City Walk BHAM09-13-23 | Feature

City Walk BHAM

Where Birmingham Connects
by Paul Darr, RLA and John Fish, APA, Barge Design Solutions, Inc.

Like many cities in the U.S., Birmingham, Alabama had elevated freeway bridges intersecting its downtown that essentially separated local areas from each other. When the I-59/I-20 bridges needed renovations, Barge Design Solutions Inc. was selected by the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) to develop a plan for a one-mile, 31-acre series of public spaces to knit downtown, the convention center district, and surrounding neighborhoods back together. Designated City Walk BHAM (shorthand for Birmingham), these spaces include walking paths, multipurpose fields, pickleball courts, a dog park, a playground, water features, an amphitheater, a skate park and this labyrinth paved with concrete surrounded by synthetic turf. Located near the Alabama School of Fine of Arts, the labyrinth's design mirrors the labyrinth in Notre Dame Cathedral that symbolizes the journey of human life.
This 18'-tall main gateway sign stands illuminated along the path way. The City Walk BHAM logo as well as the Corten steel sign itself echoes the new bridge columns. Other signs measured 8.5' tall by 5' wide. The signage and mapping were designed and fashioned by FRED, a wayfinding consultant. Trees planted included cedars, dogwoods, oaks, cherry trees, maples and multi-trunk magnolias.
Specified as a gateway to the east end of City Walk BHAM, the decorative yet functional stormwater retention pond includes a centerpiece surrounded by a gabion stone wall and native plantings. Shrubs, grasses, and ground covers were designed to help soften the urban "bridgescape" and introduce color, texture, and movement into the environment. To replace the urban soils in the expansive landscape design, 8,500 cubic yards of 70/30 topsoil/compost mix were brought in. Clark Irrigation Design planned the irrigation system, with irrigation equipment coming from Hunter and Rainbird.
The master plan was developed through an extensive public engagement process with community leaders, businesses, and residents of surrounding neighborhoods. Over the course of the design process, Barge, ALDOT and its operations partner, the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex, relied heavily on the input they received, which included a desire to provide purpose-driven spaces while highlighting the city's heritage. With the bridge piers spaced 165 feet apart, the rhythm of the bridge structure helped define the space as a series of outdoor rooms. PHOTO CREDIT: AERIAL INNOVATIONS SOUTHEAST, INC., STEVEN DUNLAP | DUNLAP PRODUCTIONS, CITY WALK BHAM, BARGE DESIGN SOLUTIONS, INC.
The 50,000-square-foot playground highlights Alabama's five physiographic regions: Coastal Plain, Piedmont, Alabama Ridge and Valley, Cumberland Plateau, and Highland Rim. Its inclusive design accommodates a range of age groups and skill levels. For this project, local company Alabama Sawyer fabricated handcrafted furniture made from reclaimed urban wood (white oak) and Corten steel bases. Other outdoor furniture suppliers included UltraSite. Playground equipment came from GameTime. There is also a 500-square-foot, freeform bouldering wall. A poured-in-place rubberized surfacing helps ensure safety of its users. For their convenience, the playground is adjacent to a shaded seating area and close to parking.
This cathedral-like environment offers a variety of rooms and spaces designed to facilitate a range of daily activates and special programmed events. Besides poured-in-place concrete surfaces, walls, seating and curbing, (some of it with integral color additives to enhance the concrete and to help make it weather resistant, UV stable, lightfast, and alkali resistant) the hardscape included pavers from Wausau Tile. The ornamental fences and gates are aluminum and were installed by a local company O. Jay Fence.
The lighting on the bridge structures were the handiwork of Domingo Gonzalez Associates of New York City. The lights create alternating patterns of color to the sides of the bridge and the spaces below. Jackson Renfro provided electrical design services for pedestrian site lighting and signage lighting as well as for the security lighting in buildings, primary duct banks, manholes, transformer pads, secondary power and power for water features and stage areas.
A 60-foot diameter recirculating, reflecting-pool and overflow fountain had to be carefully planned and executed to avoid impact to a critical underground sanitary sewer line. The pool floor and overflow weir walls were fabricated in Summit Black granite. Stanstead granite was used for the perimeter knee wall and water recovery trough. A dedicated pump room to facilitate the fountain system was designed by David Baker Architects, whose contributions also encompassed three convenience stations including a visitor and security center.
The 60,000-square-foot skate park venue, the largest in Central Alabama, was designed with a pump track, ramps, and deep and shallow bowls to accommodate a full range of skaters from entry-level to professional. Skate park consultant, New Line Skateparks, used specialized methods for concrete placement to achieve high strength for no-to-minimal joints.
This space's winding slate chip pathway is surrounded by a pollinator friendly habitat with Fothergilla, Switchgrass, Azalea, Hydrangea, Aarons Beard, Russian Sage, Winterberry, Sweetspire, Beautyberry, Witch Hazel, and other plantings.
An 11,000-square-foot amphitheater with a built-in stage for special events was located near the center of City Walk BHAM in the park north of downtown's Linn Park and south of the Legacy Arena Plaza. The space with a synthetic lawn provides tiered concrete seating for up to 1,000 spectators.

When Birmingham, Alabama's aging downtown I-59/I-20 elevated interstate bridges needed replacement, a team of designers accepted the challenge of transforming the dark, underutilized space under the bridges into something more for the community.
Barge Design Solutions, Inc. envisioned an active, vibrant, and welcoming public space that would bring communities together from both sides of the bridges, meeting the need for reconnection and revitalization. Robust community engagement provided direction for potential programmatic elements, resulting in a one-mile, 31-acre master plan now known as City Walk BHAM.

Since its opening, the multifaceted linear public space celebrates community with walking paths, multipurpose fields, pickleball courts, a dog park, a playground, water features, an amphitheater, a 60,000-square-foot skate park, and more to bring people together in a place where Birmingham connects.

The Starting Point
As an early leader in the steel industry, progress in Birmingham included the development of the interstate and its bridges. While being a significant transportation achievement, the bridges created a disconnect, both visually and symbolically cutting off the surrounding neighborhoods from downtown.

The replacement of the interstate bridges, which led to more clear space, created an opportunity to re-envision the space beneath the interstate into a distinct, accessible, open, and safe public area reconnecting neighborhoods and the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) to downtown businesses and communities.

Years in the Making
An extensive public engagement process provided direction on a broad range of potential programmatic elements. Communication and engagement with community leaders, businesses, and many surrounding neighborhoods were critical to developing the master plan. Barge, ALDOT, and its operations partner, the BJCC, remained focused throughout the detailed design process on the input and community vision.
The engagement process revealed a desire to provide purpose-driven spaces while highlighting the city's heritage and addressing the need to reestablish community connections. The client and design team shared a common vision for City Walk BHAM as a unique, public destination open to, and accessible to, the entire community.

Their combined years of community-focused planning resulted in a strategic master plan for a mile-long, 31-acre, 10-block series of innovative spaces featuring walking paths, multipurpose fields, pickleball courts, a biergarten, a playground, water features, an amphitheater, a dog park, a 60,000-square-foot skate park, and clear access to the BJCC and surrounding venues for scheduled events throughout the year.

Elements of Steel
In celebration of place, specific materials and colors were selected for the design. Birmingham is where it's at today because of the region's geomorphology and the nearby presence of coal, iron ore and limestone deposits - the key ingredients of steel.

Reflecting that history, Corten steel elements were incorporated into the wayfinding system, the building architecture, and even the electrical panel supports. An integral rust-colored "seam" path runs the length of the project providing a connecting spine from end to end. Custom signature benches were fabricated using a steel I-beam as its base and locally sourced pressure-treated pine as the seat top.

Honoring the Civil Rights Era
Also spotlighted in the design is Birmingham's history during the Civil Rights Era. The Civil Rights Story Zone along 16th Street North includes gathering space for schools and tour groups when visiting the Civil Rights District located just a short stroll away.

Distinct paving patterns were specified along with special signage offering visitors an important history lesson of Birmingham's past.

A Destination Playground
The ADA-accessible Destination Playground features materials and plantings highlighting the state's five regions - Coastal Plain, Piedmont, Alabama Ridge and Valley, Cumberland Plateau, and Highland Rim. Located proximate to parking, the playground is also adjacent to a shaded

seating area.

This playground provides a variety of play experiences that inspire children to choose activities that capture their imagination or interest through flexible opportunities to try new endeavors while building self-confidence and self-esteem within a safe, welcoming, and
accessible environment.

The equipment features a variety of fun, whimsical colors to heighten visual interest. Additional color and texture are captured on the ground plane through poured-in-place rubberized surfacing, allowing for safe and comfortable play.

Skate Park
For the 60,000-square-foot skate park, the largest in Central Alabama, Barge engaged New Line Skatepark, Inc. to apply specialized methods for concrete placement to achieve high strength for no-to-minimal joints.

The facility was designed to cater to large spectator events and to the most novice of skaters to enjoy. A pump track, ramps, deep and shallow bowls, and a variety of other challenging runs contribute to a state-of-the-art skateable facility that has received national attention from professional skateboard organizations.

Other Entertaining Spaces
Multiple flex spaces allow for events such as farmers' markets, small and large concerts, trade show events, as well as recreational opportunities. Multipurpose fields designed with synthetic turf welcome players and spectators for games such as soccer and football.

Ten pickleball courts meet a growing demand in the city for the fast-paced sport. And a bocce ball and ping-pong area are open for play at the 5,600-square-foot Biergarten, followed by a meal or snack at the nearby food truck space when
in operation.

Located centrally within City Walk BHAM is an 11,000-square-foot amphitheater with a built-in stage for special events, plays, and concerts. The space provides tiered seating for up to 1,000 guests on two sides of the venue and provides a beautiful, green synthetic turf lawn 365 days a year.

Specially designed to accommodate dogs, synthetic turf is also featured at The Barkery, dog park. Separated into small and large breed sections, the fenced-in facility also entertains dog shows and agility course competitions.

Pedestrian Safety
To provide a safe and seamless pedestrian crossing from City Walk BHAM to the BJCC Legacy Arena outdoor plaza, the team responded with an ADA-compliant raised roadway, using an inverted crown with a trench drain down the center of 9th Avenue.

Designed without curbs, the plaza and the City Walk BHAM space feel like one large outdoor room, allowing pedestrians to flow freely between them. Removable bollards allow the entire area to be blocked to vehicular traffic, promoting pedestrian safety when crossing. Traditional silver pipe bollards and custom granite stone bollards fashioned into cubes also run parallel to this raised street for added pedestrian safety.

Answering Complications with
Creative Solutions
Designing a mile-long space under bridges created landscape challenges due to the limited solar exposure in some of the spaces, and full sun in others. The design team sought out local expertise from the Birmingham Botanical Gardens for indigenous plant species that would work in these conditions.

As an example, an area known as the "Garden Path" is located amid several blocks on the southern exposure side of the interstate and allows for a full-sun palette of plants. This included Fothergilla, Switchgrass, Azalea, Hydrangea, Aarons Beard, Russian Sage, Winterberry, Sweetspire, Beautyberry, Witch Hazel, and other plantings.

Landscape maintenance and security funding was also allocated to the BJCC in a five-year commitment for
ongoing sustainability.

As Barge worked on the design, the I-59/I-20 bridges were in the process of being demolished and replaced so the landscape architecture firm had to anticipate final conditions and be constantly aware of changing infrastructure in and around the project such as existing utilities, bridge footings, local street network, lighting, and stormwater infrastructure.

For instance, the large recirculating, 60-foot diameter reflecting pool fountain feature was a critical design component, but its location included an existing sanitary sewer line that could not be relocated.
The design team proposed multiple iterations of this entire central fountain space to avoid any impact to the sanitary sewer line while still capturing the intent of a dramatic water feature and surrounding gathering areas. The resulting solution presented a powerful project centerpiece.

Making an Impression
Collaborative efforts were key to the project's success. ALDOT noted a remarkable experience working hand-in-hand with the design team for the entire process. Barge's subconsultants were also integral to the project's success.

Since opening in June, 2022, City Walk BHAM continues to make a noticeable economic impact. City Walk BHAM, the new interstate bridges, and the new adjacent Protective Stadium and renovated Legacy Arena represent over $1B in recent investments in this sector of downtown Birmingham. Collectively, these projects are catalyzing new private sector interest, development, and investment in this part of downtown.

The project brings a spotlight to the untapped potential of underpass conditions across the country, redefining their role and purpose. For Birmingham, this means a renewed excitement for what the future can bring in a vibrant, active place "Where Birmingham Connects."

Landscape Architect: Barge Design Solutions, Inc.
John Fish, Principal in Charge
Janie Mauter, Associate Project Manager
Paul Darr, Technical Design Lead/Landscape Architect
Architectural Consultant: David Baker Architects
Skate Park Consultant: New Line Skateparks, Inc.
Water Feature Consultant: Aqua Design International
Wayfinding Consultant: FRED
Irrigation Consultant: Clark Irrigation Design & Consulting, Inc.
Electrical Engineer Consultant: Jackson Renfro & Associates, Inc.
General Contractor: Brasfield & Gorrie