Two Firms Revitalize a Parkway to Honor Dayton’s Past

Cypripedium reginae is the rare ‘Lady Slipper’ orchid that is native to northern regions of North America. While the plant has almost vanished from its historical range, its legacy lives on in Ohio, where CYP Studios honored the specimen by using the first three letters of the flower’s botanical name for its own moniker. Today, the orchid may only be seen rarely, but the firm named after it is making its presence known. Most recently, CYP Studios made a splash with MorrisTerra when the partners completed the Patterson Canal Corridor project—a ½-mile pedestrian corridor that communicates Dayton’s rich history.

A City Tells its History

The project focused on five blocks of the Patterson Boulevard Canal Parkway that serve as the eastern boundary to the central, downtown business district. This strip of roadway links the historic Oregon District and Webster Station neighborhoods on the south with Fifth Third Field and the RiverScape MetroPark on the north. The City of Dayton wanted better connectivity between these areas and a way to convey its rich history while making the commercial corridor pedestrian-friendly. Sidewalks were too narrow and positioned against the roadway, where cars hurtled by on five lanes of one-way traffic. Pedestrians had to zigzag their way across large intersections, sometimes getting stranded on large, concrete medians.

The city was one year into an urban renewal master plan study when it issued an RFP to achieve these goals through a cultural project. “They didn’t just want ‘signs on sticks’ for their representation of Dayton’s history,” recalled Eugenia Martin, ASLA, CYP Studios’ Partner-in-Charge of the Columbus office. “They wanted more, something different, a project that could spur economic development.”

Martin and Todd McCurdy, FASLA, Principal and Director of Landscape Architecture + Planning at MorrisTerra in Orlando, Florida, reveled in the challenge. “Lucky for us, the city knew basically what it wanted, but not what it would look like,” said McCurdy, who leads a group of landscape architects at MorrisTerra, a part of Morris Architects, which focuses on entertainment venues and theme parks, resort development, as well as urban design and planning projects around the world. “This gave us the creative license to design something special.” 

Martin and partner Eric Sauer, ASLA, LEED AP, Partner-in-Charge of CYP Studios’ Dayton office, have a long history of providing landscape architectural services that encompass master planning, urban design, and low-impact development, as well as contract documents and administration. When they learned of Dayton’s RFP, calling McCurdy made sense as the firms have similar views on urban development and had previously discussed working together.

Beads on a String

The CYP Studios | MorrisTerra team won the $2 million project, which was funded by the State of Ohio’s Cultural Facilities Commission, to provide new landscaping, lighting, historical signage, sidewalks, and crosswalks. The project also involved working with city engineers on a “road diet.” The design team’s “beads on a string” concept was the perfect solution for creating continuity while accounting for differences along the corridor and tying together a string of park spaces. The project took two years to develop and was dedicated in the summer of 2013.

“Dayton has a rich innovation history as the birthplace of the Wright Brothers and as the home to the greatest number of patents per capita in the U.S., including the steering system torque sensor, safety glass, and yo-yo,” said Sauer. “We also wanted to honor the 300-mile-long Miami Erie Canal, which provided a water route from Lake Erie to the Ohio River and ceased commercial operation in the early 1900s. Our goal was to translate those points in time and interpret them through a pedestrian corridor.”

Now fully constructed, a new pedestrian promenade—the string—is punctuated by a dozen 12-foot-tall vertical pylon elements that provide strong visual cues for pedestrians that they are in the Patterson Canal Corridor. The pylons are designed with custom-cut Indiana limestone base and cap elements topped with metal finials that represent the keelboats plying the waters of the canal. Keelboats are a type of boat typical of the time when the Miami Erie Canal was in its heyday. Ohio-based HistoryWorks, LLC provided the final history content for 90 interpretive exhibit panels, complemented with maps and historical photos, which are displayed on the pylons to educate passersby about Dayton’s history and cultural heritage.

CYP Studios and MorrisTerra also incorporated circulation planning and a much needed “road diet” in conjunction with Dayton’s engineering staff to reduce the roadway’s width and impact on the site. Today, broad sidewalks, shade trees, and planting beds provide separation from streamlined vehicular traffic and encourage pedestrian movement through the corridor.

The pylons’ colors and alternating striped pattern—in forest green and white—tie to existing structures at RiverScape and Dayton’s aviation history. The green relates to Patterson Canal’s logo for the area and provides a punch of color without being too strong in the landscape.

The idea was to create something that wasn’t completely foreign to the surroundings. We didn’t want to just recreate something. It had to have its own look and feel, but it needed to relate to the area, too.
-- Todd McCurdy, FASLA, Principal and Director of Landscape Architecture + Planning at MorrisTerra in Orlando, Florida

McCurdy said they created bronze medallions by updating the city’s old Patterson Canal logo on a 55-linear-foot limestone seat wall. The project created some new spaces and linked a series of parks (the beads), including one with a sculpture, as well as historic, trolley-inspired landscape screens and shade trellises, providing respite for pedestrians and architectural beauty for the eyes. Visitors enjoy a restored and reinstalled historic fountain in Cooper Park. In addition, as a terminus to one of the parks, the team designated a location for a major sculpture. “Fluid Dynamics,” by local artist Jon Barlow Hudson, was commissioned and installed as part of the infrastructure thanks to a private donation.

A wide array of plant material invigorates the site, ranging from 89 street and ornamental trees comprised of Autumn Brilliance Serviceberries, Skyline Thornless Honeylocusts, Dynasty Lacebark Elms, and Frontier Elms, as well as 105 shrubs including Korean Spice Fragrant Cayuga Viburnums and Knockout Shrub Roses. Ornamental grasses such as Emerald Goddess® Lilyturf and Ribbon Grass complete the design.

Getting Fully Immersed in Dayton

The team fully immersed themselves in the site before finalizing the concept. “Our philosophy is to ‘go to the site and eat the food,’ so we fully understand it. It’s about eating the food at local restaurants and watching how people interact with the site and how the site interacts with its surroundings,” said McCurdy. “We enjoyed walking the corridor after attending a Dayton Dragons minor league baseball game at Fifth Third Field and engaging the citizens who would be using the space. We wanted to make the space better and more usable; experiencing the space was critical to providing the best, most appropriate solution.”

In addition, CYP Studios and MorrisTerra utilized a charrette process with the City of Dayton’s engineering, planning, and economic development staff early in the project, where they hand-sketched initial concept designs to get owner buy-in on their ideas before committing time to renderings and other drawings. This step, combined with continuous feedback from city officials, ensured that the final design would achieve everything the city wanted.

Staying Connected Through Cloud Computing

McCurdy and his Florida-based team flew to Ohio at several key times while Martin and Sauer met with city officials weekly to communicate updates and get feedback on drawings and renderings. Vectorworks® Landmark software, cloud computing, and a few late nights with team members on FaceTime took care of the rest.

There was a lot of sharing back and forth, sometimes when all of us were in our homes late at night. We successfully used Vectorworks Cloud Services to share, view, and markup our drawings. It was very easy to collaborate and communicate electronically.
-- Eugenia Martin, ASLA, CYP Studios’ Partner-in-Charge of the Columbus office

McCurdy echoed how easy it was to make design decisions together using cloud computing. “Anytime one of us made changes, the Vectorworks files automatically synchronized to our private cloud storage. Using a cloud-based workflow in this way also saved us time because, for example, we were able to push desktop processing that we needed to create renderings to the cloud.”

The team is equally complimentary of Vectorworks Landmark’s planting tools, which counted and tracked their plans in a worksheet and helped them monitor their budget. “It was an unbelievably useful way to stay organized,” says Sauer, who also appreciated the high-quality renderings McCurdy achieved with the product. “We produced detailed photorealistic renderings with believable shadows and reflections,” McCurdy noted. “It’s easy to model design elements with Vectorworks’ tool set of drop-in plant objects and furniture for the renderings, and then use that information to produce graphically appropriate CAD site plans and constructions documents that convey the intent of our vision.”

Other software programs don’t speak to the graphics and presentation needs of our business the way that Vectorworks does. It helps our practice, and it helps us be competitive.
-- Todd McCurdy, FASLA, Principal and Director of Landscape Architecture + Planning at MorrisTerra in Orlando, Florida

A Positive Impact

The Patterson Canal Corridor project has been so well received that the city is already planning to continue the work further south along the corridor. Additionally, the revitalization is having a positive impact on nearby facilities. For example, a CSX railroad bridge above the corridor has been improved. “It’s great that our efforts are having a trickle-down effect on the surroundings,” said Martin. “We look forward to seeing this part of the city develop with this project as the catalyst for that evolution.”

Residents are enjoying the new space, too. One citizen told Sauer she likes to ride her bike while learning about Dayton through the pylons. “Our project serves as a gateway to 360 miles of interconnected bike trails,” says Sauer. “Now it’s possible to ride in this area, access those trails, and celebrate Dayton’s history and culture along the way.”

CYP Studios and MorrisTerra are actively pursuing other joint ventures where they can have a similarly successful impact in creating a better built environment. Who knows where Vectorworks software, cloud computing, and innovative design ideas will take them. The sky is the limit.

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