JRGBC Announces Winner of GreenSpaces Competition

Mayo Island is a lozenge of land in the middle of the James River just above its fall line. Surrounded by rapids and threatened with total inundation in a 100-year-flood event, it is the home of seasonal indigents, some trails, and a long-derelict baseball field. It is also a part of the Richmond Slave Trail as it stretches from the Manchester Docks across to the downtown Richmond side of the river.

Because of its significant location—and the environmental-improvement potential the island poses, being mostly a brownfield site best known for the 1913 Mayo Bridge that carries Route 360 across the river—the James River Green Building Council chose Mayo Island for its 2012 GreenSpaces Design Competition.

Event co-organizers Emily Smith and Damon Perason announced the competition winner May 3 in the Troutman Sanders law offices overlooking the island. Although the competition has no bearing on the future of the island—it was purely an exercise in identifying possibilities—it was conducted in light of the 2015 UCI Road World Competition, an international bicycle road race that will focus the world’s attention on the mid-Virginia region, said 2015 Competition CEO Wilson H. Flohr Jr. in opening remarks.

Acque-Drome took first prize.

JRGBC Competition Jury Chairman Frank Harmon, FAIA, was on hand to speak for the competition jury, all of whom were from land-locked Raleigh, N.C., he said, to explain the jury’s fascination with the possibilities presented by the James Rivers and the green aspects of the proposed design solutions.

The jury considered the ultimate question of the proposed solution, Harmon said: Was it to create a monument? That was the apparent purpose of the Beijing Olympics, with its widely touted bird-nest stadium that now stands empty. Instead, the Raleigh-based jury considered the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics as a better model, where the designers mostly used existing facilities and focused their attention on improving circulation infrastructure. Those improvements are still evident almost 30 years later, Harmon said, suggesting that that is where Richmond should focus its attention. Richmond is “a fabulous city,” Harmon extolled, “and it should use what it has.”

From left, Harmon, Hugo, Sadler, Velzy, Olinger, Helmboldt.

Harmon moderated the evening’s JRGBC Community Forum which included Jakob Helmboldt, AICP, Pedestrian, Bicycle and Trails Coordinator for the City of Richmond; John A. Hugo, AIA, ASLA, ASID, a managing principal with 3north; Mark Olinger, Richmond’s director of Planning and Development; Mary Harding Sadler, principal with Sadler & Whitehead Architects; and Greg Velzy, chairman of the Falls of the James Scenic River Advisory Committee.

The winning scheme was “Acque-Drome,” submitted by Gloria Lau of San Francisco. The panel commended the plan for its ambitious vision, which includes hydro-power; how the project draws the eye; and its bold, sculptural branding elements. Sadler in particular noted that the way the river crashes into the west end of the island—which is also the part of the island most acoustically isolated from traffic noise—creates a mid-city wildness.

Parking for the site was an element the panelists returned to frequently, with Harmon joking that “in North Carolina, we like to say ‘form follows parking.’”

Proactive Landscapes

“Proactive Landscape,” submitted by Sheena Mayfield of Richmond, was the competition jury’s second choice out of the seven submissions they considered. The community forum panelists noted that a solar-powered, elevated tram to the island would be both a draw and keep the transportation infrastructure above the flood way. Mayfield was also the only designer in the group who hails from Richmond. The plan, with its European-style plaza and water filtration elements presented, as Harmon put it, “a clear and memorable concept.” Hugo also complimented the gentleness, low footprint, and food integration of the scheme.

For more information on the James River Green Building Council, visit their Web site.

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