A few days ago, I was talking to someone about the Daley Center Plaza in Chicago. As famous as the Picasso sculpture is and as many times as I’ve been there, I couldn’t remember exactly what the building looked like. I was sure it resembled many of the tall Chicago Modernist Architectural wonders, with prominent steel and minimalist features otherwise. What I really remember about that place is the public plaza – with an iconic sculpture, flexible hardscape, and small fountain feature. It’s often programmed with holiday markets, art installations, or other events. It brings down the scale of the surrounding buildings to something that pedestrians can relate to and humanizes the city it the way that people organically move through it daily. This example of building and public space came up as a way to think about One Michiana Square in South Bend.
The building is in a prominent location for the City, one of the first experience of the downtown as people approach from the south. It also anchors the most walkable part of the Central Business District, with streetscape improvements desperately needed to create better connectivity and usability. With nearby public library improvements coming (just west of the building and seen in the parking lot on the right side of the photo above) and already dramatic changes made to the St. Joseph Street corridor (on the east side of the building, left in the photo), this space has an opportunity to leverage its location and momentum of the nearby public improvements into becoming something special.
As you can see from these two inventory images, the site has many amenities within walking distance and could serve as the nexus between these components.
Further study shows that from small changes in the site, better flow and safety could be attained, leading to better use of this part of the downtown.
As you circle around to the plaza again, much like Daley Center Plaza, this space has a lot of power in shaping the way you perceive the downtown and the building itself. Designed a few decades ago, the building (for good or bad) reflects that era of architecture and is undeniably one of the most unique buildings in the city. As a baseline, the space should address the crumbling pedestrian infrastructure and disjointed crosswalks, improving aesthetics in the process. And while new planters already adorn the plaza, there’s still an opportunity to create a lasting space that serves both the occupants of the building and public experience of the space.
These series of conceptual images are already outdated, but they show how simple improvements (bump-outs, or pavement changes, or art, or planters/seating, or water features) could change the perception of building and this part of the downtown. While the design has yet to be finalized the opportunity remains.