Proposals –- and counter proposals -- take shape for Union Station’s public spaces

A modest proposal for Union Station's plaza.

Plans are quickly progressing on the new public spaces to be constructed as part of Union Station’s redevelopment. Hargreaves Associates, the landscape architect in charge, has been regularly presenting progress on its plan, including an asymmetrical design for the plaza in front of the station, with the south side focused on flexible, active uses and the north side offering more of a tree-shaded respite. The architects also propose a so-called "linear park," a thin parkway running alongside 17th Street between the historic station and the new light rail terminal two blocks away.

So far Union Station Advocates, a citizen group focused on the station’s new public spaces (not to be confused with the Open Space Initiative Group, a different citizen group interested in what happens at Union Station), like the plan – though they have some reservations, which they detailed in a letter to the architects this week. While they support the idea of an asymmetrical plaza out front, they’d like to see additional, innovative materials and design features considered, including a possible meandering stream that could help tie the two halves of the plaza together (see illustration above).

The Advocates also aren’t thrilled with the idea of fabricating the train hall roof behind the historic station out of tensile fabrics similar to Denver International Airport’s tent-like covering. Why not explore other materials, such as photovoltaic glass, they suggest, since "repeating [the DIA] concept at Union Station would not only be ‘too much of a good thing’ and too associated with 1990’s design, but also represent a missed opportunity for Union Station to claim its own unique look as a 21st century space."

In conclusion, the Advocates applaud the spaces’ general design so far, but they also insist more time and effort should be focused on figuring out what, exactly, each of these spaces will be primarily used for before finalizing the proposal. As they put it in the letter, "We strongly believe ‘use’ is primary and ‘design’ secondary" – a sentiment they’ll no doubt emphasize as the public face of Union Station continues to take shape. To find out more about Hargreaves’ developing plan and the Advocates’ and others views on it, stop by the architect’s next presentation, at a Union Station land use/urban design meeting at 7 p.m. next Tuesday in room 4.G.2/4.F.6 of the Wellington Webb Building, 201 West Colfax Avenue. --Joel Warner

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner