Another brick in the Mall

 Dear Ace: I hear the CCDC is running an exhibition about the history and design of the Downtown Mall. What’s up with that?—Pedestrian-Mallrat-in-Charlottesville

Good question. Nowadays Ace basically lives at the Mudhouse, having learned to sustain himself on a diet of dried coffee grounds and free Wi-Fi, and like you, he wonders about what exactly went into the development of our small-town, cosmopolitan, quasi-utopian social space. Since April 2 and running through May 31, the Charlottesville Community Design Center, in conjunction with the UVA School of Architecture and Preservation Piedmont, is hosting “More Than Just Bricks: A Social and Design History of the Charlottesville Downtown Mall,” a series of exhibitions and events meant to shed light on the subject, exploring the “historical and contemporary significance” of the Mall’s design.

The main exhibit covers the history of the Mall between 1973 and 1976, during which time renowned landscape architectural firm Lawrence Halprin Associates—also known for designing the FDR Monument in Washington, D.C., the Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco and dozens of other innovative public areas—conceived, planned and implemented the conversion of East Main Street into a brick pedestrian walkway at the heart of Charlottesville’s historic commercial district. Featured are drawings, photographs and oral histories with citizens and city staff who helped bring about the Mall as we know it today. 

Additionally, the CCDC is conducting a series of peripheral lectures, panel discussions and walking tours. Event highlights already past include a lecture about Halprin, the visionary Mall designer, and a panel discussion about his Take Part Workshops, which raised citizen awareness and participation in the project through an inventive process of choreographed group activities. Halprin, who died in 2009, developed the method in collaboration with his wife Anna, a pioneer in postmodern and therapeutic dance.

Events yet to come include a discussion about the theory and practice of preserving designed landscapes, to take place on May 19; a walking tour of the Mall, with a focus on Halprin’s design intentions, landscape design elements and the 2008-09 brick renovation, on May 22; and finally, a closing gallery talk and reception on May 27. A full exhibition schedule can be found at cvilledesign.org.

You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 21 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to ace@c-ville.com.

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