Do this.

Posted: March 19, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Attention mayors, city managers, public works directors, parks directors, urban planners, landscape architects and architects.  Please go to Tamarack.  Do your usual browsing through the amazing arts and crafts, buy lunch at the food court, and then, instead of sitting at one of the tables inside, venture out into the center courtyard.  If it’s raining, just take a table under the roof overhang.

The center courtyard at Tamarack has all the right elements of a successful public space.

Observe.  Take notes.  Take pictures.

You probably won’t see many people enjoying the courtyard.  I hardly ever see anybody out there.  Besides maybe bad timing, I think there’s a reason for this, which I’ll explain later.

The Tamarack courtyard is an outstanding place for people.  It has all the right elements.

To start with, it just looks good.  Designers will appreciate the pleasing use and arrangement of natural and man-made materials.  Cobblestone-like pavers and stone walls create a comfortable environment.  Water features provide interest and the pleasing background sounds of splashing water.  Plants are not pruned into balls and rectangles but instead are allowed to grow into more natural shapes.  Sweeping curves add to an atmosphere of relaxation.  There is real value in simply enjoying the beauty of a place.

More importantly, though, the courtyard is people oriented.

First, there is a sense of safety.  Of course when you’re at a place like Tamarack, safety is not really part of your conscious thoughts, but in your subconscious, it’s always there.  That’s why we like to sit with our backs to the wall.  We feel comfortable and that sense of comfort comes from the psychological need for protection.  At Tamarack, there are many opportunities for sitting near the wall of the main building.  Beyond that, there are other spaces with “walls” in the form of landscaping and low seat walls to provide that sense of security.

Remember our previous discussions of intimate, personal, social and public spaces?  While the courtyard provides opportunities to experience all of them, tables are spaced in the social range, making it easy to start a conversation with strangers who may become friends.  Or not.  Social space provides options.

Now simply taking the Tamarack design and building it on your downtown vacant lot does not guarantee a successful public space.  Build it and they will come?  Not necessarily.  Do you have retail?  Food?  Drink?  Entertainment?  Offices?  There are no easy answers.  But when you are ready to build that new space, you would do well to follow the design principles found at the Tamarack courtyard.

The edges of public spaces provide a sense of security. When given a choice, most people choose the edge.

Back to the question of why I seldom see people using the courtyard.  Yes, it could be bad timing on my part, but I never have a timing problem when I go to Pullman Square in Huntington.  I think it’s because Tamarack’s courtyard is not a true public space.  It can’t draw on the diversity of uses that successful public spaces have.  Retail, food and drink are there, but you don’t see people with laptops, or reading a book, or otherwise just killing time.  Shop, eat and get back on the road.  It’s a destination but not a place to linger.  That’s my theory.  Check it out for yourself and form your own opinions.  But do check it out.


  1. Steve says:

    i agree. one of the things about tamarack in general is it’s more for out of towners than locals. one stop by me and looking around to see what it’s about, look at the exhorborant prices in general around tamarack, and well…you seen it once why go back.

    now on the other hand, if it was a stop on the interstate seen as a cultural “rest stop” of sorts…you would see tons of people in the courtyard. it’s not presented that way. the resting is done down at the gas-n-eat-n go and no one ever makes it up to tamarack unless you are an art cultured traveller.

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