Ruffner Park works naturally.

Posted: March 15, 2010 in Uncategorized
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I like to talk about design.  About how the designer’s hand manipulates the built environment to direct views, create rooms, and provide various amenities and pleasant distractions.   A thoughtful approach usually leads to good results.

Ruffner Park

Ruffner Park is an example of achieving a lot by doing little.

But there are also places that seem to have grown into something special quite naturally.  One such place is Ruffner Park, the little known sanctuary just a few blocks from the State Capitol in Charleston.

It’s not that the park wasn’t designed.  It was.   A small plaza memorializes the Kanawha Riflemen and serves as the focal point of the park, and a sidewalk from Kanawha Boulevard leads directly to the plaza.  There is also a simple, arcing walkway from one end of the park to the other that is obviously the result of someone’s thoughtful design years ago.  So are the soldiers of pin oaks standing sentry along the Boulevard. 

The entry walkway enhances the memorial as the focal point of the park.

It’s a very understated design.  Nothing elaborate.  No need for water features or seat walls or fancy pavements.  It’s enough to be able to find solitude under the giant sycamores.  It’s enough to watch the squirrels forage for acorns.  It’s enough to enjoy the view of the river with the hills in the background.   There are people to watch, too – walkers, runners, and bikers – especially on a nice sunny day after a long winter.

Across from Ruffner Park is a backdrop of the Kanawha River and the south hills of Charleston.

Towering trees provide a cathedral-like overhead plane.

Let’s talk about some design principles.  First, there is the formal, symmetric design in a very natural setting.  The balance works.  It’s restful.  The arcing walkway is perfect for such a setting and its curved lines add to the peaceful feeling.  The sidewalk from the plaza to the boulevard provides a visual exit and comforts the psyche that prefers a sense of order.  And then there are the trees.  The towering oaks and sycamores provide a cathedral-like overhead plane and help create the feeling that Ruffner Park is a sanctuary.

I tried to track down the history of Ruffner Park but couldn’t piece it together with a great deal of certainty.  It’s been around for many years and I don’t know why it hasn’t been more developed.  But I’m glad it hasn’t.  Sometimes it’s best to let spaces grow naturally.

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