ARCHITECTURE: Nature and open-air public spaces dominate architectural discussions this fall 

click to enlarge Monroe Park renovations are underway, seen here from West Main. The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart is in the distance.

Scott Elmquist

Monroe Park renovations are underway, seen here from West Main. The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart is in the distance.

With the renovations of two historic outdoor places nearing completion and the evolving design of an ambitious new greenway to link various parts of downtown with Manchester, the themes of nature and public spaces will dominate architectural discussions this fall. Meanwhile, our fascination with midcentury modern architecture is far from waning.

The 17th Street Farmers' Market has been operational since before 1742, when Richmond received town status. Over the decades, the Shockoe Bottom destination has variously been the site of an impressive two-story market hall, a long-and-low metal shed, and most recently a postmodern assemblage of vendor shelters. Expect no permanent structures with this latest transformation by Baskervill Architects. As reworked, the two half-blocks along North 17th Street will contain a meandering promenade, shaded by strategically placed trees. The flexible plaza is designed to accommodate events including concerts, festivals and presumably farmers' stalls.

Much further along to completion is Monroe Park, which was designated a town square in 1851. Soon thereafter it was used as the state fairgrounds. In the early 1870s, it was converted to an elegant urban park. Sadly, in recent years, it's been tattered. Those years of benign neglect, however, are history. The city, Virginia Commonwealth University and a private conservancy have joined forces on a $6.9 million rehabilitation that should make this a sparkling, out-of-doors jewel at the major crossroads of Monroe Ward and the Fan District. A great public park has been the goal of its design and implementation team. The architect is 3North of Richmond. Major improvements include public restrooms, a cafe, new water features and mightily enhanced landscaping and paving.

In early November, updated plans for BridgePark, an ambitious and elegant proposed landscape scheme that would link major green spaces downtown with Brown's Island and Manchester with continuous linear parks, will be displayed at a still-to-be announced venue. Spatial Affairs Bureau, a Richmond and Los Angeles-based architecture firm, is the designer. For information visit the BridgePark Foundation site: bridgeparkrva.com.

For a decade now, the Modern Richmond group has curated regularly scheduled public rendezvous with outstanding examples of local midcentury architecture. For the second time, Modern Richmond Week, this year from Sept. 17 to 22, offers many portals through which to connect with aesthetics of the Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy years. The opening program will explore the life and idiosyncratic work of a Richmond architect, Haigh Jamgochian, famous for his aluminum Markel Building near Willow Lawn. On Sept. 18, registrants will tour the architecturally striking new 7West townhouse complex that hugs the southern approach ramp of the Manchester Bridge. A talk on Sept. 20 will look nostalgically at the "Lost Mid-Century Motels of Wildwood, New Jersey." On Sept. 21, a new and strikingly contemporary house on Swift Creek Reservoir by Walter Parks Architects and Christian Snowden Design will be featured. The Modern Richmond Market on Sept. 22 will offer vintage pieces at the Mobelux building, a 1930s architectural gem, at 1635 W. Broad St. Information and tickets to these and other of the week's events at ModernRichmond.org.

click to enlarge Francis Kere, Berlin architect
  • Francis Kere, Berlin architect

Architects, planners, landscape architects and contractors will descend on Richmond from Nov. 7-9 for Architecture Exchange East, the annual meeting of the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects. The keynote speaker on Nov. 8 will be Francis Kere, a celebrated, Berlin-based architect who also is a tenured professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Kere, from the small, West African nation of Burkina Faso, is an unabashed modernist but combines natural materials and indigenous patterns and building traditions in ways that are nothing if not poetic.

If Washington is in your autumn travel plans, the National Building Museum offers a changing roster of challenging and thought-provoking exhibitions. "Making Room: Housing for a Changing America," explores intriguing and flexible housing concepts. Another exhibition, "Evicted," provides visitors a sober and immersive museum experience as it explores the challenges that some low-income renters can face when they stop making monthly payments.

In the coming months, Richmond residents and visitors alike will certainly continue to discover three major dynamic additions to the cityscape that have enhanced living, urban design and architecture here. These are the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University by Steven Holl Architects, the new GRTC Pulse bus line, and the T. Tyler Potterfield Bridge.

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