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First Street Parkade 50 Years Down

First Street Parkade construction

First Street Parkade

First Street Parkade

First Street Parkade demo

After fifty years of gracing Cedar Rapids’ downtown riverfront, the First Street Parkade and its iconic spiral ramp have reached their end. Built in 1961, the four-story ramp would provide over 400 parking spaces for patrons of the downtown retail scene, as competition from newer suburban outlets was increasing. In recent years the structure’s use would be dominated by daytime office workers.

When constructed the new parkade had a commanding presence downtown – few structures at that time occupied the entire length of a city block. Three elevations (north, east and south) that did not face the river were characterized by long, level horizontal planes, articulated by minimalist vertical supports. Along First Street, sections of the top deck wall were clad in dark tinted glass, perhaps an attempt to break up the non-varying facade to relate to the scale of existing storefront buildings across the street.

The river facade was much more dynamic. Angled ramps that let motorists ascend to the top deck were left undisguised, sloping in the same direction as river’s flow. The center was marked by an incredible spiral ramp, partially extending out over the water, cutting through the elegant balustrade lining the existing river wall. Exposed by the demolition process, the concrete spiral was self-supporting, cantilevering from the massive circular core.

While the spiral certainly added a point of visual interest along the river, more impressive was the experience driving down it, framing a sequence of views toward iconic public buildings like City Hall, the county courthouse, and the municipal greenspace of Mays Island. The orientation of views from the ramp reinforced long-standing symbols of civic pride. Likewise the parkade was a new point of pride for the city – a sign of modern progress and optimism for the future, heralded as a means to save downtown from its looming demise.

After the 2008 flood, replacing the First Street Parkade became more imminent, having already reached the end of its useful life. Once demolition is complete the site will be turned into surface parking for the time being – an acceptable temporary use. The important riverfront site is now ripe for redevelopment and, once again, has the opportunity to be a catalyst for downtown progress and civic pride for fifty more years to come. Only this time, it will be for people, not cars.

Alternative Design for St. Paul’s Church

Completed in 1914, the nearly century-old St. Paul’s Methodist Church in southeast Cedar Rapids is perhaps best known for being designed by famous architect Louis Sullivan, a fact that is only partially true. The actual built design was carried out by Chicago architect W.C. Jones, after Sullivan resigned in 1912, refusing to sacrifice ornamentation to keep within budget. Jones then altered Sullivan’s plans, mostly removing ornamentation, maintaining much of the original design. (St. Paul’s UMC)

Sullivan’s design, however, was not the only one considered for St. Paul’s new building. In 1909, the church purchased land at 3rd Ave. and 14th Street SE, and soon sent requests to several architects for competitive bids and plan proposals. One of these architects, evidently, was the Minneapolis firm of William Gray Purcell and George Grant Elmslie.

Active between 1907 and 1921, Purcell and Elmslie, was the second most commissioned firm of the Prairie School after Frank Lloyd Wright. (Wikipedia) Their design proposal to St. Paul’s Church included a perspective rendering, floor plan, and elevation drawing, seen below. The extent of detail is impressive for just a proposal and makes me curiosity about other proposals the church may have received.

 

Given Sullivan’s influence on the Prairie School, it’s not surprising that Purcell and Elmslie’s design for St. Paul’s was stylistically similar to Sullivan’s, both progressive and decidedly nontraditional. The new church site would have been at the edge of town at the time, arguably making the Prairie style even more fitting.

This make me wonder if St. Paul’s desired a modern new church, intentionally seeking out innovative architects for something different than the traditional archetype. Additionally it is just interesting to consider the entire process of the new building, something not often dwelled upon in architectural history. Perhaps more telling is, not what was actually built, but what could have been.

Images found at prairiestyles.com/lsullivan_comm.htm and organica.org/pejn86_2.htm

Library in the Park

New CRPL design

When it opens in summer 2013, the new Cedar Rapids Public Library will join the former Carnegie Library, the Museum of Art, the Gazette building, and First Presbyterian Church in surrounding the city’s signature downtown Greene Square Park, the long ago former site of the original Washington High School. Designed by OPN Architects, the new library replaces the flood damaged library on First Street, which was just two years shy of its 25th anniversary when the flood hit. The library had been gearing up for a major renovation and expansion project just before the flood.

In January 2009, FEMA declared the library building hit the 50 percent threshold, which meant FEMA would help fund total replacement of the current building instead of repairing it. Typically in this case, a new building must be located on the same site, but sitting less than a block from the riverbank seemed foolish so the city was able to get a variance to build at a new site. Over the next year and a half the merits of a new library and its location were hotly debated, among many other projects the city was charged with.

Three final sites were seriously considered: the TrueNorth block just south of Greene Square on 4th Ave. SE, the Emerald Knights site (between 1st and 2nd avenues SE, and 7th and 8th streets), and a last minute pitch for the existing Gazette/KCRG block (between 2nd and 3rd avenues SE, and 5th and 6th streets). Despite the board’s Emerald Knights recommendation, the City Council ultimately voted on Feb. 24, 2010, to build on the TrueNorth site, in anticipation of a new synergy of culture and community between the new library, the park, and the existing art museum. However this is no new concept for Cedar Rapids.

By the late 1960s, the Cedar Rapids Public Library was in dire need of addition space, despite two previous additions to the old Carnegie Library, which opened in 1905. A survey conducted in 1966 cited population growth, increase in circulation, and accessibility for needing an expanded library. The report, produced by University of Iowa Library School Director Fred Wezeman, concluded that a new library should be located in the central business district, should maximize area on the first floor, and be convenient to main traffic arteries and close to public transit. He also suggested the addition of a new west side branch library; a Kenwood branch already existed on the eastside which remained in operation until the mid 1990s. [1]

Brown, Healey and Bock Architects-Engineers was hired in 1968, to begin design work on a new library, initially anticipated to be built next to the existing Carnegie Library on 3rd Avenue SE across from Greene Square where the current Museum of Art now sits. [2] A year earlier, though, an idea was floated to incorporate a new library into a larger civic center project, proposed as the grand centerpiece of Cedar Rapids’ urban renewal in the area of the current US Cellular Center. (I’m currently researching the implications of the federal urban renewal program in Cedar Rapids…stay tuned.) The civic center had its own setbacks that ultimately led to a scaled-back project that did not include the library.

In March 1969, the library board unveiled a unique proposal to construct a new subterranean library underneath Greene Square Park. This was not the board’s final recommendation, just an idea. At this point the board was still considering building next to the existing library and another site at 200 First Street SE, the present-day site of the Alliant Energy Tower.

Architect Ted Healey is quoted in the Gazette as promoting the cost savings to heat and cool the underground library, as well as the city’s plans to construct a new parking ramp adjacent to Greene Square, across the 4th Street tracks on the former site of Union Station, regrettably torn down in 1961. From the Gazette: “According to initial plans, the library would be fronted by a pedestrian walkway sunken about 10 feet below ground level. Huge glass windows would present a view into the library.” [3]

1969 Greene Square Park library proposal

The drawing is oriented with north at the bottom so the existing Carnegie Library would be across the street (3rd Ave) at the bottom. It is difficult to discern where on the site plan the underground facility actually was to be. The large, oddly-shaped white space in the center must be the sunken plaza, but I’m unsure if the underground building is to the lower left corner or upper right corner. My suspicion is that it is to the upper right (I think the darker shading along the sunken plaza may be the “huge glass windows”), but that presents some new questions. The fan-shaped building in the upper right corner was already built five years earlier in 1964, housing a senior center – ultimately the only new structure built in Greene Square and torn down in early 2011.

According to a May 22, 1969, Gazette brief, the library board had still not decided between the Greene Square or 200 First Street SE (Alliant) location. It seems an addition to the existing Carnegie was no longer being considered. Either way a new library, to cost $2.7 million to construction, was contingent upon the passing of a bond election. [4]

A June 29, 1969, Gazette editorial seems to suggest the Greene Square proposal was the library board’s chosen site to move forward with, in a response to the Cedar Rapids Garden Club’s petition against the subterranean library plan. The garden clubs objected due to the loss of trees required for construction. The editorial board counters this argument by claiming a mere dozen trees out of more than thirty would need to be removed and that surely new plantings and landscaping would preserve the park. “There may be other reasons why a partly underground central library in Greene square is not the best solution to the city’s need for a new one, but the loss of greenery and tree destruction aren’t among the drawbacks that should be decisive.” [5]

Needless to say the sunken library was never pursued much further. The bond failed during a special election later that year, and again in March and November of 1973. In all three elections, a majority of voters voted yes, but did not achieve the state mandated 60 percent supermajority to pass. [6] Beyond this there is a gap in my research regarding further funding and development of the library. (CRPL’s free online archive of the Gazette seems to be missing 1977 – 2008.)

Ultimately a new 85,000 square-foot central library was built at 500 First Street. The new library celebrated its grand opening on February 17, 1985, and was located there until the flood three years ago, June 11-13, 2008. Designed by the same architects originally hired in 1968, the new building seemed to satisfy certain parameters set out in the 1966 library study. It was located near the downtown core, had a majority of public spaces on the ground level, and was conveniently accessibly both by car and by transit (a new Ground Transportation Center opened just a few years earlier across the street). Seen below is the library under construction in 1984.

Cedar Rapids Public Library construction 1984

The parti of this new library was a basic rectangle, fit to the downtown street grid, overlaid by an organizational axis shifted 45 degrees. A two-story high atrium bisected the building, connecting an entrance at the parking lot facing First Street and an arguably more urban entrance directly off of 5th Avenue. In the smaller corner created to one side of the atrium was a public auditorium opposite of the library. A partial second floor bisected the rectangle in the other direction (perpendicular to the atrium axis), which housed the children’s section on the library side, and offices in the smaller portion above the auditorium. The north portion of the building was mostly monolithic, clad in large textured concrete panels, with the southern portion wrapped in floor to ceiling windows, sheltered by the deep overhang of the waffle form concrete ceiling.

Interestingly, the new library now under development follows a strikingly similar conceptual parti, though articulated quite differently. At the most basic level, the new library will be a two-story rectangle with an atrium space separating a larger open stacks area from a smaller area housing admin functions and an auditorium. The stacks area is wrapped in glass, while the back of house portion is less open, but certainly not the solid mass of concrete that the 1985 building was. Obviously the two library designs are quite different; architecturally they are night and day, but certainly parallels do exist.

When completed in summer 2013, the new library will open up towards Greene Square, reactivating the fading park and creating a cultural gathering space, bound by the historic Carnegie and newer art museum on the opposite side. Greene Square could once again be the grand civic park Cedar Rapids so needs and deserves. And perhaps the library was always meant to be a part of that.

Citations
1. Cedar Rapids Gazette, Survey Says Library Expansion Urgently Needed, Jan. 21, 1968
2. Cedar Rapids Gazette, Select Architect to Design New Public Library, Aug. 21, 1968
3. Cedar Rapids Gazette, Propose Library Under Greene Square, March, 26, 1969
4. Cedar Rapids Gazette, Still Undecided On Location for Central Library, May 22, 1969
5. Cedar Rapids Gazette, Trees Kept, June 29, 1969
6. Cedar Rapids Gazette, Same Old Story, Nov. 8, 1973

Smulekoff’s

Smulekoff's

In downtown Cedar Rapids, of course, Smulekoff’s furniture store has been a mainstay for over 120 years. It was originally located on Mays Island, until the 1920s when the island civic center was conceived. Photo taken this week from atop the 50-year-old First Street Parkade that is slated to be demolished in the near future.

Flash Cupcakes

Cupcakes

The College of Design atrium was overtaken by cupcakes this morning. It’s intriguing how we react to unusual and unexpected situations like this and how they can alter our normal social instincts – such as not eating random food that someone else left out in public. But with such a large quantity, they must be ok, right? Occasions like this make me love being in a design college – I don’t think you’d see this going on over at Coover or Gerdin. If you’re on campus this morning, definitely come by check it out and have a cupcake!

Flash Cupcakes from Brady Dorman on Vimeo.

Greene Square Building History

Greene Square Park

On Friday, New Years Eve, the city-owned building in Greene Square Park was demolished following years of poor maintenance and minor flooding in 2008. The building opened Sept. 14, 1964, as a Senior Citizens Center, and most recently had been used for the Green Square Meals program. The one-story, fan-shaped building sat at the southwest corner of Green Square and opened up on to the park with a low, overhanging zig-zag roof.

The building appeared dated both in upkeep and the design itself. Its removal will return Greene Square into an entire open block that will accommodate a visual and active connection with the future new Cedar Rapids Public Library to be built across the street along the park’s southern edge.

Green Square Park building demolition

While there is little to object with the demolition, it is important to note the building’s significance in local architectural history. It was designed by Cedar Rapids architect Ray Crites who had an influential career in Iowa and throughout the Midwest. His most renowned buildings were houses – two of which were his own located in Cedar Rapids – that were distinctive vertical and horizontal compositions engaging natural sites. His partnership firm Crites and McConnell also played a role in the design of C.Y. Stephens Auditorium at Iowa State in 1969.

Throughout the city’s history Greene Square has been a mainstay even while much in and around it has changed. At one time Greene Square included the old Washington High School, was next to the spectacular Union Station, and across from the original Carnegie Library. Washington closed in 1935 and was demolished in 1946 after a failed preservation attempt. Similarly Union Station was torn down in 1961 to make way for a parking garage, which remains today. The old Carnegie Library still stands and was incorporated into a new facility for the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in 1989.

2010 Year in Review

2010 has been an extraordinary year for me. I had an incredible experience studying abroad and living in Rome, Italy, during the first four months of the year. Along with 55 or so of my fellow classmates from Iowa State, I had the chance to live, learn, and engage in the heart of ancient Rome, gaining invaluable insight and great appreciation for the lifestyles and customs of other cities and cultures. The extended stay afforded me the opportunity to travel beyond Italy to six other countries (Norway, Czech Republic, France, Germany, and United Kingdom) and to explore several significant European cities such as Prague, Paris and Berlin.

During the summer I was fortunate to have my first architectural internship, in Cedar Rapids. I spent much of my time writing, making diagrams, and talking to people in the studio to create new and revised project summaries for the firm to use in marketing and promotional materials. It was a great experience that developed valuable new professional relationships. Over the summer I was also able to keep up on developing projects in Cedar Rapids and watch the progress of the new eight-story federal courthouse ascend on the downtown skyline.

This fall I returned to Ames for my final year at Iowa State. I will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Architecture degree and look forward to whatever comes next. I hope to find a full-time intern architect position in a firm and start working toward licensure.

The new year also marks the fourth year of Urban Thinking, which I established in January 2007. Traffic to the site increased significantly during 2010, with more than 6000 visitors, compared to just 3000 in 2009. I had 69 posts with higher frequency in January and during the summer, as shown in the posts per month chart below.

COD Colors

College of Design, Iowa State University

At some point during the past year the doorways along the open corridors in the College of Design were painted – second and third floors with a light blue, and fourth and fifth floors with an off-green. While I welcome the addition of color (even dull ones) to the otherwise monochrome COD, I see a missed opportunity to enhance the building’s [lacking] way-finding system through a logical use of different colors. Instead of only two hues, seemingly chosen randomly, each floor should have its own color to define it and engage our visual sensory.

Occasionally when I need to stop by a professor’s office in the College, I always have trouble remembering which floor they are on. The only directory on display in the building is located on the first floor by the main entrance, which is typically not convenient if I am already up in my studio. If each floor had a color coded system it would be easier to remember an office on “the orange floor” for example. Some might argue this is a cliche type of building signage, but if we’re painting anyway it might as well be with reason. There’s even a possible color scheme already devised by the Design Council’s recycling posters hanging up around the college.

Cedar Rapids’ First Green Roof

KCCK’s Clean Up Your Act interviews landscape architect Ruth Fox about Cedar Rapids’ first green roof recently installed atop the Water Tower Place condominiums in downtown. The green roof is estimated to mitigate 80 percent of storm water runoff from the building and is hoped to spur other green roofs in the city. Several new and renewed civic buildings due to the flood are either planning or considering to incorporate green roofs, including the new public library, and potentially the new federal courthouse and Veterans Memorial Building (City Hall). Ruth points out that its important to cover a substantial area of a building’s roof to produce significant environmental benefit.

> KCCK Clean Up Your Act: Cedar Rapids’ First Green Roof
> Full interview with Ruth Fox
> Clean Up Your Act Podcasts

Lucy House Excerpt

Lucy House

Today I discovered an excerpt of an “11×17″ precedent study I made back in second year studio (Arch 201, Fall 2007) about the Rural Studio’s Lucy House used on Judit Bellostes’ blog. A few sketch diagrams of mine are used to describe the Lucy House in a post about Marjetica PotrĨ’s 2007 installation at Gallerie Nordenhake in Berlin, which was a recreation of the home’s tornado shelter (“tower of power”).

> Judit Bellostes : Lucy House – Tornado Shelter (translated from Spanish)
> Lucy House precedent study, by Brady Dorman

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