Merit Award -- Analysis & Planning
Allegheny Riverfront Park Extensions East and West
Michael Van Valkenburgh Assocites, Inc., Landscape Architects,
Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA
Principal, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., Landscape Architects, PC
18 E. 17th Street
New York, NY 10003
Statement of Purpose: This planning project follows from the success of the speculative Allegheny Riverfront Park created as an "outpost" of urban investment by in our clients The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. The Trust commissioned this urban design study to extend of the existing Allegheny Riverfront Park (ARP) east and west to allow the earlier work to become part of an interconnected park system. The purpose of the study was to enlarge the new park and to connect it to the convention center to the east and the existing Point State Park to the west. The idea for a river's edge park originated in a master plan proposed by Frederick L. Olmsted, Jr. in 1911, but the Allegheny River sites for this public amenity were ultimately developed as corridors for highway, flood control and civil engineering infrastructure. This study outlines a planning and analysis approach that seeks to transform what appears at first as hopelessly complex contemporary conditions - a tangle of infrastructure including roads, bridges, and flood walls - into urban assets. Our approach is not merely to overcome these obstacles, but to invent or re-imagine the park to co-exist with this infrastructure that seems both humanly overwhelming and which must remain. The result, eventually, will be a park system that demonstrates multiple design solutions to a variety of urban circumstances rather than a single plan or conventional idea about a park that attempts to unify circumstances to meet an imposed "formal" design ideal.
Role of Landscape Architect: The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust as client (in coordination with the Sports and Exhibition Authority and the Riverlife Task Force) engaged the same team of landscape architects, collaborating artists and consulting engineers responsible for the Allegheny Riverfront Park to complete an urban design study of how to extend the completed park. The extension sites are extremely nontraditional park locations and demanded a careful consideration of federal and local permit jurisdictions, technical solutions, urban circulation and connections, and ADA accessibility along the extended riverfront in order to suggest a feasible plan for transformation.
Community Context: In 2000, when the designers started working on the Allegheny Riverfront Park Extensions, the Allegheny Riverfront Park was nearing completion and the newly created Pittsburgh Cultural District was beginning to experience a renaissance in rehabilitating theatres, concert halls and housing stock. The success of this redevelopment process within the Cultural District was initially activated by the construction of the Allegheny Riverfront Park and visibly staking an interest in reclaiming the riverfront as part of the city. In this way the park extensions east and west promise an important role in the further revitalization of downtown Pittsburgh.
Special Factors: The rivers edge today, through use and by design, exists as part of the urban system rather than a natural artifact. Nonetheless, the river is not controlled and the entirety of the lower level park is subject to violent flooding. The physical presence with massive, but also appealing, scale of the existing infrastructure for automotive traffic, barge traffic, bridges, flood control, and municipal utilities precludes a single unifying gesture such as a ribbon of green. This approach requires thinking about the parks in an "out of the box" fashion - the combination of public amenities amidst functioning infrastructures and natural systems - plus inventive technological solutions to sustain natural landscape circumstances that are harsh but at the same time remarkable.
Significance: This project offers a new model for conceiving urban parks: a post-industrial model that is not predicated on the reconfiguration of existing infrastructure to accommodate new park programs, but rather an inventive take on the program to be fit within existing infrastructural constraints. As compared to the unifying efforts of a more traditional urban park master plan, this extensions project is pragmatic and frugal-it builds on a strategic analytical approach to urban design that maximizes effect without removing or substantially altering existing infrastructure. It also assumes that open space can have a lively combination of traffic infrastructure and newly conceived park elements and the result is as good -or even better- than models where the park might have a more traditional continuity.
Client Statement: The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust engaged the same landscape architects, artists and engineers to complete an urban design study of how to extend the completed Allegheny Riverfront Park west toward Point State Park and east toward the new convention center. Both sites are difficult to imagine as parks, yet the team's solutions met our goals of linking the current park with the Point - the focus of our cityscape and a major public destination and the convention center, which anchors part of the Cultural District. These four parks, when completed, will reintroduce Pittsburgh to the river and become an entirely new park system envisioned almost 100 years ago by Frederick Olmsted Jr.