Tag Archives: UAB

Healthy fun: it’s coming

Affecting real change

This past weekend saw the national professional organization for design, AIGA, hold a workshop in Birmingham (one of three nationwide) as part of their Design for Good initiative. Joined by local partners such as Alabama Engine and UAB’s Edge of Chaos, community stakeholders and local designers (including your author) shared an intense 2-day brainstorming session revolving around issues of public health, a major concern in our region. The specific topics were supporting the Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail System, and encouraging better food choices among vulnerable populations in the metro area. Exercise and better eating: how do we get more of each in our area?

Avenue W before

Avenue W after

It’s easy to visualize how the Red Rock system can transform how we use our neighborhoods, travel between them, and get a little physical activity. Above is one proposed portion of the system (Village Creek Corridor) that passes along Avenue W in Pratt City. Why choose walking or biking over a car when there is no sidewalk, bike lane, or mileage/directional signage? The plan takes care of that.

Richard Arrington Blvd before

Richard Arrington Blvd after

Because of a recent federal TIGER grant the City won recently, part of the trail will be completed soon; it will link into other future portions such as the improvements shown above leading from the City Center up to Vulcan Park. Pepsico, as part of its initiative to make its brands healthier and to encourage wellness among its customer base, helped sponsor this design summit as well as the other two in New York City and Seattle. Why Birmingham, you may ask? We, and the state generally, have terrible statistics for obesity, hypertension, heart issues, diabetes, etc. If we can turn things around here, we can do it anywhere. Thanks to the sponsors for putting this event together–and everybody, please support the Red Rock system in your own community and across the metro. It not only could transform our health, but the entire concept of moving around Jefferson County.

Who knows: someday soon, we will bike safely from Vulcan Park to Pratt City (or even jog, as the gentleman in the renderings above demonstrates). We’re ready!

[thanks to AIGA for the logo and to Red Rock for the renderings]

 

 

 

Viva downtown

Projecting confidence

This morning the Design Review Committee approved new illuminated signage at the top of the former Region’s Plaza building (rendering above, corner of 20th Street North and 5th Avenue). The 1976 building–home to Regions Bank before mergers and consolidations emptied it in 2007–has most recently been the subject of different hotel proposals. Viva Health–a Birmingham-based HMO–is now creating its new headquarters in the building. It will reorganize the ground floor, which previously had bank and elevator lobbies, into retail tenant space, with a Viva-run coffee shop planned on 20th Street (other tenants to be announced). Slight changes were mandated to the signage presented, but it will look essentially as depicted above, on all four sides.

As we’ve recently discussed in other contexts, while it’s great that a locally-based company is helping to fill a long-vacant tower downtown–and is adding its  brand to the skyline–it’s moving from a Southside location on the other side of downtown. Will its former location be quickly filled by a new occupant? Given its proximity to UAB‘s campus, chances are high that it won’t be vacant for long.

Viva, welcome to the CBD.We encourage you especially to design your coffee shop in a way that engages passerby and enlivens your storefronts.

[thanks to Fravert for the rendering]

Better signage, and a house

A model for the future?

This morning at Design Review Committee the wayfinding proposal presented by Sheila Chaffin of UAB (above) was unanimously approved. Dozens of signs will direct people and traffic through the Medical District in a system coordinated between UAB, Children’s Hospital, VA Hospital, and Cooper Green Mercy Hospital. Complementing these will be UAB campus-specific signage–same style, but with the UAB logo on top rather than “Medical District.” MB3 Designworks of Virginia designed the signage, and local firm KPS Group coordinated placement and messaging.

We’ve commented several times on the urgent need for wayfinding in downtown Birmingham; hopefully this project will inspire the City to move that up their priority list. Because when we leave a well-marked Medical District, we still need to find our way around the rest of town.

Full renovation coming later

Approval was also granted for a neon-illuminated blade sign to be sited on the corner of 20th Street North and 2nd Avenue at the second-story level of the historic Roden Building. This sign, which is 8 feet tall and reads “PARAMOUNT” in a vertical format, is a temporary measure to advertise the Paramount store that opened last year and sells yogurt, sweets, and other items. Our office designed a complete exterior renovation (pictured above) for a future phase,  including larger illuminated signage running horizontally that was previously approved by the Committee. In the meantime, it’s exciting to see this great old building coming back to life step by step.

Man with a plan

Finally, approval was also granted for construction of a new residence on Cliff Road in historic Forest Park (above architect Alex Krumdieck presents the rendering). It’s good to see continued investment in the historic residential neighborhoods surrounding downtown; a healthy downtown complements the neighborhoods, and healthy neighborhoods complement downtown. We need to support intelligent improvements in both to help build a city greater than the sum of its parts.

Happy Memorial Day everybody!

Oh Brother

Another affront to the park?

A few months back we discussed the condition of Brother Bryan (formerly Magnolia) Park which lies just a block east of the fountain at Five Points South commercial center. We return to the park today for a brief look at the sudden demolition of the former Kingsley Apartments at the important NE corner of Richard Arrington Blvd. and 10th Avenue South (above). This 1920’s-era apartment building was practically the last vestige of the original residential neighborhood that surrounded the now forlorn park.

What a way to face a park

As the neighborhood transformed from upper-income housing with some local shops to a destination, mixed-use district with offices and nightlife, poor design decisions were made around this park, including the Building Trades Tower (above), which literally turns a blank 12-story wall to what would otherwise be a prime urban vista.

Well at least they realized the view

In a related move, Magnolia Office Park (above, built 1966) sought to bring “suburban” amenities to this part of town–lots of on-site parking, modern floor plates–and absolutely no ground floor retail or commercial space. In fact, a grim parking garage stares out at the park across the street. What a missed opportunity that was.

And now it's all that's left

Across 10th Avenue South from the park is this medical office building (above) that–while we can appreciate its period Mad Men-ish architecture–again turns a mainly blank face to the park. Worse, the few large historic houses immediately to the east (to the right in the photo) have in the last few years all been demolished due to fires or for other reasons. Vacant land is all that’s left. With the apartments directly west just demolished, this  building is the sole mass facing the park from the north side. Which is depressing, but it could also be an opportunity: what if UAB (whose affiliate Southern Research Institute has a campus just north of here) partnered with the City and private developers to completely re-imagine the park and its surroundings as mixed-use office, retail, and housing to complement Five Points South and the campus?

This poor park and its edges have suffered enough.

Gown and town

Step in the right direction

Yesterday the first Sustainable Smart Cities Symposium was held at the downtown DoubleTree Hotel ballroom (above) with over 300 attendees. Local experts on urban growth, sustainability, and health issues (they’re all interrelated) shared the stage with national and international experts such as former Bogota, Columbia mayor Enrique Penalosa to discuss the potential, and challenges, of transforming Birmingham. Penalosa was treated to a bike tour the previous day through downtown and neighboring districts of the City, where he was shocked by the decline and poverty he witnessed (Birmingham News summary here, and News columnist John Archibald’s take here).

The most exciting thing about the symposium: UAB has just established a Sustainability Research Center, bringing together talent from across academic disciplines to tackle urban livability, design, and health issues in collaboration with the City and community. This sort of “town gown” collaboration is very welcome, and should benefit all of us.

Appeals to a mixed, urban demographic

Speaking of town gown collaboration, shown above is the University Square mixed-use development adjacent to University of Wisconsin (Madison), one of a string of well-planned developments that have completely transformed the East Campus Gateway into the university. A combination of university, city, and private dollars have created a pedestrian-friendly, dense environment where students, faculty, retailers, and urban professionals all mingle together. The New York Times profiled this project here. This is a good example of the impact a university can have on the surrounding built environment, with careful planning and collaboration. There’s no reason Birmingham can’t become the “Madison of the South”. UAB’s new Center is a promising start.

Still enjoyable even in freezing temperatures

The 7-block Gateway, lined with dorms, classroom buildings, retail, and market-rate apartments is shown above. If students and citizens of Madison stroll this place in the long winter months, just think of it’s equivalent in sunny Birmingham…

[PS On a tangent–the DoubleTree hotel needs a good designer to completely overhaul its public areas. For such a well-located, popular hotel its interiors are behind the times.]

[thanks to beautifulcataya for the U Square pic, and the NYT for the Gateway pedestrian pic]

 

City as artifact

Worth documenting

As the City prepares to demolish the 4-block-plus area between directly south of Railroad Park between 14th and 16th Streets South to prepare for the new ball park for the Birmingham Barons, we are about to lose a good bit of historic, warehouse fabric that’s been little discussed. It is the opinion of this blog that the ball park is a good thing for downtown and the City, and that the old warehouse neighborhood around it (tentatively dubbed Parkside) has vast potential to be revitalized into a vibrant mixed-use district connecting UAB to the park. Before the bulldozers arrive, however, it would be great to try to document the buildings that are about to disappear forever (example above).

Remnant of another era

Some of these old structures serviced prominent retailers located several blocks north in downtown’s shopping district, such as the above warehouse which still has its “Jefferson Home Furniture” sign prominently displayed.

Not something you see here often

In a central city laid out on a relentlessly orthogonal grid, it’s downright shocking to see this curving alley way between two warehouses (above), which followed the curve of a rail spur. Goods could be loaded directly onto rail cars from the warehouse docks. Wouldn’t it be great if the new ball park facility had a graphic display somewhere with images and history relating to this neighborhood and its (unsung) relationship to the better-known areas adjacent to it?

First sign of progress

Once these buildings are documented properly, and their history outlined for the public, we hope that upon completion of the ball park many of the surrounding warehouse-type buildings will be renovated to complement new, infill construction in a district with housing, restaurants, bars, shops, offices, and other amenities. A hint of what could come is seen above at the corner of 18th Street and 2nd Avenue South, where the real estate firm Shannon Waltchack moved from the suburbs into a freshly renovated former National Biscuit Company building (they plan phase 2 with loft apartments next door; architect for the project is Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds).

Yes you are

Only a few years ago, the building across 18th Street from Shannon Waltchack had fully rented storefronts. The tenants left and took the storefronts with them; now all that remains is a (still beautiful) shell. Understanding the value of historic buildings is important, and we hope this one can be returned to service. Part of what will make this neighborhood work are built-from-scratch projects like Railroad Park, the Barons park, and proposed new UAB buildings. Destruction of some existing historic buildings will be inevitable. Let’s get them professionally documented before they go.

Sharpening the edge (2)

Transit as a positive image for the street

A reader alerted us to an interesting streetscape project, on Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland, OH. This east-west spine is roughly similar to 20th Street in downtown Birmingham, in the sense that it connects the Central Business District at one end to a university (Cleveland State) district at the other end, before it continues into the eastern suburbs. A new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line (stop and dedicated lane pictured above on Euclid Avenue in the CBD) has been built as part of street improvements planned to better link the east and west sides of Cleveland’s downtown. This is similar in concept to a proposal prepared by the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, whose In-Town Transit Partnership study envisioned BRT serving as a catalyst to downtown development and knitting together the north and south sides of the central city. It’s worth looking at just to drool over the highly inspirational video created as part of the study.

University edge gets urban

Opened for about 3-1/2 years, the $200 million transit redevelopment has ushered in over $3 billion in new/proposed redevelopment, including the University Lofts project shown above, a combination of restored historic buildings and new infill along Euclid adjacent to Cleveland State campus (architect: City Architecture).  The infill building is second from the left: restrained in tone and detailing, with proportions that align to its neighbors. This is a great example of how a well-done transit project, and urbane mixed-use development that accompanies it, can result in a vibrant edge for an urban campus.

Transit used to be part of the fabric

Above is 20th Street at Five Points South in the 1920’s–with prominent streetcar lines connecting the district to the north side. A potentially thriving edge of UAB‘s campus, it would benefit tremendously from better transit connections, and from university and private mixed-use development that adheres to solid tenets of urban design. Cleveland, and Cleveland State, seem to have gotten it right; let’s learn from their example!

[thanks to fitchdnld for the Euclid Avenue CBD pic; city architecture for the Euclid Avenue campus stop pic; photonut2 for the Five Points pic)