Charlotte design and architecture firm LandDesign hosted the first of three public forums in the Cone University Center Lucas Room Feb. 8 to commence community input on the future of Belk Plaza. Several UNC Charlotte architecture and urban design students, as well as members of the Student Government Association, volunteered to help set up the event and guide attendees through various feedback stations.
Richard Petersheim, senior landscape architect at LandDesign, addressed the crowd for a brief presentation before turning everyone loose to voice their opinion on numerous proposed design and functionality options for Belk Plaza. He noted that compared to areas like the Student Union, this part of campus is “sleepy” and essentially only used as a pass-through.
“This part of campus currently doesn’t have any stickiness, as we call it,” said Petersheim. “There’s no real reason to stay there in between classes.” Despite the close proximity of the Rowe Arts building, he said, none of that building’s creative energy spills out into the surrounding area.
Some of the feedback stations around the room asked attendees to answer, “What is the Belk Plaza to you?” and “How do you move through the space?” People could also physically draw on a map what they wanted to be included in the space.
Other feedback stations utilized visual preference exercises where community members looked at posters with a variety of example images of aesthetics, design and program options and voted on which images they liked or didn’t like. People voted using stickers—green means good, red means bad—physically placing them under the example image in question.
For instance, an aesthetics poster had attendees take a stand on open space or separation, water fixtures, hardscape patterns, edge conditions and more. The program feedback station asked people to choose a preference between permanent or temporary art, fixed or movable seating and a plaza with or without a tower.
Some options amassed large amounts of green dots, indicating high interest by the community. One crowd favorite was a design featuring a wide open grassy space with cherry blossoms. The crowd also seemed to favor temporary or non-fixed elements in the plaza: Temporary art, movable seating and temporary food (food trucks, for example) all received many positive votes.
However, other options received nearly all negative votes. Several red stickers accompanied a design featuring virtually all red brick and no greenery. A joke about brick architecture from Petersheim’s presentation received a chuckle from the crowd.
For those who didn’t want to limit themselves to the images presented at the feedback stations, people could suggest their own images for LandDesign to store in its reference bank.
The two upcoming public forums will also take place in Lucas Room. At the next forum on Feb. 22, attendees can look forward to seeing the recently collected community input formulated into potential designs. Then, April 4, LandDesign will present a final conceptual plan, though they still plan to be receptive to feedback throughout this process.
According to Campus Landscape Architect Peter Franz, the final plan will go to the Board of Trustees sometime in August for approval. Approval from the state is also required before moving forward. Franz said the earliest time frame for construction to begin is probably late summer or early fall 2017.