The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review (BAR) met on May 20, 2008, to discuss the details of the Downtown Mall renovation plan developed by MMM Design, but postponed most of the major decisions until further information could be provided.

MMM architect Chris McKnight was on hand to present their proposed solutions to questions raised by the BAR in previous meetings. A key objection raised initially by the BAR centers around the size of the bricks that will be used to re-pave the mall. In the original design created by architect Lawrence Halprin, 4”x12” bricks were used, according to board member Syd Knight and MMM landscaper Taylor Gould to “create a sense of scale.” The BAR had indicated they would like to see the same size bricks used in order to preserve Halprin’s vision, but MMM has stated that it is not economically or environmentally efficient to repave the mall with replacement 4”x12”bricks, as the nearest source for bricks this size is in Nebraska.

MMM has raised additional concerns both about the ability of these bricks to handle the wheel load from vehicle traffic at the cross streets, as well their stability in the sand foundation. This brick with sand foundation approach was taken in the Court Square paving project as well as in the recent extension of the pedestrian mall along Third Street at the Paramount Theater.  According to downtown zoning inspector Craig Fabio, local business owners have mentioned to him that the current 4”x12” bricks are coming loose in their foundations, and present a significant tripping hazard for pedestrians.

McKnight presented a 5”x10” brick solution which would in theory provide a similar sense of scale but would possess the more normal 2 x 1 length-width ratio that would minimize rocking of the bricks. However, the BAR did not feel comfortable making a decision on the brick size until they were presented with a large-scale model of how the herringbone brick pattern would actually look with the smaller bricks.

Also at issue were changes to  the  height and width of the taller light-posts called for in the plan. MMM’s McKnight said these that would provide better wind resistance, and would allow enough clearance overhead for emergency vehicles to turn onto the mall from side streets. These changes were approved by the BAR, along with proposals to place additional planters, benches, trash and recycling receptacles and  bike racks on the Mall. The design of these would be identical to those already in place.

The BAR also approved the placement of two new fountains that would closely mirror the current fountain design, and indicated their support in theory for a Sister City plaza complete with 45 foot flagpoles that would celebrate Charlottesville’s six sister cities, although a final design has not yet been presented. A bit of levity was injected into the proceedings by BAR member Syd Knight, who cautioned against treating Halprin’s initial design as a wax museum which could never be altered, characterizing Halprin affectionately as “an old hippy.”

Ben Doernberg