Dennis Wells, you are the man. Just when I start to spiral into that dreaded blogger burnout, you provide me with exactly what I need to get going again.
So let’s get this discussion started. First, those of you who have attended presentations by Jack Money and I on our book, “OKC Second Time Around,” might recall that one of our favorite lines is that the 1993 MAPS initiative was a trick – that it was very much a revival of the much hated Urban Renewal program. Further, it has always seemed as if the Myriad Gardens, and the 1989 relocation of the Spring Arts Festival, might have provided the opening for this “trick” to be played.
So imagine my amusement when Dennis today emailed an article from the latest issue of Architect magazine. I think I’ll let do the story do the rest of the talking here and then we’ll pick up the discussion in the comments that follow:
Past Progressives: Greening the City
1973 P/A Award: Myriad Botanical Gardens, Conklin & Rossant
Source: ARCHITECT Magazine
Publication date: March 1, 2009
When the 1973 P/A Awards jury met, the era of federally funded urban renewal was ending, but the dream of transforming urban downtowns remained compelling. The Myriad Gardens plan for Oklahoma City received a rarely bestowed First Award.
The scheme departed radically from renewal precedents by proposing a downtown botanical garden. Its architects, Conklin & Rossant of New York, hadn’t been asked to design a garden, but rather to propose uses for a 17-acre renewal tract. They won the commission with their concept of exposing an underground watercourse as a pond, then bridging it with a conservatory.
Architect William Conklin reports that the P/A Award gave crucial encouragement to civic leaders and donors hoping to expand on the design prestige generated by juror John Johansen’s 1970 Mummers Theater on an adjoining block. Fundraising for the gardens suffered from the vagaries of Oklahoma’s oil-based economy. Construction of the conservatory took place from 1981 to 1985, but its tropical plantings weren’t ready for public view until 1988.
Many planned ancillary facilities such as restaurants, galleries, and cinemas were eliminated—and aren’t missed. One surviving feature is a pond-side amphitheater, site of a popular annual Shakespeare series. Ongoing renovations to the complex will soon include overdue replacement of the conservatory’s acrylic glazing.
The urban revival now apparent in Oklahoma City gathered momentum only in the 1990s, after the gardens were completed. Clearly, this unique amenity has helped to attract further investment and activity to this once-forlorn downtown.
1973 P/A Awards Jury: Arthur Erickson, Hugh Hardy, John Johansen, William LeMessurier, and Donald Stull