BEAUTY AND THE TURF
How can an empty artificial turf field in downtown Silver
Spring, Maryland, be just as popular as the carefully designed plaza space
By Daniel Jost, Associate ASLA
Photography by Daniel Jost, Associate ASLA
Located less than a block apart, the two most successful
spaces in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, could not be more different. Silver
Plaza is a triangular space with a water feature where children can play. The
plaza has tile mosaics, a mix of seating, and raised planting beds with shade
The Turf (which has no official name) is an empty field
covered in artificial turf. When it comes to design, there’s not much to it.
Yet, without any seating or organized programming, the Turf can still draw more
than 200 people on a Friday or Saturday night.
Looking at these two spaces, it’s hard not to wonder if good
design really matters to the success of a space. If you can just throw down
some artificial turf and bring in hundreds of people, who really needs
landscape architects? After all, isn’t it just the location of both spaces that
makes them so well used? If there weren’t restaurants surrounding them and
clothing stores, movie theaters, and a bookstore nearby, would anyone show up?
Some people probably wouldn’t. When asked what they liked
most about these spaces, many visitors mention the restaurants, shops, and
Even James R. Urban, FASLA, the landscape architect who
designed the layout for Silver Plaza, admits that the retail component played a
big role in the space’s success. “The one thing that has just amazed everyone
is its success from day one,” says Urban. “Design didn’t have a huge amount to
do with that. I think the bigger picture ideas, the organization of the spaces,
and the retail mix were more important to the site.”
However, the energy from the retail does not act alone.
According to the people who visit these landscapes, design does play a role in
their success. Even at the Turf, the features of the space itself are part of
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