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A pair of landscape architects, including a Sacramento native, took home first place in the Catalyst Capitol Mall Design Competition with a vision of turning the corridor from Tower Bridge to the Capitol into a reborn urban forest.

The competition was put on by the city of Sacramento, the American Institute of Architects and other local organizations, including the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, to help gather ideas to transform Capitol Mall after the state handed it over to city control in 2006.

The winners were announced at an awards ceremony Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo building at 400 Capitol Mall. First place received a $20,000 prize, second place received $10,000 and third place received $5,000.

“We wanted to look at this ecologically,” said Kimberly Garza, who along with Andrew ten Brink submitted the winning design, called Sacramento’s Capitol Canopy. “We looked at the current state of the urban canopy, and many of these trees are reaching the end of their lifespans. There needs to be a system to address that, but in a smart way that unfolds across the city.”

Garza grew up in Sacramento, attending high school in Natomas before graduating with a degree in landscape architecture from UC Berkeley. She then went on to Harvard, where she met ten Brink. She currently works in Somerville, Mass., and ten Brink works in New York.

“I was very familiar with the city of Sacramento, and that was what first excited me about the project,” Garza said. “Our project challenges the traditional tree mall design that you typically see.”

Three different plant cultures are envisioned in the design: a pine forest, oak woodlands and a riparian section up against the river.

The design includes a demonstration area with WiFi around the front of the Capitol, a family-friendly gathering area closer to the river with interactive features for kids and a riverfront promenade.

As Capitol Mall nears the Crocker Art Museum, the design includes a sculpture park, and near Interstate 5, a small amphitheater.

“We stayed away from an infrastructure overhaul, and even though there are lots of trees, we made sure to keep the visual corridor from the bridge to the Capitol,” Garza said.

The second-place winner was a four-person team from San Francisco, which submitted a design called River City Promenade.

Geoffrey Barton, an architectural designer on the team, said they took advantage of many of the existing structures and looked to increase transit connectivity, including bicycle lanes and adding a bicycle trail.

To view the winning designs, including the third-place prize and four honorable mention prizes, click here.

The third-place design, Urban Incision.

One of the honorable mention winners, Sam Wolfgram, received extra recognition by winning the public vote with more than half of the 300 votes submitted through the Catalyst website. His design is called Connect + Preserve.

Wolfgram moved to Sacramento about three years ago from Savannah, Ga., and he said the similarity in the two cities’ grid systems inspired him to bring more bicycle connectivity to the Capitol Mall area.

“I’m also an avid music-goer, and that’s kind of my favorite thing to do in Midtown,” he said. “I designed this map on the front page of my proposal that could be like a music or arts festival map.”

Wolfgram said his design would allow Sacramento to host a decent-sized music festival.

He said he would also add parallel parking to Capitol Mall, which would encourage people to park in front of businesses as well as give it a feel consistent with other areas in the city.

City Councilman Steve Cohn, long a proponent of revamping Capitol Mall, said Wednesday that he was happy that more than 40 professional submissions came in from all over the world.

“This is our signature street,” he said. “It’s probably the most famous street in Sacramento, it’s got the best views on either end with the Capitol and Tower Bridge, and yet any given day, there’s hardly anyone out on the street … It’s a space that could be so much more.”

Cohn added that bridges across Interstate 5 are currently in the early stages, and that will help connect Old Sacramento – where most tourists go – to other parts of the city via Capitol Mall.

He also said streetcars will eventually be built and will help increase transportation efficiency around Capitol Mall, though not directly on it.

Kris Barkley, competition adviser to the city on behalf of the American Institute of Architects, said that having ideas before gathering the money to finance them is the key, and the Catalyst Capitol Mall Design Competition is the first step in what will eventually be a totally redone corridor that historically served as the gateway to the city.

Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell.