Tuesday, February 11, 2014

20 Years of Urban Design in Maine 4

I drew these diagrams in 1988 studying Portland Maine while working on my thesis, a mixed use project on Union Wharf. At the time I lived in Boston. For me, being from Maine lent a sense of urgency to working on our urban design issues. I chose Portland as the most interesting urban environment. As a former commercial fisherman, I wanted to explore the overlap between the working waterfront and regular urban living. The first step was to use historical maps to analyze the waterfront.

In the first sketch a street along the waterfront (now Fore Street) for water access is balanced by a street up to the peninsula spine and one to the eastern shore. Just enough path to manage a settlement.

The 1775 diagram shows wharfs for ships but three horizontal as it were (Fore, Middle and Congress), dominant streets tell an almost agrarian story in that movement along the peninsula was important.

1823 diagram clearly shows a radical change. You can see how the city streets used to go right out into the water. The pattern is for a very aggressive urban leap out into the harbor. Sea commerce was in full swing. The Portland urban experience became constantly moving along a street with buildings on both sides that may or may not be hovering over the water. You could look between buildings to verify this.

The 1831 diagram highlights the delicate "soft edge" created by all the wharfs and large and small buildings and pathways along the water front. This crenallated edge provided a rich variety of pedestrian experiences unique to Portland defining it experientially from another place as all site specific spaces do.

Then they built the railroad which after filling in behind became Commercial Street which cut the city off from the sea. The bottom four diagrams describe this new beginning; loss of the delicate soft edge; loss of the streets all running right out over the water; and finally a separation of the waterfront from the rest of the city.

Analysis like this helps us all create urban design plans which strengthen what we love about a place and move in a direction with confidence.

Here are two sketches of my thesis a mixed use development on Union Wharf using the above analysis. Offices and retail are toward the street and fish unloading and processing buildings are toward the pier end. The first sketch shows a movement from dense brick Commercial Street fabric (tiny piece of this shown far left and poking out at mid pier at bridge) to a pier column structure lighter wooden fabric with walkways along the edge.

Union Wharf thesis drawing. 

The next sketch shows the glass atrium arrived at from the brick courtyard just behind Commercial Street. The atrium has the brick fabric 4 stories on one side and the 3 story wooden fabric on the other. Eventually walking to the end of the atrium leads back into the brick fabric and either out to the fishing buildings from a fish market at grade or on second floor to the pedestrian bridge linking to the adjacent pier. This sketch is looking back toward Commercial Street direction.

Union Wharf thesis drawing.

Next we'll look at how the diagrams can inform an overall urban strategy for Portland.

No comments: