Urban and Sustainable in Tacoma
Vikram Prakāsh’s interdisciplinary Urban Sustainability studio is asking questions, and lots of them. We are tasked with designing interventions for Tollefson Plaza, a concrete no-man’s land that awkwardly straddles the UW Tacoma campus and downtown Tacoma. Students are leaving their comfort zones and diving into “big picture” issues such as stormwater run-off, bio-remediation and social equity.
We began the quarter with a field trip to UW Tacoma where we met with Chancellor Dr. Debra Friedman to witness existing conditions first hand. After a quick conceptual charette where we presented our first impressions, we were off to Portland for a guided tour of Portland’s Pearl District. We got to see the implementation of sustainable practices at successful plazas like Jameson Square and Tanner Springs Park, as well as examples of projects that encompassed Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and adaptive reuse concepts that we discussed in the beginning of studio.
Using the plaza as a stepping stone, the studio is looking beyond its immediate vicinity and considering the larger regional context of Pierce County. As our designs evolve, we are constantly being pushed to question what our interventions might look like decades into the future. Our mid-review pin-up featured a jury consisting of experts in the fields of landscape architecture, hydrology and architecture, including UW Professors Susan Olmsted and Ken Yokum. As a result of our mix of architecture, landscape architecture and urban planning backgrounds, none our proposals were modest in scale, idea nor execution. They ranged from schemes that proposed an artist workshop located within the plaza, to ones that addressed the entire UW Tacoma campus and beyond. While proposals ranged in scale we were all charged to also take on the urban landscape beyond the troubled plaza. One scheme even sought to return an old-growth forest to downtown Tacoma. Who knows, in 80 online slots years the forest may even take over the city.
Given that this studio sprang out of a discussion with the UWT chancellor Debra Friedman, it is a “live” project and one that she is closely tracking. Each proposal is designed within the proposed UW Tacoma master plan and also addresses other ongoing projects such as the Prairie Line Trail, the revitalization of downtown Tacoma and its Brewery District, and the proposal for the extension to the Tacoma Art Museum designed by Olson Kundig. Each studio milestone is accompanied by an abbreviated review that takes place in Tacoma giving students an opportunity to receive critical feedback from local architects, planners and professors. Fueled by the promise of a home cooked Indian meal by Vikram himself, we are all planning to work hard in the last three weeks!
Written by Takeru Stewart and Naomi Javanifard