One hundred years ago, urban planner John Nolen presented a master plan for the city of Little Rock. The 1913 “Report on a Park System for Little Rock” envisioned a “city in a park,” with a series of green corridors throughout Little Rock, including a riverfront park and the protection of Fourche Creek. The plan wasn’t implemented.
But the ideas Nolen presented are “as relevant today as they were then,” argues Bob Callans, a Little Rock landscape architect. For years, Callans has pushed for Nolen’s vision to get more recognition and for one idea in particular to be realized. Nolen’s plan saw Capitol Avenue as a ceremonial boulevard and called for an iconic structure at its eastern end to compliment the state Capitol building on the west end. For nearly 30 years, Callans has called for that iconic structure to be some kind of “gateway” to the city, “something you could identify Little Rock with from a distance that, as you come into town, you then actually go through it.”
“It wasn’t the right time,” Callans said, but with everything going on in the River Market and on Main Street, “now is the right time.”
Today — 100 years to the day and in the same building — Callans and the StudioMain building and landscape architects cooperative announced to a gathering in the rotunda at City Hall the winners of their collaborative Envision Little Rock 2013 Ideas Competition.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Callans told the 30 or so people assembled in the rotunda. He then quoted a line from Nolen’s proposal: “A certain complement of fresh air, of open space, of touch with nature, proves in the experience of cities vitally essential for wholesome development.” Each of five winning designs took the landscape architect’s vision to heart.
The overall professional winner was Fayetteville architect John Krug, whose “Gateway Twin Towers” features tall curving commas on either side of I-30 that would frame the Capital on the west and a roundabout centered with a sculpture on the east.
The overall amateur award went to two UA third-year architecture students, Adel Vaughn and Mary Patterson, for “Silver Spire,” which would place a looming, twisting spire in a park just east of Interstate 30 on Capital Avenue as the iconic balance to the Capitol. The aluminum structure would reflect the lights of the city and could be ascended for a view of downtown Little Rock.
A total of 5,800 people participated in a people’s vote, choosing Krug’s “Gateway” (Envisioning an Icon category), Chris Sheppard’s “Urban Greenway” (Establishing Connections) and Maury Mitchell’s “Agri-city” (The Wild Card). Each won $250. The public voting prizes were funded by the Arkansas chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
Other finalists in the contest were Mesa Landscape Architects working with sculptor Michael Warrick (“Echo Park”), Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects (“Diamond in the Rock”) and Chase Humphrey, an architecture student at the U of A (“Establishing an Urban Network”).
James Meyer, of Witsell Evans and Rasco architects and a member of StudioMain, said the idea for the contest — which ran from May 15 until July 15 — was to get people thinking about the gateway idea and other ways to beautiful the city in what he called “performative” ways — that is, functional.
There were 11 final entries. The design points the jurors were looking for included “recognition of John Nolan’s 1913 Plan for the city of Little Rock, a large/iconic solution; something characteristic/endemic of Arkansas, think ‘sense of place’; represent the “face” of Little Rock, become memorable; terminal point of Capitol Ave, visual/metaphorical dynamic with the Capitol, multi-use structure and high functionality is always good!”
Callans said he sees a lot of potential for the development on the east side of I-30, whether the continuation of nonprofits or as a transportation hub. Metroplan has considered the east side of I-30 as station for a light-rail terminal. Whatever the path, Callans hopes Nolen’s vision figures in.