Landscape Architecture Students Present Proposals for Riverfront

Eddy Perez | Photographer

As officials work to create a master plan for Baton Rouge’s downtown riverfront area, students in LSU’s Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture had the opportunity last week to present ideas on how to improve the locale and reconnect it with the Mississippi River.

The presentations, held in the Design Building’s commons area Jan. 16, capped a four-day stretch of intensive workshops — referred to as a charrette — held during Design Week.

Elizabeth Mossop, director of the school, said that the students were tasked to find ways to rejoin the downtown area with the Mississippi River by improving the landscape, which included taking environmental and topographical aspects into consideration.

“The Baton Rouge riverfront is in a period of change,” Mossop said. “There have been various generic solutions to deal with riverfront development. We’re trying to challenge the students, starting from the landscape itself, to imagine other ways of looking at the riverfront. It’s about perspective.”

Mossop said that the students were given their project assignment on the Tuesday morning, with additional presentations made over the next two days before Friday’s final presentations. Students were allowed to plan without budgetary concerns or current limitations on engineering technology.

Throughout the week, the students worked under the direction of internationally acclaimed landscape architect Matthew Bradbury of New Zealand. He also provided feedback for each team during the process, as did members of the school’s faculty.

Bradbury is a principal with the firm Bradbury McKegg Landscape Architecture, which specializes in the integration of landscape infrastructure and urban development. He has more than 20 years experience on a wide range of projects in New Zealand, China and Europe.

“There is kind of a generic approach when it comes to commercial riverfront development,” Bradbury said. “There are also pretty generic answers to redesign projects. They don’t always address all of the problems. We need to try to avoid those types of solutions and find other ways to address the issues.”

Bradbury said that the goal of the project was to bring the river back to the city, not to bring the city back to the river.

“We asked the students, ‘What can you bring to the situation?’” Bradbury said. “We wanted them to see it in a different way. We wanted them to see the riverfront as a landscape and to extend that landscape into the city.”

The competition pitted eight groups of 10 students against each other with faculty members, Bradbury and representatives from the Downtown Development District critiquing the proposals and ultimately deciding upon the winner. The groups contained members ranging from undergraduates to third-year graduate students, which Mossop said allowed for various levels of skills to be included in each group.

The winning team presented the concept of building a structure stretching over River Road and the adjacent railroad tracks from Lafayette Street to the levee. The structure’s roof would serve as a walkway, with access to retail businesses or office space located below.

While the project also received the most criticism from faculty, Mossop praised group members for having the courage to throw out their original idea just 24 hours before the final presentation and creating a new design.

“It just didn’t work,” she said. “To come back so quickly with such a wonderful proposal is very admirable.”

The second-place project, dubbed “Biotech Baton Rouge,” incorporated two alternative energy production sources — an algae farm to the north from which to harness biofuel and the using the river to energize fuel cells by funneling water through underwater turbines. The energy produced by the turbines would, in turn, power buildings along the riverfront and also serve as an educational tool on the powering process.

The project received praise from faculty members on its use of alternative energy solutions and from Downtown Development District Development Project Director James Anderman for its incorporation of recreation with economic development.

The third-place project featured the concept of using a series of interlocking “smart barges” along the river as attractions during various events. The barges would serve as exhibits or as gathering areas and could move to various locations along the river for different events.

Other projects included concepts such as making Corporate Canal a centerpiece of the downtown area, creating an arboretum in the northern end of the riverfront area by collecting sediment to create land masses and using renovated shipping containers to house businesses and residential living spaces.

Mossop said the project reaches farther than just a classroom assignment.

“This project wasn’t for a grade,” she said. “It’s about the competition and seeing what kinds of ideas the students come up with working in team structures.”

The Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture is among the top rated landscape architecture schools in the United States. It was recently ranked No. 2 in the nation by DesignIntelligence magazine, marking the fifth consecutive year it has been included in the top five landscape architecture schools in the country.

For more information, contact Stephanie Riegel at the LSU College of Art & Design at 225-505-8997.

Aaron Looney | Writer | Office of Communications & University Relations
January 2009