'Mixed-use' a winning concept with New Urbanists

June 01, 2003 |

A European planned community, a neighborhood centered around a downtown ballpark, and several mixed-use neighborhoods were among the 15 Charter Award recipients honored recently by the Congress for the New Urbanism, San Francisco. Prizes were awarded based on such factors as coherent regional planning, walkable neighborhoods, and attractive civic spaces.

The Quartier am Tacheles by the Miami-based firm Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ) is a four-year project that will turn an old Berlin department store into a mixed-use development. The store was bombed in World War II and later renovated into an artists' colony, but city planners wanted something more reflective of the traditional urban German community.

After years of wrangling between the artists and city officials, the parties agreed on the DPZ plan, which will divide the site into five pedestrian-friendly sub-blocks to include public spaces, a hotel, 150,000 sq. ft. of retail and office space, and 125,000 sq. ft. of housing.

Jeff Speck, chief architect on the project, says working in Germany gave his team exposure to different building styles and laws. "The block sizes, building heights and thicknesses, all the urban morphologies of central Berlin were adapted to the project site," he says. "Interestingly, German rules regarding access to light and air made mandatory a lot of techniques that we normally apply elsewhere without the force of law."

Downtown Memphis, Tenn., is also experiencing revitalization thanks to a winning project by Looney Ricks Kiss Architects (LRKA). The locally based firm designed a 60,000 sq. ft. minor-league ballpark surrounded by housing, retail, a museum, shady streets, and the city's first new downtown school in a century.

Frank Ricks of LRKA says that small, minor-league ballparks lure people and businesses. "There's a comfort with that scale of ballpark that you don't find with other sports facilities," he says. "You don't get the same sense of imposing scale. It's become the new town green for Memphis."

The CNU (www.cnu.org) will hold its 11th annual conference in Washington, D.C., June 19-22.

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