Project Name: Republic Plaza Renovation
Project Location: Denver, Colo
Project Construction Budget: $2,000,000 (approximate)
Purpose of Project
One of several downtown Denver Class A office properties, Republic Plaza was originally designed by SOM and completed in 1983. An incomplete design understanding of the severity of freeze-thaw cycles in Denver contributed to rapid deterioration of the two over-structure plazas. Fifteen years of wear, repair and piecemeal renovation had compromised the overall qualities of the public spaces associated with the building.
With a local architect, the landscape architect found opportunities in the technical renovation to upgrade the plazas as Denver’s most elegant and usable public spaces, with detailing and furniture compatible with the interior finishes of the building. The major objectives of the project included upgrading the real estate value, improving the visual identity and better accommodating use. In addition, the life cycle of the plaza has been extended significantly with improved pavements, waterproofing and drainage systems. Custom lighting promotes evening uses, enhances safety and establishes a daytime identity for the project.
Role of the Landscape Architect and the Role of Other Participants
The landscape architect worked in an equal capacity with the architect to determine design and technical solutions for the project. The landscape architect led design charrettes and facilitated the development of schematic alternatives. Reporting from an extensive plaza case study analysis, which it had prepared previously, the landscape architect recommended the primary technical solutions for the project.
For fee and contractual reasons, the landscape architect provided the architect with detail sketches for documenting the project for construction. The architect determined final technical solutions for a number of components such as custom lights and building façade renovation. The landscape architect visited the quarry site in Cold Springs, Minnesota. to select granite with the client. In addition, the landscape architect brought the general contractor to the client, using a negotiated contract to attain budget, quality control and schedule objectives.
Dual Plaza Roles
The project included two significantly different plazas: One serves as the business front door on 17th Street, the “Wall Street of the Rockies;” the other serves the vital and animated 16th Street Mall. The design solution addresses the unique differences at each plaza with compositional, furnishing and color strategies.
Severely Deteriorated Plazas
The design team determined long-term solutions for a number of dramatically failed construction systems, including crumbled pavements, leaking waterproofing, clogged drainage components and corroded lighting and bollard foundations. The deteriorating plazas created several problems for the owner, including a compromised perception of the real estate, large annual fees for maintenance, safety hazards and water leaks into occupied tenant spaces.
Several retail tenants and a food court exist on a lower level off 16th Street. As with many recessed urban uses, the retail suffered because of poor visibility from the Mall. A heavy, opaque guardrail wrapping the recess was redesigned to be transparent. Lighting was designed to illuminate the area and architecturally highlight the space. A colorful signage program was implemented by others, complementing the color scheme chosen by this design team.
To maintain access to the office tower and not adversely affect retail, food court or ATM use, a detailed construction-phasing plan was devised. A newsletter and signage program was used to advise employees and guests of progress.
Quality of Design
The design solution creates a benchmark technical achievement, leaving the owner with a life-cycle product projected to exceed the original solution. Materials, patterns and components were chosen to respect and complement the 56-story office tower. The 16th Street Plaza establishes a liberated visual transition between the modular modern façade and the whimsical exuberance of the Mall.
The plazas function to the delight of daytime and evening users. Daytime competition for seating space is significant, and observations of night use suggest users lingering after dinner or theater.
Relationship to Context
Relationships to both 17th Street and the 16th Street Mall are an integral part of the success of the project. By acknowledging the uniquely different characteristics of each of these project edges, the solutions fit both addresses.
(See below, “Overall Relevance…”)
Overall Relevance to Landscape Architecture, the Public and the Environment
More than any other discipline, landscape architects are given great opportunity to define the quality and character of urban America. A renewed interest in urban life pronounces these opportunities. By revitalizing the urban public realm, our cities become more desirable places for people to work, live and entertain themselves. Re-centralization through infill development and upgrades to existing properties helps us to defeat the environmental, social and economic problems associated with sprawl-related development.
New York City-based incentive zoning of the 1960s established a nationwide precedent that allowed for taller buildings if a ground-level public space was provided. In many cases, the outcome included buildings set back unfavorably from the street and pedestrians and large, unaccommodating paved areas referred to as plazas. The plazas were dramatically different than their European predecessors. For the most part, they provided no significant reason to visit. In addition, very few residents existed in downtowns, creating the nine-to-five effect, or even worse, the lunch-time-only crowd.
Evening and weekend vitality is gaining momentum in downtown Denver. High-quality residences, restaurants, theaters and retail allow people to enjoy their city. Users expect a consistency in quality between their leisure experience and the public spaces which connect those experiences.
The Republic Plaza Renovation addresses common plaza shortcomings by strengthening relationships to streets, encouraging use beyond the lunch hour and celebrating the role of the public space through use of materials and components details.
Republic Plaza Renovation
1. The project plan illustrates the existing conditions associated with the project, including the existing buildings and relationships to adjoining streets and the 16th Street Mall.
2. The original plaza construction was demolished to the structural slab. Existing pavements, drainage components, waterproofing and lighting were found to be severely deteriorated.
3. The plaza plan for 16th Street illustrates new pavement patterns, renovated planters, lighting, railing and stairs.
4. The perspective rendering illustrates an early schematic option, including a wall-mounted lighting scheme, new granite pavements, an improved relationship to the 16th Street Mall, transparent guardrail and renovated planters.
5. A sketch view from the 16th Street Mall across the plaza toward the office tower illustrates the promenade entry and people-watching space and tabled cafe space inside a framework of custom lights.
6. The plaza plan at 17th Street illustrates the formal, symmetrical solution on the “ Wall Street of the Rockies.” The plan patterns and scale are derived directly from the building organization.
7. A perspective sketch illustrates the plaza framed by stately Colorado Blue Spruce trees in oversized planters.
8. The detail illustrates the pavement replacement system and renovated topping slab over the existing structure. The solution allows for unencumbered sub-drainage and long paver life. Dummy joints at oversized granite pavers suggest a reduced module.
9. Custom lights were designed for both plazas - these details represent 17th Street plaza lights. Materials include granite, stainless steel and stacked glass. An on-site, full-scale mockup was constructed, evaluated and revised for final construction.
10. Custom lights and glass guardrails were detailed for the 16th Street plaza. The details are designed to complement the clean, modern building, but with a flare that celebrates the 16th Street Mall.
11. Planters were renovated p to improve drainage and waterproofing, provide an improved growing environment for plants and provide a more-suitable seating area.
12. State-of-the-art detailing for large spruce planters include multiple drainage systems, aeration and monitoring tubes, special soil medium, drip- and mist-based irrigation devices, planter insulation and moisture retaining stone groundcover.
13. A partial view of the completed 16th Street plaza highlights the relationship to the 16th Street Mall. A framework of custom lights establishes a cafe space above the recessed retail area, while also guiding pedestrian circulation across the plaza.
14. The primary approach to the plaza from the mall has been improved with a more generous opening, auto-restricting bollards, a transparent guardrail and a renovated planter. The original construction included a collection of ground-level planters near the opening at the mall.
15. A view from a second-level restaurant above the plaza shows layering of circulation and destination spaces, including segregated-but-open relationship to the street at the tree planter.
16. A rigorous furniture design and selection process was undertaken, with consideration given to durability, maintainability, comfort and visual qualities. Tables were custom designed with heavy bases to resist wind and vandalism.
17. A secondary planter within the plaza provides less public seating and potential shade. Stone material changes are delineated at several locations with use of elongated joints across the plaza.
18. Two 30-feet-tall Colorado Blue Spruce trees were carefully installed in the state-of-the-art planters on the 17th Street plaza as directed by the landscape architect. The spruce trees, scaled to the building, remind corporate guests of the Colorado business address.
19. Custom lights and railings on 17th Street plaza are designed to complement the module and materials of the building, but also establish a welcoming presence at the street.
20. The large planters include a shingled Colorado sandstone groundcover as an additional symbol of the Colorado business address. Granite stairs were rebuilt over new waterproofing.
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