Friday, January 29, 2010

An Urbanist Victory?

The Rowe and Wade Trim buildings managed to blend interesting architectural elements with local building styles and pedestrian friendly design. Who would have thought?

With the recent "Grand Opening" of the Rowe building, and the slightly less recent opening of the Wade Trim Building across the street, one can easily see that that positive development is happening downtown. What I find more interesting, and encouraging though, is the quality of the development that these two structures represent.

Our urban infill record downtown has been anything but sterling. Take, for instance, the McCree Court Building (Formerly a Montgomery Wards, I believe) In one of the past revitalization efforts, several historic, mixed use structures were taken out for this gem of modernist, anti-urban design. Aside from issues of "Style" the real problem with this building is that it greatly took away from the urban, walkable feel of the neighborhood. Instead of respecting the pedestrian by providing windows into which one can see the goings on of the interior, the poor walker is greeted with beige concrete. A good friend of mine said it best. "The only thing that I like about this building is the awning that keeps the sidewalk dry when it rains" One only needs to look across Saginaw street to see the types of buildings that this giant cement box replaced.

With no ground level windows, a single entrance point, and city block size, the McCree Court Building is often mistaken for a prison.

Later infill projects, Water Street Pavilion and Windmill Place may have been more attractive, but they also heavily developed the parking aspect of their designs, and of course, destroyed plenty of well designed, beautiful large scale urban structures. . . . But that's another post

The Rowe, and Wade Trim buildings are a cause for a little bit of celebration. They are built to the sidewalk, are architecturally interesting, while still respecting the local building heritage, and scale, and they provide pedestrian friendly ground floor retail space, with mixed use upper stories. They of course have their faults, the Rowe building especially destroyed some gorgeous original facades, and the Wade Trim project was forced to demolish two adjacent buildings that it hoped to save, but all in all, if we are going to have infill projects, this seems to be the way to do them!

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