Monday, November 29, 2010

Less is More: Broadway Commons Gains by Subtraction

On Wednesday students from the Sustainable Cities Initiative will present projects on the North Downtown Waterfront Development, the waterfront north of the Union Street Railroad Bridge. The presentations will be at Broadway Commons between 9am and 3pm.

As a Salem success, it's a perfect place for this!

Mixed in with delight at CB|Two's* Broadway Commons building, its bike parking, and Stumptown Coffee, at the end of the Green + Solar tour, a small puzzle was the way the building looked from the south.

Here it is as built, looking from the south.

The windowed tower was a little too big, brooding over the brick wall rather than crowning and elevating it. It weighs down rather than lifts up.

Here's a concept sketch from before construction started - and before the economy tanked.

As built, the building footprint falls on the northern 2/3 of the half block. This concept, perhaps even original, was for the full half block. That concept also appears to have a quarter-round auditorium, which is now an outdoor amphitheater. The tower may be narrower, as well.

The change in the building shows clearly the way the massing of the fully glazed prayer and meditation tower might become a bit too heavy once the building was cut off.

Nevertheless, I think the totality of the building and site is much better with the patio and plaza, fountain and lawn, on that southern 1/3 of the half block. That makes the there there!

In the concept sketch, the entry is more like that of a mall, and however handsome the building, the focus shifts from the transition between street and building, walking and working, to the enclosure of the building itself. The focus moves indoors rather than sitting on the edge, on the the creativity of the margins.

Having the coffeeshop open to the street like that makes it a walking and bicycling destination - an urban destination and gathering place, and perfect for the new urban fabric of this new district.

Not every development here needs this sort of plaza, and it would be a mistake to make it into a template for each block's buildings. But with the plaza relating to Salem Cinema, the Y building, and cluster of new development on Broadway, centered a block away on Market and Broadway, this one is just right.

The Vision 2020 group had been working on a downtown square idea. That project has slowed down, and its champions might want to look at the Broadway Commons plaza as a successful local example.

The students and planners who are working on the north waterfront should also think about building uses and place-making. Riverfront Park is great, but it lacks attractions in the park, easy connections and bordering attractors across Front Street, and activity generators to send successive pulses of people into the park. With the coffeeshop, worship services, the clinic, and public meeting facilities, Broadway Commons has a diverse set of generators to create waves of activity in the plaza.

This is a great step and should provide cues for the next steps.

*CB|Two may be the most exciting new addition to Salem development in several years. One of the Jurors for the 2010 Salem AIA Design Awards, Randy Nishimura, said about the Travel Salem Travel Cafe, the Kroc Center, and Waterplace:
It’s notable that CB2 Architects had a hand in three of the four projects we recognized. This was a surprise to us because it was not apparent while reviewing the entries that the three were authored by the same office. The jury commends CB2 for the uniformly high quality of its work and looks forward to seeing much more from the firm for years to come.

Overall, none of the winning projects exhibited traits one would associate with avant-garde or cutting-edge architecture; none broke the mold to re-imagine a new approach to designing for the built environment. Instead, like all of the entries in this year’s program, they represent good solutions to the challenges the architects were charged with addressing.
(Top Image: CB|Two; Bottom Image: Salem Chapter of American Institute of Architects)


Daniel Evans said...

I am going to try to make it to the presentations on Wednesday. Sustainable Cities Initiative seems like a great program and I can't wait to see the new Broadway Commons.

Jeff McNamee said...

Will the results of the various projects be posted on the City's webpage? Can't make the presentations. Be nice if the City published a video archive.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

It's my understanding that this level of the presentations isn't intended to be archived necessarily - though someone may video them.

A subset of the most promising and interesting projects will get full reports and be archived on the UO library site and the SCI site (links are to last year's reports from Gresham).