Civic Plaza Renovation Wins ENR Regional Best Project Award

August 8, 2019 

The Albuquerque Civic Plaza Renovation is the winner of ENR's 2019 Regional Best Projects Award. Independent juries of industry leaders in design and construction from each of ENR's 10 regional editions judge the projects using five criteria, including safety, innovation,and teamwork. 

Inclusive, Accessible, and Interactive

Sitting on top of a two story underground parking structure, Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza was an expanse of hot paved space with an unwelcoming concrete fountain that did not serve the adjacent Convention Center or the public. The 30,000sf plaza renovation included a new interactive water feature, stage and video wall, improved accessibility, a new playground, landscape, and shade structure. The design team used hand sketches, AutoCAD, Sketchup, and Lumion to create models of options to arrive at the final design.

The new fountain design utilizes the circular shape of the original fountain basin with new, amphitheater seating along the perimeter for performance events when the fountain is not in operation. This space can be used year round, even when the fountain is in operation. Programmable jets with LED lighting are arranged in bands mirroring the new shade structure which terminate at the acrylic cube and provide opportunity for water display. Water pours over the cubes, spray jets shoot from the cubes, and fog periodically erupts from the tops to drift across the plaza. The acrylic cubes light-up at night with color changing displays, creating playful silhouettes of kids and adults to be enjoyed year-round.

A custom shade structure made of woven tensile fabric provides respite from sun, and a custom prickly pear playground brings a park space and an additional play element to the downtown park desert. The playground design evolved from an abstraction of a locally ubiquitous cactus: prickly pear (Opuntia spp.). The playground is designed as a series of climbing nets stretched across arched frames representing spiny cactus pads, called “cladodes”. The prickly pear fruits are incorporated as bright red accents, with “fallen” fruit functioning as stepping stools. Additionally, dimples of flexible poured-in-place fall surfacing entice kids to bound from one dimple to another.

Challenges and Teamwork

Water is a precious resource in the Southwest and a perception of unwise use or poor water quality can hinder a project’s progression. At the same time, the presence of water is an important aspect of the built environment. The design team proactively addressed water waste perception issues by designing the fountain with water conservation equipment, including installing an anemometer that automatically adjusts spray heights with wind speeds, and a state-of-the-art filtration/sanitation system designed to recirculate clean water. The old fountain’s surge tank was redesigned with a one-hour filtration turn-over, a primary disinfectant, pH control, full-flow UV sterilization, and debris y-strainers. These technologies provide clean, safe water.

Another construction challenge included a very limited structural capacity on top of a 1970s era, two-story, underground parking structure. While maintaining normal operations within Civic Plaza and the parking structure, the design removed the extraneous old concrete fountain and surrounding soils, replacing these heavy materials with lightweight structural Geofoam. Shoring of the plaza and lower parking deck required continual adjustment as heavy materials removed from the structure lightened the loads and slowly raised the deck. Supporting the shade structure required steel framed support towers below the plaza deck. They extended two stories below to the existing parking garage slab. Core drilling through each deck was required to reach the lower slab structural foundations.

Extensive design collaboration between designers and manufacturers was required to produce an interactive water feature with custom linear lighting in acrylic cubes, while meeting structural engineering requirements to reduce weight on the structure.  Mock ups of the cubes were critical and built in Las Vegas, NV.  This allowed the design team to understand connectivity and relationships of the acrylic boxes, programmable spray nozzles with an underside supply system, LED cube lighting, and fog spray nozzles. 

Urban Oasis for All

Civic Plaza's water feature functions as Albuquerque's downtown park for visitors and is a delight in the Albuquerque evenings, providing whimsy and playfulness in an otherwise harsh urban plaza. While crowds of local residents enjoy the water jets, lighting, and display of water, the effect of silhouettes against the acrylic boxes and the sound of water creates a space for relaxation and calm for the offices nearby. 

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