Archive for February, 2010

The Capitol Market

Posted: February 15, 2010 in Uncategorized
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Remember when I made my first post back in January and how it was snowing outside my window?  I don’t think it’s stopped since.  Maybe starting a blog about public spaces in the middle of winter wasn’t such great timing.  Then again, who says good public spaces have to be outdoors?  Today we’ll visit the Capitol Market in Charleston, West Virginia. 

It started several years ago as a farmer’s market under the interstate, and during growing and harvest seasons, it still is.  As you can see from the photo below, there is an indoor market, which is actually a renovated train depot filled with shops and food vendors, and a full-service restaurant. 
The Capitol Market, Charleston, WV

 

But it’s not just the shops that make this a great place, although they certainly are the foundation.  There are also good design principles in play.

First, there’s the scale of the place.  In the design world, scale usually refers to the proportions of space as it relates to the people who use it and to the elements of the place itself.  For example, a café in a civic arena would likely be out of scale and its customers would feel uncomfortable.  At the Capitol Market, the scale feels right.  It’s confined enough to create a cozy, intimate environment, but the high ceilings and ample windows contribute to a feeling of openness. 

Then there’s the arrangement of the shops within the four walls of the old depot.  Notice in the photo below that the shops are staggered opposite each other.  This creates a meandering path of travel which accomplishes two things.  First, it slows you down.  It’s a subconscious thing.  A long, straight stretch of highway will encourage faster speeds.  Curves make you go slower.  At the same time, the staggered layout creates an element of surprise.  Even if you’ve been to the market before, there’s still a little anticipation of what might be beyond the next bend.  In a pedestrian environment, this helps create an enjoyable, casual stroll. 

 

One more thing.  In the picture below, can you identify another element of good spaces?  Yeah, there are “rooms”.  Not much more than tables and chairs, yet they’ve been placed in a way that give the customers their own little places to sit back, relax, and watch the world (people) go by.

Now to be sure, the space would not be as successful if it were not for the shops, which is why you go there in the first place.  But once you’re there, it’s a great place to escape winter, if only for a while.

 

Lake Lewisburg

Posted: February 1, 2010 in Uncategorized
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“Make no small plans.” 

That’s one of my favorite quotes from Daniel Burnham, the 19th century architect responsible for, among other things, directing the planning and design of the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1893.  It was an incredible time in United States history and the World’s Columbian Exposition, as the World’s Fair was called, epitomized the Burnham quote. (For a fascinating account of the Columbian Exposition project and a riveting side-story, check out Erik Larson’s book, The Devil in the White City.)  The entire quote (see below) explains that too often we don’t aim high enough and that we’re too quick to settle for mediocrity.

So when I saw the article in the Charleston (WV) Gazette about architect Tag Galyean’s idea to build an eight-acre lake right on the fringe of historic, downtown Lewisburg, West Virginia, my first reaction was “You’ve got to be kidding.”  Right now, that’s probably the reaction of many Lewisburg residents.  It’s a bold and dramatic idea that would change the face of Lewisburg. 

Tag Galyean concept sketch of Lake Lewisburg.

I would be surprised if the idea moves past the concept stage.  There are lots of issues – construction issues, cultural heritage issues, traffic issues, and of course, costs – to be considered.  In the end, the people of Lewisburg will decide whether or not they want a new lake next to their historic downtown.

But give Tag Galyean credit for thinking big.  That’s when the magic begins.

Make no small plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical plan once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our children are going to do things that will stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon, beauty.

 Think big.

 Daniel Burnham