University of Arkansas Honors College students Adel Vaughn and Mary Nell Patterson have won the Student Award in the Envision Little Rock 2013 Ideas Competition, which challenged Arkansas designers to develop an iconic gateway to the city of Little Rock. Both Vaughn and Patterson are third-year landscape architecture students in the university’s Fay Jones School of Architecture.
Their ambitious design, “Silver Spire,” calls for shimmering ribbons of aluminum that spiral 250 feet high around a transparent elevator shaft that would offer visitors expansive views of the city. A ribbon would also flow through the surrounding park to nearby attractions such as the Capitol building, the River Market, the Clinton Library and Heifer International Headquarters. A glass reflecting pool with a grotto-like information center below completes the design.
Landscape architect Bob Callans, Keep Little Rock Beautiful and StudioMain organized the competition to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of John Nolen’s “City in a Park” master plan for Little Rock. Architecture and landscape architecture firms throughout Arkansas submitted proposals, and the winning entries were announced Dec. 13, 2013. Vaughn and Patterson were awarded a $1,500 prize funded by the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In their comments, the competition jury praised the spire for providing “a stunning and modern counterpoint to the State Capitol on the Capitol Avenue axis. … If built as designed, it will be iconic in the best sense of the word.” The jury also praised the concept of using the silver ribbon as a wayfinding device to connect downtown landmarks.
Vaughn and Patterson originally tackled the design as a supplemental honors project in a second-year studio led by Judy Brittenum, associate professor of landscape architecture. Work began with a trip to Little Rock, where they documented the considerable challenges and opportunities presented by the competition site, which anchors the eastern end of Capitol Avenue.
“It’s a rundown, abandoned area, with decaying building stock from the ’50s and ’60s – not very inviting,” Mary Nell Patterson said. “Then you go two blocks over and there’s Heifer International and the Clinton Library, beautiful places where people want to be.” Nearby Interstate 30 also contributes a healthy dose of vehicular noise.
“We needed something tall enough so that you could look past the highway; the idea is that you could see the spire from places around the city,” Adel Vaughn said. “We also put trees around the perimeter of the park to help soften the sound from the highway. When you’re in an urban park, though, those city noises tend to be comforting because they strengthen the sense of place.” Vaughn and Patterson’s design also called for renovation of surrounding buildings and proposed a new trolley stop to improve access.
The winning project marked the first time that Vaughn and Patterson collaborated on a design, and both students emphasized that it was good preparation for their third-year studio, which emphasizes group design work. “We thought of it as a school project, a good opportunity for professional development,” Patterson said. “Winning the award came as a really good surprise!”
While there are no immediate plans to build a monument, Bob Callans noted that the State Highway Department plans to expand I-30 through the city center and city leaders are excited about the ideas presented in the competition.
IMAGES and TEXT – Courtesy of University of Arkansas