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From the Landscape Architect

A Meaningful Design Solution for Main Street Square

By Landscape Architect/Urban Designer Deane Rundell

My initial thoughts regarding the site were developed after my first visit to decide whether Rundell Ernstberger Associates would be interested in responding to the Request for Proposals to plan and design Main Street Square. After that first visit, I was so impressed with the character and history of the Black Hills and Badlands region, and the commitment of the Destination Rapid City, that I decided that we should respond.  

We did, got shortlisted, and then prepared our concept for design of the Square. Of course we needed to respond to the program requirements for the Square that were outlined in the Project For Public Spaces report, and since the work we did for Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit was similar in concept, we felt comfortable that we could respond with a very meaningful design solution.  

Opportunities for local art

One of the program requirements was to include opportunities for expressions of local art. This is something that REA does as often as possible in our work because it is perhaps the most appropriate way to make every project we design "belong" to that place…giving ownership of the project to each community where they occur, and not to REA. After the project is finished, we go home, and the community is left with the work we did, and we want it to be theirs, not ours!!

Art is a great way to express local history and culture…so much more engaging than the typical historic or interpretive sign that you read once and never look at again. Art on the other hand, especially sculpture, gives opportunity to view a piece from a variety of angles and positions, and in different light at various times of day, and in different seasons, providing the chance to see "something new" several times with each new visit to the Square.  

Establishing Rapid City as a Gateway to Regional Treasures

And, with the world-renowned history of sculpting in the region, this seemed the medium best suited to highlight the natural and cultural history of Rapid City and its incredible regional treasures. One of the desires of the early branding report, and of the work of PPS, was that this Square should be of the quality that would make it another "must see" destination for the 4 million visitors that travel through the region each year. And yet, it must feel equally important to the residents of the city and region, as "their" social gathering and event space. The sculpting program and layout accomplishes both goals!

This is a very small space to accomplish all of the goals of the program, especially if there is a consideration of adding art as an integral part of the design. Many times designs try to accomplish too much, and add so many things that space, necessary for activities, exhibits, and events, is "filled up" with "stuff" and uses then become compromised and severely limited.  

Stone Tapestry Gardens

Realizing this, and the fact that the street activity along Main and Sixth Streets might also impact events and activities occurring in the Square, I suggested that we create gardens…Stone Tapestry Gardens…along each street edge that could help give some sense of separation and noise reduction between the sitting areas and the activity and events lawn of the Square and the adjoining streets. 

The term Tapestry Gardens is used because I believe that both definitions of tapestry fit the description and function of the narrow gardens along the streets. The usual definition of tapestry as artwork is that of fabric woven to produce a design, usually pictorial. These were hung on walls, and many times were used to help insulate. We are, in a sense, creating artistic "walls" to insulate the Square from the street…not block it completely, but "insulate" it! The other definition is…something that ties a sequence of events together, i.e. nature's rich tapestry, or the tapestry of life. The Stone Tapestry Gardens accomplish both an "artistic wall", and through the sculpting of the stones, reveal the "rich tapestry" of the region's natural and cultural history!

A great deal of time was spent in the placement and shaping of the stones in the gardens, so that they would not block views into the Square, but frame them, so that people passing by, either in a car or on foot, would have visual access to the Square, but people in the Square would feel separated from the hustle and bustle of the street!

The spires at the corner of Main and Sixth Streets rise up as expression and celebration of the settlement of Rapid City…rising up at the confluence of these two remarkable geologic formations…The Black Hills and the Badlands!

Annual Arts Celebration and Education Opportunities

Originally the idea of the sculpting was to create an opportunity for an annual event or recognition that focused on the arts, especially the history of sculpting, over time (i.e. Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Crazy Horse Monument.) This concept would change the premise outlined in the branding report, that visitors to the region do not readily associate Rapid City with these major destinations. Each year, as stones are being sculpted, there would be a "celebration of the arts", and when the project is completed after several years, the Stone Tapestries will tell the story (the "rich tapestry" of nature and culture in the Black Hills and Badlands.)

Each year brings a new addition to the Square…always something new and exciting to look forward to…something to come back for, time and time again…a new piece of history to be learned!  During execution the Square becomes a living art classroom for kids of all ages, and upon completion becomes a great place for school field trips.

 

 

 

 

 

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