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Capitol Mall design competition winners announced

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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.

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  • Krissy Holst

    Those look like incredible designs! What an amazing look into Sacramento’s future.

  • If the City can’t complete real projects, at least we can keep busy with theoretical ones…

  • Mark

    None of these designs are going to become reality. These design competitions are fun for archietcts, planners and designers and local politicians who prefer unattainable schemes and long time frames that last their entire career to actually getting something done. Take a look at what they finally did to the grassroots effort to bridge the gap between the river and downtown. Forget decking I-5 (too expensive I can accept) but their brilliant solution is to reconnect Second Street. Old Sacramento doesn’t need better access for cars but for pedestrians.

  • Michael Zwahlen

    This ideas great but the urban forest on Capitol Mall will violate The Capitol View protection ordinance established in 1992, which is both a state law and zoning ordinance. Growing trees down the middle of Capitol Mall will obstruct the view of the Capitol from the Tower bridge, which is what the state law and ordinance was designed to protect. The winner has the most affordable proposal with very few structures, but it goes against the Capitol View protection ordinance.

  • We don’t live in New York or San Francisco so why build another park that will be underutilitized and empty. We do not have the population density to make this system work. It will be another empty park filled with homeless people. I also think it’s a total farse to award someone first place when their design went outside the bountries of the competition, didn’t create anything iconic or create any type of international draw as stated in the competition’s programming. This compeittion turned out to be nothing more than a landscape exercise for planting trees. Don’t we have a million or so of those around? When was the last time anyone went down to Crocker Park? Making a bigger park will have the same results on a larger scale. Empty with no interest.

    • Mark

      This viewpoint I totally disagree with but is very typical of Sacramentans. And actually, for the record Sacramento DOES have millions of people around it.

    • Mark

      Nobody goes to Crocker Park because there’s no walks, no benches or picnic tables, no playground, no chessboards, no fountain, no art, etc. It only has lawn and trees. What are people supposed to do with that? I don’t know what you idea of an icon would be but we don’t need a 100-story office building with a rotating restaurant on top (as in the 1970’s-80’s) or some expensive stararchitect-deisgned edifice for those who want to feel culturally superior.

  • Mark, you should take the time to read the competition programming before you make comments that are as empty as that park is going to be. If you look at all the designs that were submitted for the competition 90 percent had an architectural solution which makes makes one wonder, did the architectural community not understand the scope of the programming? Again park benches, chess boards are not iconic, create international draw or In any way add something to the Sacramento cultural diversity. The million people who are down there aren’t enough when they are only there between 8-5. And on top of that there is a state law that prohibits the view of the capital building from being blocked, yet the winning design puts a 100 feet tall forest right in front of it. Good luck with that!

  • Mark

    Wyant I was responding to your Crocker Park comment about people not currently using the park. Sorry i forget that some people are thinned skinned. As for the competition you and I both know that none of the proposals are going to implemented so who cares about state laws? These are not serious proposals. But I am interested in what your proposal would be. Tell us what you would do to Capitol Mall.

    • William Burg

      Complying with the Capitol View Protection Act was a requirement for all the proposals submitted to the contest, although some didn’t appear to listen too well. Although the Capitol View Protection Act doesn’t really talk too much about trees, just the height of buildings.

      Here’s a link to the code…see what you can find:

  • There was already a competition for that, but that being said hire Bjarke Ingels with BIG. That’s a start in the right direction.

  • Mark

    People take these types of design competitions too serious. Unlike the recent SF Transbay Terminal and Tower competition – there weren’t specifics or financing. It was never going to be anything real.

  • I have a design concept, stolen from Mud Island in Memphis. Mud Island has a scale replication of the Mississippi River with a stream of running water, and walk way bridges. I think we could have a three dimensional representation of California built to scale within the center park. Plaques describing areas and cities contributions, history and culture would provide a nice educational edge to a park. Shade trees in forest areas, and a play area in the central valley would create a nice place to visit.

    Having said that, I do beleive the winning design will give a number of people a sheltered place to camp out after they are evicted from their apartments because the Mayor is more interested in a basketball palace than saving housing.

  • I love that LANDSCAPE Architects won the design competition that was hosted by AIA (American Institute of Architects)! It would have been interesting to see what could have been proposed if ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) would have hosted the competition and received more input from landscape architects and planners. This is truly a project that is much more suited to landscape architects than structural architects.

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