Sunday, August 29, 2010

Elizabeth Caruthers Park

One on the more recent additions to the park inventory in Portland is the neighborhood park for the South Waterfront Area. (see here and here for more on SoWa). The park is named Elizabeth Caruthers Park (after one of the pioneering founders of Portland - on whose original land claim the park now lies) this new addition offers another iteration of the national firm paired with local for park projects. As this site isn't one of those you 'happen to be near and want to swing by', it's been less on the radar than some other visible additions to the Portland landscape, which I will be showing off soon as well.

I did see this a couple of times during construction, but had an opportunity and some sunny weather this weekend to swing by and snap a few images of the completed park.

:: image (c) Jason King - Landscape+Urbanism

The $3.5 million park design was completed by Hargreaves Associates, along with local firm Lango-Hansen and artist Doug Hollis. Finished size is 2 acres, and the design plays off the proximity to the river, high density mixed use buildings, and the potential to be a flexible event space.

:: image via Portland Parks and Recreation

The context of the park is interesting, as the area is now starting to fill up with more buildings, giving some scale to what was previously a flat 2 block area. This makes me think that the scale and design of the park will be much more appropriate given the final build-out of this dense neighborhood. The designers worked a number of elements into the space and I think successfully captured the ability to split the space up into smaller 'rooms' without diminishing the whole. As mentioned on the PP&R website, the park offers a range of uses for this emerging neighborhood. These include:

"Urban Gardens: A community gathering area with movable tables and chairs and a built-in bocce court, a garden retreat area with granite seat walls and a historic marker honoring the site of Portland's first cabin, and an environmental play area with a spray/play stepping stone feature and seating logs.

Naturalized Landscape: Boardwalks, naturalized plantings, undulating topography with stormwater detention, and Song Cycles public art created by Doug Hollis.

Open Lawn: Flexible space, including an 8' tall sloped landform for seating, sunning, and play.

Other Features: A variety of trees and plantings, pathways with benches, park lighting, a festival edge on Bond, electrical infrastructure for events, bicycle racks, a drinking fountain, dog waste bag dispensers, trash receptacles, and streetscape improvements."

The dominant feature of the park is the large open grassy area, which was being used mostly for dog walking. The sculptural mound, obviously is a typical Hargreaves signature, but seems restrained here as a backdrop and tilted plane that could work as amphitheater seating. While maybe 10 feet at it's apex, you don't feel terribly high up due to the flatness of the surrounding landscape. Dare I say the berm needed to be much larger and more dramatic to really have the impact in this sized space.

:: images (c) Jason King - Landscape+Urbanism

The individual rooms contain such features as water play, sculpture, and interpretive elements all bordered by waves of plantings defining the spaces while allowing hints of what lies beyond. The water play was interesting as it was surrounded by rubber playground tiles (the slightly darker brown) for safety - and the individual pieces of the feature itself use two different rock textures for an undulating appearance.

:: images (c) Jason King - Landscape+Urbanism

The waves of plantings give definition to the space, along with the curving pathways. This layering provides an interesting foreshortening of spaces adding to their comfort and intimacy..

:: images (c) Jason King - Landscape+Urbanism

The plantings and pathways also lead to other rooms, for instance this flexible seating area and bocce court. The ability to move furnishings around takes advantage of the user preference for where and in what configuration they sit. These seats surround a simple decomposed granite court (the same d.g. used for secondary pathways) again simply delineated with sparing use of stone.

:: images (c) Jason King - Landscape+Urbanism

The remaining perimeters of the park (to the south and west sides) feature a series of low depressions and raised boardwalks, creating a wet, shade garden with Pacific Northwest species mixed with selected non-native ornamentals including groves of multi-stem birch which are a nice touch. The boardwalks cut through these wet zones, and vary from a sinous curving variety here...

:: images (c) Jason King - Landscape+Urbanism

... to the much more rigid straight boardwalks weaving through the south section. The shade is predominantly from the building directly south, casting a shadow almost completely within this zone - and giving a very different feel from the heat of the open lawn areas - probably even more so in the height of winter.

:: images (c) Jason King - Landscape+Urbanism

The sculptural elements 'Song Cycles' by Doug Hollis are also dotted through this area, making for some visible movement and drawing the eye skyward. I was kind of disappointed with these - essentially an oversized bicycle wheel with some cups to catch the wind and swing them round. From the RACC website, they were "... Inspired by a historic photograph of bicyclists resting at a nearby site, these “Song Cycles” are activated by the wind."

:: images (c) Jason King - Landscape+Urbanism

And a quick video of them in action I took...

'Song Cycles' from Jason King on Vimeo.

These areas are definitely shady at mid-day, offering some relief from the heat. They do suffer from a lack of usable seating, as most of the paths are raised above grade with an occasional seat. Obviously meant to be moved through more than to linger, the shade and coolness makes it a refuge worth hanging around for and I wish there would have been a larger space carved out on this end mirroring the more sunny north side. Perhaps one must make due with just hanging your feet over the ipe decking into the water below?

:: images (c) Jason King - Landscape+Urbanism

It was interesting how little you notice the proximity to the interstate from inside the park - it registering just as a low drone in the background. While the context of the park seems cut off from the riverfront (which will hopefully seem more appealing once it is completed), another contextual element that's fascinating is the constant movement of the Portland Aerial Tram nearby the park. The little pill from pill hill kept drawing my eye upwards in fascination (the thing has been in for a couple of years now, and I seem to never tire of watching it)... another short video:

Aerial Tram from Elizabeth Caruthers Park from Jason King on Vimeo.

As a new neighborhood park (in an emerging neighborhood that some still say hasn't emerged) I was expected to see the park completely devoid of people, even on a sunny Saturday. While not teeming, there was a respectable crowd moving through - either hanging out in the seating areas, lounging on the berm, running dogs in the lawn, and grabbing a quick smoke break from a restaurant across the way. All in all I give the park high marks - and it's going to be interesting to see how this space evolves - influenced by new building in the neighborhood, more people residing and working here (like the LEED Platinum OHSU Center for Health and Healing in the distance), and intentional active programming of the spaces. The designers did a great job of incorporating a lot of activity and flexibility into 2 acres, and I'm looking forward to seeing this park mature and thrive. Now about that berm...

1 comment:

  1. Thorough review, thanks John. Am reminded of Tanner Springs Park in the Pearl District.


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