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“What was Water Works like the first time?” (Designer Q+A)

December 5, 2013 by Janette Law

In this first of a four part Question & Answer series with the Water Works Design Team, we asked them to take a step back in time – all the way to last September – when the designers first explored the complex site with project partners from MPF and Minneapolis Parks.

We wondered, “What was it like to experience the Water Works site for the first time? How do you imagine residents experience it?” The SCAPE team told us:

Our first experience on the Water Works site was informative, and confirmed many of the opportunities and constraints we identified in our initial study of the site. We grouped these initial impressions into three themes – history and ecology, programming, and circulation – that then set the tone for our two beginning concept designs [presented in November 2013].

From the dense habitat at the water’s edge to the many buried ruins, complex layers of history, ecology and geology characterize the site. Revealing, engaging, and interpreting these oftentimes conflicting layers, particularly at the Gatehouse*, is crucial to the future park’s design.

The lack of programming is another issue we observed. For everyday residents, the Water Works site is primarily a place of movement. People pass through the site on their daily commute or afternoon jog, but it is not a place of pause or rest. How can we encourage people to stay on the site? Stronger programming opportunities could help anchor this experience.

Lastly, the existing circulation patterns are disconnected and confusing. The Stone Arch Bridge empties into a parking lot and the connection back to the city is ambiguous. The complicated topographic levels create pinch points and blockages, resulting in one of the greatest challenges to site navigation.

As we work to refine our concept designs, we will continue to test these initial observations, and compare them to residents’ experiences through studies and public input.

* Now buried under a parking lot and West River Road, the historic headrace gatehouse still exists. As its name implies, this building housed the sluice gates used to control water flow to the historic mills. See featured image, above, for how it appeared pre- Lock & Dam in 1945.

Featured Image courtesy of MN Historical Society

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