In the decade since Salt Lake City hosted the Olympic Games, the City has continued its transformation into a very urban place. The strict grid of numbered streets that radiate from Temple Square has been an effective framework for the layers of sophisticated urban design and infrastructure investments. Thanks to one of the most comprehensive transit systems in the country and broad sidewalks that provide real estate for the City’s expanding urban forest, residents and visitors alike have embraced the walkable downtown.

I was in Salt Lake City last week for the grand opening event for our project at City Creek Center, which was a huge hit. 700 new housing units, 1 million square feet of revamped downtown office space, iconic shops and the novel stream that trickles through the new outdoor shopping street have been graciously lauded for the project’s success.

This project juxtaposes the seemingly natural and the very contrived. When we first met with our clients Taubman Centers and City Creek Reserve they talked about resurrecting the original City Creek which once flowed through the site, but has been buried underground since the development of the downtown area. At first we struggled to get beyond the semantics – you can’t restore the creek if there is an underground parking structure in its path – but we understood that they wanted to recreate the experience of the original pristine waterway. We wanted the creek to live up to the idea of a natural creek, but that it be rooted in a contemporary setting –requiring attention to the detailing and emphasis on the urban context.

As it turns out, the man-made City Creek is now the largest flowing watercourse built on structure in the U.S., and it is also one of the most technical designs that SWA has undertaken in its 50-year history. We used local trade professionals and sources whenever possible including rock work by Outside the Lines and Kepco+, raw material from Utah’s Brown’s Canyon near Park City, and quarried by Delta Stone Co. Some 600 boulders were used for the creek, promenade seating areas and other aspects including the 17-foot cascade that takes the creek down from the upper level to the street level.

Where we had to supplement the locally cut stone, we relied completely on technology. Rock cut in Minnesota arrived and fit together perfectly with the rocks that were cut in China. I would argue that this landscape was just as technically precise as the architecture that surrounds it.

And the architecture is a fantastic complement. ZGF designed the residential towers. Local architecture firm, FFKR led the office design and Callison Architects in partnership with Hobbs + Black designed the retail center itself.
But, to me, the real story is on the street.

The context of the site goes beyond the immediate architecture. As a streetscape, the project heavily relies on its interaction with the city around it. The urban design challenge was in converting the supersize, vehicular Salt Lake City grid to a comfortable dimension for residents, office workers, shoppers and passersby. By giving boundaries to the city’s 22-foot-wide sidewalks and punctuating them with moments of garden nodes and places to sit, we were able to infill empty space with urban space. The new proportion not only has to relate to the surrounding architecture and infrastructure, but it is the cornerstone to creating an urban atmosphere that connects the meaning of the site and the project itself to the character of the city.

I like to think we were successful. Do you?

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