Flashback: Modern Plazas and Landscapes


Docomomo US Staff


modern, preservation, Newsletter, Flashback, historic preservation, modernism, modern architecture, docomomo
Image details

As we explore Public Spaces: Inside and Out, we look back at our Winter 2008 newsletter focused on Modern Plazas and Landscapes. Below are six articles highlighting the renovations, advocacy campaigns and threats to national and international sites in 2008.


Article 1

Changes to Halprin’s Landmark Freeway Park in Seattle

By: Brice Maryman


Originally designed by Lawrence Halprin and Associates, the plantings at Seattle’s Freeway Park are currently being updated by Seattle landscape architect and University of Washington professor Iain Robertson, who aims to “not change the character of the park, but to recharge the design." Executed by Mr. Halprin’s office under the design direction of Angela Danadjieva, Freeway Park is one of the best preserved masterworks of post-war landscape architecture, yet the horticultural requirements of the plants necessitate renewed attention to the original design intent.


However, its fate may also be a bellweather for the future of modernist architecture, landscapes and engineering feats associated with the interstate highway system across the country. After the publication of Halprin’s book Freeways in 1966 and his work with the Federal Highway Administration’s Urban Advisors group, the Seattle Parks Commission sought his assistance in designing a park along the edge of the new interstate gorge. Rather than confining himself to the proposed plot of land, Halprin pushed the ideas in his book into the cityscape by proposing an extensive landscape that scaled down the impact of the freeway for both driver and pedestrian by building right over it. Rather than balking at this audacious plan, the city bun-dled the proposal into the county-wide open space bond measure.


Read More


Portions of this article were previously published on The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s website written by Brice Maryman and Liz Birkholz. 


Article 2

Urban Renewal Renewed: A Makeover for Baltimore’s Center Plaza

By: Olivia Klose


In the heart of Baltimore, 1960s-style urban renewal has received a facelift with the completion in October 2007 of a $7.5 million renovation of Center Plaza, the urban plaza at the core of downtown’s complex of office, retail and residendial buildings known as Charles Center. In 2002, a national competition was held for the redesign of the unpopular and rundown Center Plaza, originally designed by the Baltimore firm of Rogers, Taliaferro, Kostritsky & Lamb as the focal point of Baltimore’s first urban renewal project and inspired by the great urban plazas of the Italian Renaissance. The local architecture and design firm of Brown & Craig won the competition with their design of extensive greenscaping, a reflecting pool, movable seating and dynamic lighting effects. Brown & Craig had collaborated with Daniel Biederman, the talent behind the successful revitalization of New York City’s Bryant Park in the early 1990s; however, it is too early to tell whether the team’s design will foster the desired transformation of Center Plaza into a hip and inviting urban space.


As originally designed, Charles Center’s open spaces reflected the principles and ideals of the urban renewal movement that swept through American cities beginning in the 1950s, forever transforming the urban landscape. As consulting architects to the Charles Center urban renewal project, which was launched by a public-private partnership in 1957, RTKL’s goal was to make the plazas and open space a “social center for 24-hour citizens of Baltimore.” The 1958 Charles Center promotional report gushed that ”Here, open space will be used, loved and economically successful because it will be full of pleasant things: fountains, sculpture, flowers, umbrellas, flags and trees. The open space will be, in its own way, as concentrated as the city around it.” George Kostritsky of RTKL envisioned an urban landscape along the themes of light, sculpture, and water, for Charles, Center and Hopkins plazas, respectively. The three plazas, located on the interior of the two superblocks comprising the Charles Center urban renewal site, were to be linked through a series of elevated walkways, escalators and skywalks in order to overcome the problem of the site’s steep topography (a 68-foot drop in grade from the northern boundary of the site to the southern boundary) and in order to create a series of “pedestrian islands.” Though futuristic in appearance, this circulation system was a typical component of urban design of the 1950s and 60s and was often promoted as a means of separating pedestrians from the escalat-ing nuisance of auto traffic and congestion. In the case of Charles Center, the exterior circulation system was also intended to provide a venue for extensive retail activity.  


Read More


Article 3


Boston City Hall Plaza: A Modern Space for the City Upon a Hill

By: Gary Wolf


Hailed by critic Ada Louse Huxtable as “one of the best urban spaces of the 20th century,” Boston’s often reviled City Hall Plaza faces an uncertain fate. Designed by Kallmann, McKinnell and Wood between 1962 and 1968, the last concerted effort to improve this centerpiece of “the New Boston” fell victim to post 9/11 inter-governmental disputes. In 2006, Mayor Tom Menino announced his intention to sell both the plaza and building to the highest bidder. Over recent months, the monumental City Hall itself has received wide spread support. The Boston Landmarks Commission voted to accept a petition for study (although landmarking is subject to mayoral veto), and a Determination of Eligibility by the far sighted Massachusetts Historical Commission surfaced.


In 1991 MHC had determined that City Hall is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and had commented that “the plaza is a significant component of the building.” City Hall Plaza is the latest transformation of the slopes of Boston’s colonial city; the succeeding two centuries leveled the hills and filled the coves to form the Boston we know today, including the Plaza’s setting. On the Plaza’s west, tremendous earth-moving shaved 65 feet off a four-acre mount for Pemberton Square, and nearly as much from Beacon Hill just beyond. To the east, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market were developed on harbor fill in two separate endeavors eight decades apart. Such extraordinary reshaping of the terrain suggests the challenge—and the precedent—for those in the 20th century who planned the new center for the “City Upon a Hill.”


Read More


Article 4


Landscapes of Industrial Archeology: Preservation Projects for Social Spaces

By: Maristella Casciato


Surprisingly and equally unexpectedly a new situation has occurred in Europe regarding the future of disused industrial areas. Starting in the early 1990s the number of preservation projects for the transformation of sections of industrial landscapes, already in decay or abandoned have, by and large increased. These industrial activities had generated polluted landscapes in conditions of full hostility for human beings and nature. The huge industrial machineries have stood empty of users and materials in a desolated land of debris. Most of the new projects resulted in the creation of new open spaces for leisure facilities and collective public activities. The largest and most complex intervention that has become a standard of reference for the transformation of post-indus-trial landscapes elsewhere, has been achieved in the Ruhr area, located in North Rhine-Westphalia.(Germany). This has been Europe’s heart of industrialization. Remains of the period are the large population (the region, with 18 million people has the highest population density of all Germany) and a totally artificially transformed landscape.


During the middle of the 20th century as the industrial boom stopped, many heavy industries (predominantly coal and steel) moved away, leaving abandoned industrial plants and a large number of post-industrial sites, including many brown-fields. In 1989 the regional government of North Rhine-Westphalia started an integrated development strategy for the former industrial region. The major goal was the creation of a new “regional park” with a length of seventy kilometers along the Emscher River. More than 150 years of indus-trialization have left their mark on the region: mines, coking plants and winding towers are the impressive relics of the past industrial era.


Read More


Article 5


Parkmerced, a Modern Landscape Masterpiece Under Assault

By: Chandler McCoy


A 191-acre, 2,500-unit apartment development situated in the southwestern part of San Francisco, adjacent to the campus of San Francisco State University, Parkmerced is close enough to the Pacific Ocean that it is continually under assault from wind and foggy weather. Unfortunately, current plans by the new owner, Parkmerced Investors, LLP, and the University, are creating an assault that threatens to sweep the development off the map. With its Thomas Church landscape, Parkmerced is one of the most significant modern sites in San Francisco and its loss would be a defeat for the city’s modern heritage. 


Thomas Church, considered the father of modern landscape architecture in the United States, exerted an especially strong influence over the look of residential landscape architecture in the post-war years. A figure with an international reputation, his ideas for livable, low-maintenance garden design were published in popular magazines and he worked closely with the leading Bay Region architects of his day; William Wurster, Gardner Dailey, John Funk, and others whose regional modern style was characterized by a seamless integration between building and landscape. During the course of his prolific career, Church designed over 1,000 individual landscape projects. Most of these are private gardens and are off-limits to the public, such as the often photographed Donnell Pool and Garden in Sonoma, California.


Read More


Article 6


Boston’s Christian Science Center

By: David Fixler, FAIA


In 1964, the First Church of Christ Scientist presented architects I.M. Pei and Araldo Cossuta with the challenge of providing space, amenity and an intangible presence for the expansion of their Mother Church complex, which had occupied a part of this same site since 1898. With the incipient completion of the adjacent Prudential Center complex, a commercial development that featured a 52-story tower and several apartment slab blocks set off from the street on a large raised plaza, the “High Spine” development concept promulgated by planner Kevin Lynch and the Boston Society of Architects seemed to be taking off. The Prudential was to be the first of a series of skyscrapers that would stretch along Boylston and Huntington Streets, defining Boston’s skyline. It became apparent to Pei and Cossuta that the dome of the 1908 Mother Church would no longer be a commanding presence on the Boston skyline. They responded by persuading the Church to do something out of the financial reach of a commercial developer. They would “command the ground plane” and construct the great plaza around which the new Christian Science Center evolved.  


Read More



Read the the complete Winter 2008 newsletter HERE