02:09 AM

University-led design teams to offer new vision for Olentangy River Corridor

The wrapping is about to come off a new look for the Olentangy River and the river’s connection from The Ohio State University to downtown Columbus.

Last month, the Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture hosted professional designers, students and community leaders for the Olentangy River Charrette. Thursday night, the designs for the corridor sparked by those sessions will be revealed.

“There will be ideas that are a bit provocative,” said Keith Myers, Ohio State’s associate vice president of planning and real estate. “It’s important that even some of the more provocative ideas will lead to real-world solutions that I think will ultimately create a great connection between the university and downtown.”

A dozen current Knowlton School architecture, landscape architecture and city and regional planning students worked over a two-day period with representatives from architecture and design firms NBBJ, West 8, REALM, TLS Landscape Architecture and MKSK.

“What’s great about it is it’s bringing together groups from the university, from the business community, from the academic community and outside experts to look at really long-range problems and open up a world of possibilities,” said Steve Schoeny, director of development for Columbus. “And really start with a blank slate and say OK, if we could take a certain set of existing conditions and completely rethink how we’re doing this, what could we do? What would be the opportunities? What would be the challenges? And how can we really envision the future in a different way?”

Ohio State, the Columbus Downtown Development Corp., the Columbus Partnership, Nationwide Realty Investors, MORPC and the City of Columbus sponsored the design challenge. The results could have a long-term impact on the perception of the city.

“It’s especially important somewhere like Columbus,” said Claire Agre, a principal and senior landscape architect at West 8. “[People] know it’s cool and it gets ranked very high for quality of life and kind of the hipster factor and it’s a great place to do business. But people don’t know what it looks like. What does it feel like? What are the qualities?”

Each of the team leaders recognized incorporating the river was central to this design challenge.

“We’ve got to find ways to get people, you know, from the banks really onto the water, over the water. Use the whole space of the river corridor,” said Tom Leader, principal, TLS Landscape Architecture. “What is so great about this, you don't need to invent this amenity; it’s sitting there waiting for this development.”

The river as an amenity is a change in the way the city was designed. The two-mile corridor featured a mix of retail, roads and residential. Connecting it all in a holistic fashion requires a new kind of thinking.

“We’re part of a millennial shift, from a time when rivers were thought to be simply carriers of floods or industrial assets. But over the last century or so we realize, especially as our cities are becoming bigger and denser, that rivers are also our connection to nature,” said Alex Krieger, principal, NBBJ. “And so we’re in the process really of the sort of shift in our sensibilities from thinking about rivers as sort of back yards or production yards to becoming our front yards or our front lawn.”

Some of the teams were challenging the way we get around the corridor, including the reliance on cars and buses.

“We’ve been talking in our team about how the car is the default. But if there were better opportunities for walking and biking then people will begin to gravitate towards those,” said Agre. “In our team, we said let’s think 50 years out. Let’s just say, what is the city going to look like in 2067, when our grandkids are running the place? And let’s plan for that.”

Schoeny said having a bold vision is critical to help re-imagine the corridor. He thinks the teams are up to the challenge.

“The whole point is to challenge your set of assumptions.”