevard and 10th Avenue South (with the condition that it reopen 16th Street, which had been previously closed). Only a few buildings needed to be removed. This ‘before’ photo shows 15th Street, adjacent structures and utilities that were removed for the green.
Design Team A student traverses one of the broad, brick-paver walks toward residence halls with the wooded rise of Red Mountain beyond.
Landscape Architect: Nimrod Long & Associates Inc. Architect: HKW Architects Inc. Electrical & Lighting Engineer: CRS Engineering Inc.
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Plan courtesy of Nimrod Long & Associates
Nimrod Long & Associates researched historic campus greens and superimposed the UAB Campus Green (grey) to confirm its proper sizing. The master plan shows the north green and south green, where a future bell tower is to be located. Architectural standards and placement for buildings fronting the green were also established.
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A line of willow oaks begins to shape the west edge of the green. On the far side is the new Blazer Hall for freshmen and its glass-clad dining hall and terrace overlooking the green. Vulcan is visable on the right.
The brick plaza with low walls (right) doubles as the stage area for events that play to the gently sloping north lawn.
In working with UAB on the plan, Nimrod Long & Associates developed thumbnail graphics showing how the proposed green compared to others, including the celebrated lawn at the University of Virginia. “It turned out to be very close in size to most of them, so that gave everyone conﬁdence that the space would be right,” says Nim Long. “Working with architect Fred Keith, we also developed an architectural pattern book for buildings that would front the green to be sure all would work as an ensemble.” The decision was made to proceed with a $2.5 million Phase I (of a total $6 million plan), which was completed in 2008. That included the grading, utilities, lawns, major walks and the planting of major trees. “We thought this was such an important part of where we wanted to go with our campus – that it would be transformative – as it has been,” says UAB president, Dr. Carol Garrison. “We also had a series of buildings that needed to go up in timely fashion, so for all those reasons we moved ahead.”
“But it is good for us to see how people are using the space. That will help us as we move toward future enhancements.” In contrast to its beginnings as a commuter school for undergraduates, UAB now has more than 2,200 students living on campus. The green gives them and all students a new way to come together. “We look forward to adding the gateways, fountains and other features you see in the plan,” Garrison says. “But it is good for us to see how people are using the space. That will help us as we move toward future enhancements.”
This view shows the glass-fronted dining commons for Blazer Hall, putting UAB’s freshman student life right on the green.
Essential to the immediate success and long-term importance of the UAB Campus Green are the adjacent uses: residence halls, a new Commons on the Green dining hall and the large Campus Recreation Center that anchors the northeast corner. A new classroom building, Heritage Hall, also has been built to anchor and deﬁne the northwest corner of the green opposite the recreation center. Footprints for future academic and student support buildings are deﬁned in the green plan. In a city with notable topographic changes, the landscape architects were pleased to ﬁnd a relatively gentle slope upward from University Boulevard to 10th Avenue South. The grading created graceful transitions across the space and to the surrounding buildings, so universal access standards are met.
Future phases will include a fountain, seasonal planting beds and brick gateway features for the main entrance plaza facing University Boulevard.
As the master plan illustrates, the Campus Green is organized into two main components, the north green and south green. To be fully implemented in future phases are: a north entry plaza fronting University Boulevard with gateway pylons, fountain and seasonal planting beds; a central bell-tower plaza with walks extending across the south green and enhancements for the south entry plaza fronting 10th Avenue South. Even without these next phases, the gently sloping north green is being used as an amphitheatre. Birmingham’s major civic landmark, Vulcan, can be seen from the green. And, vice-versa, the view across downtown and the broader city center from Vulcan Park includes a new landmark – the UAB Campus Green. ■ 15 Volume 23 Volume IX, No.XXI 1
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“Disasters have a disproportionate effect on urban places. Dense by definition, cities and their environs face major disruptions in their complex, interdependent environmental, economic and social systems.” — Eugenie L. Birch and Susan M. Wachter, Rebuilding Urban Places After Disaster
Experts often measure the costs of disasters in loss of life and property, the authors add. But they cannot put a dollar amount on the toll that a catastrophe has on the individuals, their families, their senses of self and community. One of the worst tornado outbreaks ever to hit the United States occurred over a four-day period April 2011, causing catastrophic destruction, particularly in Alabama. An EF-4 twister described as “very large and exceptionally destructive” struck Tuscaloosa April 27. Like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Tuscaloosa was left not only with destruction but difficult decisions. What do we rebuild and how? To what extent do we start fresh? How do we lend a hand to those displaced by the storm?
Recovery Efforts To devise a means of recovery, Mayor Walter Maddox formed the Rebuild Tuscaloosa Task Force, which put together the Tuscaloosa Forward Strategic Plan – a long-term vision born out of a public/private partnership and extensive citizen feedback. In late August, the Planning Commission approved Tuscaloosa Forward, which will take generations, not years, to fulfill, notes Maddox.
Tools for putting Tuscaloosa back together in a more pedestrian-friendly manner had already been established in this downtown/ waterfront plan, part of the 2010 Tuscaloosa Greater Downtown plan. This comprehensive document’s development concept plan includes standards and guidelines for land use, building placement, building materials and location of parking lots, along with addressing signage, lighting and landscaping needs.
Main concerns addressed by the plan are housing, improving infrastructure and economic development. Tuscaloosa now has the opportunity to create updated land use that reflects the city’s urban core and replaces outdated codes and zoning, Maddox adds. Now that the plan is approved, updating the city’s codes and zoning will take priority, says Stephen Hardy, director of planning for the Houston-based BNIM consulting firm that worked closely with the city to develop Tuscaloosa Forward. “Getting the right zoning in place as soon as possible will help ensure that projects get built back in accordance with the community’s vision,” Hardy explains. “The new zoning could also help streamline the development process and eliminate the confusion of the old variance application process.” Hardy believes the greatest challenge the city faces in making Tuscaloosa Forward a reality is patience and sticking to the plan. “The larger community crafted this plan; implementing the vision takes some difficult short-term decisions, but with patience and continued effort the community’s vision has the potential to make Tuscaloosa a stronger and better city,” he observes. “Special care will be needed by the citizens that are most dramatically impacted by the storm and the new vision. Cooperation and collaboration will be critical.”
Tuscaloosa Greater Downtown Plan A plan to revitalize downtown Tuscaloosa, created in 2010, has not been put on hold, says Maddox. “Eighty-eighty percent of the city was not impacted – at least not physically – and that includes the downtown,” he explains. “Before April 27, we were Alabama’s second fastest-growing city, and I don’t expect anything to impede that.”
Ravaged trees and rubble in Holt create an eerie silhouette against a grey sky, a common sight in the aftermath of the massive tornado that destroyed about 12 percent of the city of Tuscaloosa. Holt was one of the Tuscaloosa communities hit particularly hard by the storm.
The Tuscaloosa Greater Downtown plan includes more in-town living options, updating zoning codes, making the district more pedestrian and bicycle friendly, implementing streetscape improvements and creating a Main Street program. Preserving Tuscaloosa’s historic heritage by encouraging historically sensitive development and promoting preservation is another major component. Taking historic surveys of several downtown neighborhoods and revising the boundaries of the downtown National Register District are also proposed. Constructing several new parks, an amphitheatre (which opened this summer) and extending the riverwalk were also recommended.
Photograph by Michael P. Daugherty, Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue Service
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This comprehensive map incorporates all of the wide-ranging recommendations to transform Tuscaloosa into a more livable city in the aftermath of the tornado. These “big ideas,” which include greenways (jagged diagonal line), revitalized corridors, improved neighborhoods (large circles) and village centers (smaller ﬁlled-in circles), are the result of much community input that took place in both traditional and virtual town hall meetings.
Sketch from the Tuscaloosa Forward Strategic Plan
Tenth Avenue, an entry to the University of Alabama campus and a major transportation artery, suffered major damage. As with other corridors in need of revitalization, improving trafﬁc ﬂow, walkability and visual appearance are proposed, along with enhancing economic vitality. There is also strong interest in moving public utilities underground.
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Several signiﬁcant proposals are on the Tuscaloosa Forward Land Use Map: Village Centers (compact, walkable, mixed-use areas), Mixed-use Corridors (commercial, residential and mixed uses along the city’s major roadways), Village Residential (housing around Village Centers of various styles, densities and price ranges) and Neighborhood Residential (less dense with detached, single-family housing). The map also allocates land for parks/open space, public/semi-public use and industrial/business parks.
Tuscaloosa Forward Plan Yet understandably, much of the city’s attention is on the Tuscaloosa Forward plan, which focuses on the impacted areas that include three major corridors. It also proposes new residential, civic and commercial land-use concepts, identifies affordable housing opportunities, recommends ways to improve neighborhoods and shows potential connections between neighborhoods. Task-force teams consisting of core work groups include short-term recovery, infrastructure, housing, land use and building design/architecture. A well-received proposal is the greenway “Path of Remembrance and Revitalization.” Along its path, the tornado passed through industrial areas, commercial corridors and residential neighborhoods, destroying homes, businesses, schools, churches and infrastructure. During the planning process, citizens suggested transforming the path of destruction into something positive – a way to reconnect and reshape the city with a greenway linking neighborhoods, to enhance surrounding homes and businesses and to memorialize the tragic event. The greenway would also help solve flooding and drainage problems that exist along the path. A greenway corridor tracing the floodways would manage storm-water runoff and reduce flooding.
Sketch from the Tuscaloosa Forward Strategic Plan
Revitalizing the heavily damaged corridors also received strong community support. The plan calls for improved streetscape and building design to enhance the quality and visual appearance of the corridors and encourage pedestrian and bicycle activity. Connecting neighborhoods also received favorable public response. Neighborhoods and corridors along the tornado path currently have limited walking, biking and transit options. Common police and fire facilities also would unite neighborhoods. Schools and community centers would double as storm shelters. Along with connecting neighborhoods, improving them is part of the plan. A proposal to create Village Centers would provide a hub of activity where shopping, services, amenities and public buildings are concentrated. Model Neighborhoods is an idea that would integrate a variety of housing styles, densities and price ranges to serve diverse needs. The Model Neighborhood approach also includes the creation of parks and open space, energy efficiency and green building, as well as new housing that conveys the vernacular characteristics of each neighborhood.
Plans call for transforming the tornado’s path of destruction into a greenway known as the Path of Remembrance and Revitalization. This proposed greenway corridor will offer many beneﬁts – from helping to manage storm-water runoff and reduce ﬂooding to providing walkways and bike paths.
Focus on Urban Design Tuscaloosa architect Jonathan McLelland, a member of Tuscaloosa Forward’s building design and architecture task force, believes the most important architectural problem concerns urban design. Like many American cities, Tuscaloosa’s growth in the last 60 years has been automobile oriented, and many streets are not pedestrian friendly. McLelland says the new plan proposes to reverse this trend in areas affected by the storm. Buildings would be brought closer to the street. Parking would be in the rear of buildings and shared among buildings when possible. Streetscape design would help create attractive, walkable space.
Improving connectivity between and within neighborhoods is a vital part of the plan. The tornado destroyed or damaged buildings along large portions of major transportation corridors, including 15th Street and University Boulevard. Neighborhoods within walking or bicycling distance of commercial districts and the University of Alabama’s campus that are too dangerous to access on foot or bike would be united with sidewalks and bike paths. “If such urban design moves can be repeated around the city, even if only in the storm-damaged areas, it could profoundly affect the way the city develops and redevelops for generations to come,” says McLelland.
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Sketch from the Tuscaloosa Forward Strategic Plan
One of Tuscaloosa’s busiest districts, the 15th Street and McFarland Boulevard area suffered massive damage and was referred to as “ground zero” during the days after the storm. Improved infrastructure, landscaping and economic reinvigoration to this area and other major damaged corridors are a key component of the Tuscaloosa Forward plan.
Safety & Sustainability When addressing storm safety, McLelland believes two tactics should be employed simultaneously – more storm shelters and building codes that meet higher wind-resistance standards. “Most buildings won’t survive a direct hit by a powerful tornado, but the force of the wind drops dramatically with distance from a tornado, and even relatively minor measures to strengthen structural connections can greatly reduce a building’s susceptibility to significant damage,” explains McLelland, who believes owners of older properties should be given incentives to strengthen their buildings. “If our buildings had been built to something like the standards for wind resistance required in hurricane-prone areas, there would still be a line of devastation through Tuscaloosa, but it would be much narrower, he adds. “Far fewer buildings would have been badly damaged, and there might have been fewer people injured or killed.” A recent study of tornado destruction in Tuscaloosa found that relatively minor changes in construction, such as improved shingles and additional anchors, could have prevented much of the damage to houses on the edge of the storm. However, the study determined that nothing could have saved buildings that were in the tornado’s direct path. Sustainable rebuilding is another important issue the plan addresses. City leaders see Tuscaloosa as having the potential to become a national model of comprehensive sustainable development. “I was both pleased and surprised by the widespread public support in planning meetings for building back in a more sustainable way,” observes McLelland. “The Tuscaloosa Forward plan could be very important to the development of sustainable building.” McLelland points out that Tuscaloosa Forward is a strategic plan, but doesn’t extend to the functional level. He says he understands that immediate needs must be met – such as business owners who must get their businesses operating again. But the city must look long-term, and long-term planning takes time. Christine Dietsch, who lost her home in the storm and is on Tuscaloosa Forward’s housing task force, agrees with McLelland that the city must plan long-term. The Tuscaloosa Forward plan is also helping to remove uncertainty about rebuilding that many people are experiencing. If their neighbors decide to sell their property, it is unclear what will be constructed next door. “We need to think in terms of neighborhoods, not just individual properties,” adds Dietsch, who also serves as president of the Forest Lake Neighborhood Association, an area in the tornado’s direct path.
During the planning process, citizens suggested transforming the path of destruction into something positive – a way to reconnect and reshape the city with a greenway linking neighborhoods, to enhance surrounding homes and businesses and to memorialize the tragic event. Working Together Local interior designer Alison Wade, on Tuscaloosa Forward’s building design and architecture task force, believes in long-term planning but also understands the sense of urgency. “People need homes and jobs, and they need buildings in which to live and work. Once the plan is finalized and the work begins, we must work quickly and efficiently without sacrificing quality.” The roof of Wade’s home was damaged and is temporarily patched, yet she is unable to find a contractor to permanently repair it. “From the construction standpoint, the most critical problem seems to be finding enough skilled labor to do the work,” she observes. “I have spoken to five contactors over the last three months, and I have yet to get a quote. Everyone who is any good at what they do is snowed under. That drives up prices and slows the rebuilding process.” Wade marvels at the way the community has come together and how the cohesive nature of the city has been magnified. “It would be fantastic to capture this spirit in architecture,” she says. “That doesn’t mean that every building should look the same. Each building should have its own personality, much like the citizens of Tuscaloosa have their own personality. But we all form one community, and that community defines us. We have the opportunity to present a united front through architecture.” ● Jessica Armstrong is a freelance writer based in Auburn.
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Workspace Design with
When two Birmingham accounting firms decided to merge, the design of their new space by KPS Group began with a search for the right location. “They had been in two suburban office buildings, so we began by helping identify the right location and building,” says Donna Dowling, director of interior design. “The new office building at The Summit turned out to be the best choice.” The combined firm, Sellers, Richardson, Holman & West (SRHW), became the lead tenant for the building with 33,500 square feet. With retail on the ground floor, they occupy the full third (top) floor and half of the second. “The access to the amenities of shopping and dining a short walk away was a major consideration as the firm wanted the appeal of a work/play environment for lunch and after hours,” Dowling says. “There are times of the year when their employees put in long hours, so ready access becomes important.” Since they wanted to re-brand themselves and create a contemporary and fresh image appealing to younger talent, KPS Group’s interiors team began with a review of design trends that might be incorporated into their
By Philip Morris new space. Those included places that encourage open collaboration, lots of natural light and capitalizing on views – The Summit to one side and wooded ridges to the other. There was also access to the rotunda’s open-air terraces on both levels. Throughout there is a balance between traditional and contemporary in furnishings and finishes. And there is a range of gathering spaces beyond the offices and workstations. Even the reception area was made large enough to be able to host social gatherings. “There are even five coffee bars,” Dowling says. By setting a hierarchy between client and staff spaces, the fit-up costs came in at a reasonable level with finer finishes and furnishings placed strategically for maximum effect. With direct access from the parking deck to the second level, elevator access to both floors from the ground-level lobby and stairwells at two locations, there was no need for an internal stair, which also kept the budget in line. Throughout both client and staff areas, KPS Group designers introduced just enough residential influences to create spaces both sophisticated and comfortable. ■ Note: KPS Group received an International Interior Design Association (IIDA) 2011 Best of Show Award for the SRHW interior design project.
Clients of the SRHW accounting firm reach the travertine-paved reception area directly from the elevator, where they find a spacious welcome with views onto The Summit shopping and dining attractions. Shapes of the custom wood reception desk repeat in the fabric-wrapped pendant light fixtures, while furnishings are both traditional and contemporary. The space also is used for social events.
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Photography by Thomas Watkins Photography
(Below) This corridor leads from the reception area past client conference rooms to the boardroom. Textured glass framed by travertine pilasters (left) provides privacy but allows natural light to suffuse the space. Wood paneling and pendant light fixtures echo the reception area.
KPS Group designed the boardroom with both a large table and an adjacent seating area for flexible use. Large windows look out upon a landscape of wooded ridges. The open-air terraces of the building’s rotunda are part of the firm’s space on both levels.
Open work areas have cubicles that scale down adjacent to circulation space where seating for collaborative sessions is found. Free-standing, wood panel-fitted walls with light sconces (right) also offset a ‘cube world’ appearance.
A breakout space between the reception area and the client conference room suite includes a beverage bar backed by a wall of textured tile washed with concealed LED lighting. Finishes and furnishings there are top grade.
Flooring in the employee break room is grey ceramic tile, not travertine like the reception area, reflecting the budget hierarchy. But with a variety of places to sit and a ceiling ‘cloud’ defining the kitchen area, it avoids the ‘sea of tables’ look.
The plan shows SRHW’s full-floor third level with reception at top middle and the boardroom with rotunda at right. Their level two space also includes the rotunda.
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Lea Ann Macknally
by K. Faith Morgan
Landscape architect Lea Ann Macknally operates her business on principles of environmental responsibility, community improvement and a culture of knowledge sharing between designers and disciplines. The projects that she designs reflect her commitment to these foundational tenets.
acknally grew up in rural Kosciusko, Miss., on the Natchez Trace. Summers spent hiking the Trace, which she calls “one of the South’s greatest assets,” paired with her parents’ love of gardening naturally fostered an appreciation for the outdoors. This, coupled with her artistic talents, led Macknally to enroll in the landscape architecture program at Mississippi State University. While at MSU, she encountered professors who challenged her to implement sustainable practices like storm-water management and the use of native plants to create environmentally responsible landscapes. After graduating and moving to Birmingham in 1999, Macknally quickly found her stride at Jane Reed Ross & Associates. In 2007, she purchased the established practice (now named Macknally Land Design) and brought her husband, fellow landscape architect Whit Macknally, on as partner.
installation. This intensely collaborative environment has allowed Macknally and her team to design one of their most innovative projects to date. Focus was placed on patient and environmental wellness in the landscape surrounding the building, in the rooftop gardens and along the streetscapes. The focal point of the design is a city block-length pedestrian plaza, where patients, visitors and hospital staff can enjoy being outdoors. The water for the site irrigation and two water features will be drawn from the condensate water produced by the facility. An educational exhibit explaining the innovative use of wastewater, as well as an interactive water feature, aim to further engage the users in the environment. In 2007, Macknally and her firm were awarded their first federal project, with the National Cemetery Association (NCA).
Macknally planned the newly opened National Cemetery in Montevallo in close cooperation with a local civil engineering firm, cemetery master planners in New York and the National Cemetery Association. Macknally approached the project with an attitude of respect made more personal by her family connections to the military. The design developed by the team takes advantage of the site’s existing character with its rolling gait and adjacent waterway. At the peak of the grounds, a large American flag waves over the veterans entombed at the cemetery and serves as a constant reminder to visitors of the proud and faithful service of armed forces both past and present. The cemetery was dedicated on Memorial Day of this year. The NCA recognized the importance and success of the collaborative design team and has referenced Alabama National Cemetery as a new model for future National Cemeteries.
CREATIVE COLLABORATION Though the landscape architect is often seen as someone who sweeps in at the end of a building project to cover the wreckage left by the heavy foot traffic and machinery of construction, Macknally prefers to be involved from the very beginning of the building design process. This allows her to create a socially and environmentally conscious landscape that integrates seamlessly with the build plan and project ideology as a whole. Collaboration with the client, architect, engineers, municipal officials and more from the very conception of the design “makes for a richer project,” says Macknally. For the past two years, Macknally Land Design has been an active participant in the design team of the Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children, an expansion of Children’s of Alabama Birmingham campus, as the lead landscape architect. The project is just now reaching the point of
Scheduled to open in summer 2012, the Fifth Street pedestrian plaza adjacent to the new Benjamin Russell Children’s Hospital expansion aims to be an engaging environment for both patients and employees.
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Photography Courtesy of Lea Ann Macknally
Railroad Park in downtown Birmingham pays homage to the role of railroads in the city’s history in a natural, eco-friendly environment.
The National Cemetery in Montevallo covers 45 acres and is bordered by the American Village civic education facility on one side and a creek on the other.
FOSTERING COMMUNITY An avid believer that the correct landscape can transform a community, Macknally works with an eye toward the health of the environment and society. “I’m always looking for opportunities to be challenged and make a difference,” says Macknally. And whether it’s taking on Hope VI projects with the Department of Housing and Urban Development or allowing an employee a six-month leave of absence to pursue nonprofit design work in Costa Rica, she consistently manages her business with that goal in mind. Since Railroad Park is located just a few blocks from the Macknally Land Design offices, Macknally and her team have been able to watch the park that they helped design change the personality of the neighborhood. Having this greenspace has given local business people and residents somewhere
I’m always looking for opportunities to be
challenged and make a difference.
~ Lea Ann Macknally
to play, exercise and socialize in the middle of their urban setting. The park fosters interactions between diverse groups of people, and it helps connect people with their environment, while instilling a sense of pride in the city. The park’s landscape is a living entity in the concrete and steel structure of the city. “It changes from season to season, and that brings people back time and again,” notes Macknally. Nestled behind the Vestavia Hills Public Library (Alabama’s first LEED-certified library), the Remembrance Garden is a serene escape carved into the unique local landscape. Designed at the request of the city and private donors, this outdoor room serves as a quiet destination in a network of trails meandering through the wooded site. Native stone, used to create the hardscapes for the area, complements both the natural setting and the library’s architectural style.
The Remembrance Garden, constructed in honor of late Vestavia students Lamar Herring and Jamie Echols, is a tranquil addition to the Vestavia Library landscape.
Introducing design innovation isn’t always easy for Macknally, who, like most idealistic young designers, quickly discovered after graduation that the innovative and environmentally conscious practices that she learned in school wouldn’t necessarily translate to the municipal codes and standard practices already in place. Instead of bowing to the pressure of convention, she works to educate community leaders on the positive impact of current trends. Inspired by the ingenuity and case studies coming from such cutting-edge places as Seattle, Wash., Macknally is working in conjunction with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Auburn University Landscape Architecture Department, the City of Auburn, as well as a local developer and civil engineer, to design and document low-impact development strategies. Funded by an EPA grant, the case study plans to explore low-impact development strategies from the standpoint of local code changes, community aesthetics, water quality and economic feasibility. The Ruffner Mountain wetlands project was designed as an educational tool for the Ruffner Mountain Nature Center in Birmingham. A replica of naturally occurring wetland areas, the vegetation included in this project is completely native and non-invasive. The landscape, paired with informational signage, teaches visitors about wetland ecosystems – the environment’s organic system of water filtration. In a market where small businesses often feel that they have to choose the bottom line over design ideals, Macknally Land Design is proving that social and environmental responsibility can be integrated into a successful business plan.
Faith Morgan is a freelance interior designer and writer in Birmingham.
Elevated boardwalks allow visitors to observe the Ruffner Mountain wetlands without damaging the sensitive flora and fauna.
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wayfinding: lifeblood of a city JERROD WINDHAM, IDSA JOHN R. POWELL
Think of the city as an organism… The most primitive of organisms rely upon signs or signals to survive. Single-celled organisms are extremely social, constantly communicating with one another. Without a stimulus or signal from another cell, a single living cell in a petri dish will do nothing. It won’t move. It won’t divide. It simply dies. Microscopic video illustrates this social behavior. Cells interact. They dance with one another, some moving quickly, some more slowly and some dividing. Contrast this with a time-lapse bird’s-eye video of Manhattan or another active urban dwelling. Pedestrians and automobiles race and stop in-turn, faithfully obeying the signals they are given. This analogy highlights the importance of signals, whether in the form of a chemical reaction or a traffic sign. The success of the larger organism (plant, animal or city) is dependent on the success of the system of signals that support it. If we view the city as an organism, one component of its success and even survival is how well its inhabitants and visitors are able to digest signals and efficiently perform their tasks, in this instance, getting from point A to B. For centuries, this aspect of city health care was mostly ignored. Word of mouth, local landmarks, etc. were the extent of helping people find their way, and it was all based upon a pedestrian model, slow moving with enough time to digest a great deal of information. In modern times, the underlying system of urban navigation has taken on increased complexity due, in part, to the expansion of metropolitan areas, as well as the advent of the automobile. There are more points A and more points B. The speed at which people move through cities has increased, and designers play an important role in the efficiency of the system. This role extends beyond the graphical appeal of signage. Designers must look at the entire system of wayfinding. In this article, we discuss the best way to create a cognitive map in the minds of the user that matches the actual geography. The system must work, not only for residents of a city, but also for visitors. It must take into consideration the speeds at which “users” move through the city, the competing visual stimuli present within an urban environment including business signage and the like. From passing through a city at 70 mph in an automobile to walking the city block as a pedestrian, we will attempt to break down the hierarchy of geography and speed and address the importance of designing a wayfinding system that understands and utilizes this hierarchy.■
Please visit kaywa.com to download a QR Code reader for various mobile devices. DesignAlabama 24
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Mass Transit Train/Bus Taxi Automobile INFRASTRUCTURE
Light Rail Bus Route Interstate
At this level, the wayfinding system must present a minimum of information for comprehension at relatively high speeds. In order to aid the user in making orientation decisions quickly, the landscape of the City should be broken down into a series of Districts. The resulting system will map accurately to a userâ€™s mental model if these regions are based on existing human behavior and usage.
Major Highway Bypass
Mass Transit Bus Taxi Automobile Foot Bicycle INFRASTRUCTURE
Major Highway Minor Highway
A District within the City is indicated primarily through the use of edge marking. At all common points of entry into a region (roads and footpaths), elements of the wayfinding system must establish a clear visual sense of moving into a new space. This can be accomplished through the use of a unique key color, iconography and/or typographic devices. The user should also be provided with clear indicators of the relationships between the various Districts.
Street Avenue Bus Route
Automobile Bicycle Foot INFRASTRUCTURE
Street Avenue Alley Walkway
Once a user has entered into a District, which his/her evolving mental model of the system has indicated is the home of the target destination, wayfinding elements can begin to present more elaborate signals. As travel speed begins to slow, a greater resolution in the information is permissible, but should remain highly legible as the user is still making generalized orientation decisions.
Wayfinding becomes the responsibility of individual entities, public or private.
At this point in the journey, a user typically will have transitioned to travel by foot as he/she is now within blocks of the goal. At this speed of travel, a user can be presented with much denser forms of orientation information such as maps of the Block or District space. This is critical as the user plots his/her path by connecting a series of Nodes and/or landmarks.
Graphics by Jerrod Windham and John R. Powell Jerrod Windham, IDSA, is an assistant professor of industrial design at Auburn University and a co-founder of Fulcrum Collaborative. John R. Powell is an assistant professor of graphic design at Auburn University. 25 Volume XXI
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Capitol Complex Classic by Susan Braden Photography by Susan Braden
The former State of Alabama Highway Department Building, popularly known as the Public Safety Building, is an architectural gem featuring an eclectic mix of Greek Revival elements, streamlined classicism and Art Deco decoration. In 2007-08, Seay Seay and Litchfield (SS&L) restored, renovated and expanded the 1937 office building, located across the street from the Capitol on Montgomery’s historic Dexter Avenue, to accommodate the State of Alabama Attorney General’s Office. The Montgomery architectural firm maintained the dignity, as well as the dazzle of the original building, even as it modernized the interior and extended two wings. In 2009, the newly completed building received a much-deserved design award from the American Association of Architects (AIA), Montgomery chapter. Historically significant, this state office building was an ideal candidate for historical preservation. The original architects, Birmingham-based Warren Knight and Davis, were well known, and, appropriately for the era, the Works Progress Administration was involved in the Highway Department Building’s construction. In addition, the original building and SS&L’s additions adhere to guidelines in the Capitol Complex Master Plan and the Olmsted Plan of 1930. Preserving the building and its character ensured that a valuable piece of Alabama’s architectural and planning history would live on.
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Public entry to the Office of the Attorney General is from Washington Avenue. Bronze panels above the doors are Art Deco in style and celebrate highway engineering. SS&L restored the entry and free-standing torchères and designed a new fence featuring a Greek fret motif.
Above top: Seay Seay and Litchfield carefully restored the lobby to its original colors and brilliance. It is here that the building flashes its Art Deco side. In this view, glass security doors lead to the General Civil and Administrative Law division on the first floor.
Seay Seay and Litchfield’s appreciation for the historical significance of the building can be seen in the firm’s thoughtful restoration and expansion of the original 74,000-square-foot building. Their two 21,000-square-foot additions to the Public Safety Building extended the two original office wings in a manner that perfectly matches the original exterior. According to R. Platt Boyd, the project architect, the firm’s major goal was to create a “seamless transition” between the old and the new sections. The original 1937 building is solid, poured-inplace concrete, and the additions feature metal stud framing with a true stucco veneer. Still, the exteriors of the old and new structures do indeed blend seamlessly together. Seay Seay and Litchfield’s long-time expertise with historic preservation can be understood in the details of how they achieved this. To ensure exact replication of the original three-story pilasters, rubber molds were used to make casts of the Warren Knight and Davis capitals. For the fenestration on the new additions, SS&L chose windows that matched the original metal ones. The new windows feature true divided lights,
Above left: Detail of Washington Avenue door with panel featuring compass.
a feature of the original windows but often a luxury today. According to Boyd, the decision to go with separate panes allowed the new and old windows to reflect the same “inconsistencies” of light, giving the exterior of the building a unified appearance. On the interior, Seay Seay and Litchfield restored the first-floor lobby, hallways and foyer to a gleaming Art Deco elegance. Ornamental bronze starbursts, metal doors and Alabama limestone pilasters were cleaned and preserved, restoring glitter and bold color to the space. The two bronze elevator cabs received polishing, and the dials above the elevators were fixed to indicate the floors. The splendid dark green terrazzo floor, enlivened by a black grid, glitters under the bright pattern of ceiling lights. Dominating the center of the lobby floor, Alabama’s Great Seal (1868-1939) adds even more richness and patterning to the space. The lobby restoration returned an unusually fine and admired space to the public realm. Writing in 1943 about the Highway Department Building’s lobby, Algernon Blair, historian of the Capitol Complex, states, “It is interesting to note that the style
Above right: Detail of anthemion motif in grille of a window that overlooks the state Capitol.
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2007 Downtown Montgomery Plan/Dover Kohl Partners
SS&L created “transition areas” between the original building and the new additions. These spaces are attractively furnished and function as places where visitors and employees can wait before entering another division office. This third-floor view in the Administrative Services division shows how the architects incorporated the exterior capital from the 1937 building into the new interior space.
Alabama State Capitol Complex and surrounding area, Montgomery; the former Highway Building is in the lower right corner. Across Dexter Avenue is the similarly angled State of Alabama Office Building. These paired buildings owe their symmetrical placement to the Olmsted Plan of 1930. This view shows the building as it would appear expanded by SS&L (2007–08).
of the architecture of the lobbies has a definite modernistic trend, which harmonizes perfectly with the Greek style.” (quoted in the 1982 Alabama Capitol Complex Master Planning Study, p. 88) Seay Seay and Litchfield renovated and modernized the interiors of the original building to match the offices in the new additions. Insulation was added because the original building had none. New sashes with large single panes of glass were placed on the insides of windows because the original metal windows leaked air. The entire building received smart wiring, and the color palette for paint, wallpaper, carpets and furnishings stressed blue, brown, tan and cream. Offices and workspaces in the building accommodate the 160 state employees who work for the Office of the Attorney General and the Alabama Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security discreetly occupies part of one floor and uses its own unpretentious entry. Most of the building consists of office space for the 15 divisions of the Office of the Attorney General. Among the divisions are Victim Assistance, Criminal Appeals, Public Corruption and Investigations. According to Charla Doucet, chief of the Administrative Services division and a participant in the planning sessions, security and privacy issues were understandably of great importance. Glass security doors lead to the separate divisions. Each division’s offices are arranged similarly. The glass doors are state-of-the-art in terms of security, yet transparent. Platt Boyd says the goal was for
the doors to be “unobtrusive,” and the effect is attractive and yet protective. These doors allow a view of each division’s small lobby and reception desk. Behind the reception area, two corridors lead back to private offices arranged along the walls. Cubicles and copy areas typically are placed behind the reception desk. Executive offices for the attorney general, deputy attorney general and their immediate staff are located on the third floor of the new western wing. A multi-purpose room in the building’s windowed subbasement accommodates press conferences and general meetings. Among the building’s most attractive and engaging spaces are Seay Seay and Litchfield ’s interior “transition areas” that function as small lobbies or waiting areas. These areas are located in the interior spaces created where the new additions join the original building. SS&L incorporated the original building’s three-story exterior pilasters in such a way that the 1937 pilasters function as part of the interior walls of the transition spaces. Firstfloor transition lobbies feature the base and part of the fluted shaft; visitors to the third-floor transitions see the upper shaft and capital. The Public Safety Building project was impressively fast-track: five months to design and 17 months to build. The result is an award-winning building that has generated excellent publicity for historical preservation and is well liked by people who work in it. Importantly, Seay Seay and Litchfield preserved and extended the life and history of one of the handsomest buildings in the Capitol Complex. ❧ Susan Braden is an architectural historian and is retired from teaching art history at Auburn University.
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Photography Courtesy of Alabama Innovation Engine
Alabama Innovation Engine By Shelley Hildebrand
n the fall of 2009, a group of Alabamians from the design community traveled to Colorado and joined more than 70 people with multidisciplinary backgrounds at the Aspen Design Summit to try a new approach to problem solving using design as a tool. Participants were split into five groups of 12 to address social issues through a design-driven methodology. From this meeting, sponsored by AIGA and the Winterhouse Institute, a new initiative called the Alabama Innovation Engine was born.
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Students from the Rhode Island School of Design were exposed to a variety of Alabama-born creations including folk art by artist Don Coley, which is displayed along the side of the road in Marion, Ala.
Engine, as it’s called, works to create large-scale, positive change and encourage economic development in rural communities throughout Alabama. Funded as a joint effort by Auburn University and The University of Alabama, Engine helps identify community projects and give community leaders a roadmap toward implementing and completing those projects. According to Doug Powell, national president of American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIA), participants at the Aspen summit were split into teams, each with a speciﬁc issue to address. One team, which included design professionals from Alabama representing both Auburn University and The University of Alabama, was charged with exploring ways to address the issue of rural poverty in Hale County, Ala. At the conclusion of the summit, those working on the Hale County issue wanted to carry on with their efforts after they left Colorado. “Engine is the outcome of that collective effort by those original team members from Aspen to ﬁnd a way to continue their work,” Powell explains. “Realizing they would need somebody on the ground in Birmingham who could be their point person, they nurtured existing relationships with the University of Alabama and Auburn University to secure some joint funding.” Then Alabama native Matt Leavell was hired to serve as the project manager for Engine.
More than 50 people participated in the AIGA Alabama Design Summit held in July.
Soon after Leavell began working with Engine, a group of architecture and industrial design students from the Rhode Island School of Design traveled to Alabama as part of a semester-long studio project to explore opportunities in the state from an outsider’s perspective. “The original idea was to identify networks and places for projects to happen,” Leavell says. The students toured central Alabama and spent several days exploring areas like Perry Lakes and the Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center, both located near Marion, Ala.
Designers used hundreds of Post-it notes as a key tool to explore ideas during the design summit.
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Pictured here is the interior of an old church located inside the Oakmulgee District of the Talladega National Forest.
“The idea was to expose them to the natural wonders that Alabama holds that no one ever talks about it,” he says. “One of the things we do is to encourage people to look at asset-based development. So instead of looking at the bad stuff in the state, let’s look at the good stuff and ﬁnd out how to create something from it.” From that trip, the students went back to Rhode Island and created a series of speciﬁc projects. Now, Engine has a catalog of ideas available. Ten months into the formation of Engine, the initiative continues its work toward bringing together designers and community leaders to solve problems. As a byproduct of the Aspen Design Summit, Engine partnered with AIGA in late July to host the ﬁrst-ever AIGA Alabama Design Summit. Powell says using design as a problem-solving method challenges the assumption that the best way to solve a problem is to ﬁnd the shortest line between two points. “Our approach often includes a very curvy, tangled line before it really straightens out,” Powell notes. Many of AIGA’s younger members seek meaningful, issue-related social change endeavors. Powell says his association is trying to respond to this and create a way for members to engage in these kinds of projects. In October, AIGA will launch a platform on the national level called Design for Good, which will activate local members as agents of social change in their local communities.
“Our approach often includes a very curvy, tangled line before it really straightens out,” Alabama was chosen as an ideal location to test the implementation of the Design for Good concept. Alabama’s design community has already had such a positive impact on the rural areas of the state that it made sense to bring in designers from across the country to work with local designers to continue the progress and exchange ideas.
Engine invited students from Corcoran College in Washington, D.C., to Alabama to partner with staff from the Oakmulgee District of the Talladega National Forest. Together they created an outreach and education program designed to teach the public the value and nature of the forest.
“We saw an opportunity to do an experiment and test drive one of the ways we hope Design for Good can materialize through this workshop-style event modeled after the Aspen summit,” Powell says. The Alabama Design Summit brought together 53 people, 26 of whom were from out of state, and was a combination of designers and community leaders. Clients included: The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, Alabama Innovation Engine, Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, International Expeditions, The Cahaba River Society, Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center, Freshwater Land Trust and Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. According to Powell, the community leaders attending the summit came in not knowing what to expect and with no guarantee as to what the outcome would be. In the end, Powell says, they were thrilled with the event. “They were blown away by the experience,” Powell relates. “They all walked away with such a volume of ideas.” Leavell adds that he is excited about the future of the organization. “Engine continues to develop, and we are all curious about where it will go,” he says. Visit the website at www.alabamaengine.org and follow the blog to stay up-to-date on Engine’s progress in using creativity to address social and environmental issues in Alabama. ■ Shelley Gilliam Hildebrand is a freelance writer and graphic designer based in Montgomery, Ala.
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DesignAlabama Volume XXI
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 S I G N - R E V I E W - A T - W O R K
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