Architects live for innovative thinking and collaborative design engagements with their building project clients. But these unique and amazing skills don’t have to be kept solely in the studio. The cities and towns we call home can benefit immensely from our talent and professional training as well. While these engagements may be uncompensated in the short-term, they pay huge dividends in creating the future healthy and economically vibrant environments fostered by our great designs.
In 2014, AIA Jacksonville started the Downtown Visioning Committee to bring architectural ideas to the forefront in establishing a vision for new city development along the beautiful St Johns River. Both junior and senior AIA members gathered regularly over several months to be inspired and step back and dream about what Jacksonville’s urban river experience could become in the future. Out of these visioning sessions came a simple but powerful idea to create key entertainment and learning nodes at walkable intervals along the length of the existing river walks. Each node would be thematically diverse and celebrate an aspect of Jacksonville’s cultural history. Examples include musical history, river biology and maritime history; all of which are uniquely part of our city’s exciting past.
Once the river node vision was created, architects presented the idea to Jacksonville City Council and other civic and business-oriented groups where it was readily adopted as an opportunity to revitalize our downtown. New zoning and development guidelines are currently working their way through the legislative process and will soon become the overarching guiding principle for future growth and economic expansion.
How will this be implemented? As each new development is establish along the vacant riverfront parcels, the city will partner with the individual owner to establish the node with a recognizable light tower. This tower will mark the node’s location in the landscape and act as a beacon to welcome pedestrians and river taxi riders. Together, these tower beacons will illuminate the river edges in a grand gesture the brings visual energy to the urban environment. Additionally, on certain festival nights each month, these nodal towers will host laser light and sound show technology that can bring the river itself to life as an art-based entertainment event.
What started as a series of “dream sessions” by passionate architects is now part of the civic dialogue and will make a real difference in Jacksonville for generations to come. Never underestimate your ability to contribute to the greater good by making your architectural training and expertise available when it really matters most.
Written by Christopher Allen, AIA
Director of Design at Haskell and Past President of AIA Jacksonville