Thursday, October 30, 2003

'Islets' to Rise on River - Argentine Design for Landing Wins

Commercial Appeal
by Deborah M. Clubb

A simple, flexible design that synthesizes Tom Lee Park and the historic cobblestones made winners of three Argentinian architects Wednesday in the competition to design the $20 million Beale Street Landing.

RTN Architects of Buenos Aires was chosen from five teams by a national panel of jurors, including Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and Riverfront Development Corp. vice chairman Kristi Jernigan.

With tears in their eyes, the team of Javier Rivarola, Gustavo Trosman and Ricardo Norton answered Herenton's announcement of their win in an afternoon press conference at RDC headquarters.

"We are completely shocked," Rivarola said. "We don't know what to say but we are ... happy. It is a great honor for us to be selected for this project and to build it. We are going to improve our English for next time."

To contend with the 50-foot annual fluctuation of the Mississippi River, RTN would craft a series of concrete "islets," shaped like guitar picks and planted in grass and flowers, between Tom Lee and the cobblestones.

As water rises up the slope, the islets would remain accessible and connected by bridges.

At the end of the islets, a spiral docking facility and sleek, curved terminal building would greet riverboats and offer food, restrooms and a river outlook to residents and visitors.

RTN's team had not seen Memphis or the Mississippi River until their site visit in July, said RDC president Benny Lendermon, but Buenos Aires has a similar focus on remaking its riverfront and has a similarly challenging river.

"So the mindset was already there."

The nonprofit RDC, which manages and develops the Memphis riverfront, will help the RTN designers find local firms for the construction team, Lendermon said.

Construction is slated to start next fall.

The RTN design, called "River Outlook," met the challenges of the location and its purposes with "inventive solutions," said juror Shauna Gillies Smith of the landscape design firm ground.

The islets, jutting into the river like the prows of boats and connecting to the land above like interlacing fingers, made a strong and honest design, she said.

"It can be an appropriately iconic emblem for the space."

Bill Morrish, professor at the University of Virginia School of Architecture, said the concept offered lots of trees and special spaces that could be intimate for weddings or spill into large settings for festivals.

Each team gave jurors a 25-minute presentation followed by 20 minutes of questions, Jernigan said. RTN "was a clear winner" after the analysis and critiques, she said.

Other jurors were architect John Gosling of RTKL Associates; Toni Griffin, deputy director of Washington's office of planning; architect and UC Berkeley architecture professor Stanley Saitowitz and Memphis architect and RDC board member Dianne Dixon.

The RDC competition, called Shaping the New American Riverfront, drew 171 submissions from 20 countries and 27 states. Five finalists were selected in May.

Other finalists were EDAW from Alexandria, Va.; Flores Dafunchio Architects of Buenos Aires; Lateral Architecture of Columbus, Ohio, and formerly of London; and David Hong and Simon Hanson of New York City.

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