Last Friday night, my wife and I attended an event called “”Till Midnight” at the Nasher Scuplture Center (yes, that’s us on the cover of the slideshow – pretty famous). There was a concert by Air Review, then a showing of Life of Pi; it was great. Well, the concert was great. We left as the movie started because our asses (buttocks) were falling asleep. The real surprise came on the walk back to the car, when we decided to take a stroll through the over-pass green space, Klyde Warren Park. And, at 10 pm on a Friday night, the place was PACKED.
A few years ago, I was at Aggie Workshop (a student-led landscape architecture conference), when Jim Burnett (of OJB, the park’s designers) delivered the keynote. In a weird turn of events, later that day a coworker and I led students through a charrette in which they came up with a design for the park, then Jim gave a presentation on the actual design, the rationale, goals, etc. I lived in San Antonio at the time, so I had no idea then that I would enjoy the finished project as much as I do now. That’s beside the point. The REAL point is:
What is it about the design of this park that invites people to play on top of a highway, surrounded by tall buildings, having to dodge traffic to get in, at all hours of the day?
Light. The entire site is well-lit, without you feeling like you’re doing something wrong and about to get abducted.
Separation. Busy, enclosed, and in-and-out uses (food trucks, angled parking, dog park, childrens play area, and buildings) are located along the streets. This provides buffering between the less-programmed lawn, reading, and recreational areas from the busy frontage roads surrounding the park. Also, individual spaces are separated by paths, trees in grates, and structural elements, to bring the site to human scale. If it was all one, big, open area, it wouldn’t feel nearly as comfortable.
Details/materials. This also plays into separation. As you can see in the above image, paving blocks of varying colors show the cross-route along the street. The path under the arches is a variety of chert or decomposed granite (or both). The sidewalk along the street is concrete. They are all distinct and are used nicely throughout the park to draw attention, provide wayfinding, and distinguish between separate design elements.
Views. Bringing the surrounding urban environment into the park, while keeping a feeling of enclosure and pedestrian-scale comfort is no easy task. Beautiful buildings off in the distance help.
All in all, a stroll through the park capped off a tremendous evening for the wife and me. These aren’t nearly all the interesting design aspects of this well-designed urban park, but hopefully they illuminate some reasons why this place in particular, has more night-time usage than many others in town, despite being surrounded by busy city streets (with angry, impatient drivers), and a not-yet-fully-developed night scene at its fringes.