Designer: Martha Schwartz (Martha Schwartz, Inc. Boston)
Location: Minneapolis Minnesota
Client: United States General Administration, Great Lakes Region
Landscape architects who work in Minneapolis are faced with multiple challenges and opportunities, ranging from competition with the city's modern 'skyway' system, to a lack of identity for it's open spaces. The plaza is located in Minneapolis's civic center, facing city hall and in front of a new federal courthouse, designed by architect, Kohn Pedersen Fox. It is open to the harsh elements of winter, as well as the intense heat of the summer. The Federal Courthouse Plaza, is an example of an urban landscape which helps contribute to the city's identity.
Landscape architect Martha Schwartz was hired to develop a sense of place for the plaza, as well as a design which noted both civic and individual activities within the 50,000 square foot urban space. Creating a landscape with a strong identity was the main objective. The aforementioned Federal Courthouse design is a 30 story, fluted building, with a strong vertical presence. Among the challenges associated with the site, the plaza is located over an underground parking structure, creating limitations such as weight restrictions, no space for subsurface planting installation, and a ventilation system at ground level.
Schwartz's design incorporates a linear paving pattern which relates to the architectural elements of the building, and applies them to the ground plane, extending bands of white concrete pavers accross the entire plaza. The space is broken up by the presence of tear-drop-shapped grass mounds , juxtaposed at 30 degree angles over the linear paving pattern. These eliptical mounds symbolize glacial drumlins, deposited in the ice age, 10,000 years ago. Specialized construction processes were developed with considderation to the weight constraints; wire and styrofoam were used to hold the soil beyond the angle of repose. These unique features are planted with grass, as well as jack pines which are native to Minnesota. Parallel to the mounds are silver painted logs ,which have been cut into thirds and placed on their sides, functioning as benches. Perforated metal benches have been provided for additional seating. Circulation through the plaza is channeled in a diagonal direction which is dictated by the location of the mounds.
Large circular vents located on the outside corners provide air to the parking garage below plaza level. Schwartz accentuates these by adding a large at-grade plinth near the center of the plaza. The plinth, constructed of granite strips, was designed as a fountain. Due to budget constraints, it now functions as a space for displaying public art.
The mounds, along with logs, and bollards are meant to create a barrier keeping threatening vehicles at a safe distance.
1. landscape Architecture, Paul Bennett.
August 1999. vol. 89 #8. pgs 60-67+90
2. Martha Schwartz : Transfiguration of the commonplace.
Spacemaker Press, Cambridge, MA 1997
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