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Broad Street Makeover: An urban design competition yields innovative ideas

It's been almost 20 years since the Avenue of the Arts, Inc. (AAI) was founded to oversee the growth and development of Broad Street from Washington Avenue to Glenwood Avenue. As successful as the organization has been in creating a dining and entertainment destination centered on performing arts, there’s been a growing consensus that the area's image needs an update. 

To do this, AAI has partnered with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) to launch a "New Vision for South Broad Street" competition. The goal is to continue the thoroughfare's original purpose as an arts and entertainment district but with a modern take. Ten architectural and landscape firms submitted ideas, and four were chosen as finalists. Those firms showcased their ideas last week at the Bellevue.    

The final teams—Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Cairone & Kaupp, Inc., Jonathan Alderson Landscape Architects, Inc. and LRSLA Studio—were tasked with developing contemporary, implementable plans for improving the Avenue’s streetscape.  They were asked to specifically consider innovative uses of light, sound, transportation, navigation, ecology, and economic and residential development. While the goals were the same, the firms’ ideas weren't.

For Jonathan Alderson, founder of Jonathan Alderson Landscape Architects, putting forth an implementable vision was the crux of his firm’s plan. "We wanted to put forth ideas that can happen soon—that are actually do-able," says Alderson, whose vision features the low cost installation of moveable, locally manufactured planters, pop-up performance squares, LED lanterns, bike lanes and mobile light displays. 

For Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, thinking big was the priority. "We saw this competition as a chance to put forth a plan to unite all neighborhoods along Broad Street, from the Navy Yard to Cheltenham Avenue," explained L.B. Young, an associate with Bohlin. "For this reason, our proposal features a number of small and big moves that together create a cohesive identity, so that no matter what part of Broad Street you’re on, you know you’re on Broad Street." Bohlin’s ideas ranged from creating open spaces and rethinking the Avenue’s branding to installing light wells that connect to the underground subway and tying in side streets with lighting and pedestrian connections. 

There were a number of ideas that all four teams seemed to agree on—chief among them activating the Avenue with art.  "It’s called the 'Avenue of the Arts' yet all the art is inside," said Ashley DiCaro of the Cairone & Kaupp, Inc. team. To mitigate this issue, DiCaro’s team (along with the other three) presented plans for turning the buildings inside out, bringing the art to the street. Pop-up performance spaces, large art installations and outdoor concerts were common features in each team’s vision. 

With the public’s interest now piqued, the four teams will officially present their visions this Wednesday, November 14 to a panel of judges and AAI representatives.  A winner will be announced six days later, and by the start of 2014, AAI hopes to begin implementing the winning design. 

Source: Jonathan Alderson, founder of Jonathan Alderson Landscape Architects; L.B. Young, associate at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson; Ashley DiCaro, Interface Studio
WriterGreg Meckstroth
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