Most architecture, by nature, wants to be noticed. But sometimes design aims to fly under the radar—to seamlessly blend with its surroundings. That’s a tall order when the project in question is a 16.3-acre, multi-million-dollar roadway interchange that helped inspire a decade or more of dogged citizen protests (not to mention legal action) before it finally got built.
We speak, of course, of the intersection of Rte. 250, McIntire Road and the John W. Warner Parkway (better known, during all those years of fierce debate, as the Meadow Creek Parkway). With traffic now flowing freely through the intersection in all directions, one can finally see the project in a fully functional, non-theoretical state.
What was built here required many, many designers, both amateur and professional. As a Program Manager for the City of Charlottesville, Jeanette Janiczek has had a ringside seat for the conversation for the last eight-plus years.
The constituencies were legion. Veterans’ groups weighed in on the treatment of the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial (one of the country’s first memorials from that conflict) within the final design. Neighborhood groups had input on the entrances to their residential streets. The needs of neighboring entities like MACAA and the Covenant School had to be considered, and planners tried to give serious weight to the experience of pedestrians and cyclists.
The city’s Planning Commission and Tree Commission were involved. And, certainly, numerous concerned citizens made their wishes known—not least in regard to historic McIntire Park, along the border of which the parkway itself would travel.
Yet as complex as the project was, it mostly came down to this: “We wanted it as small as possible and as pretty as possible,” said Janiczek. Citizen input indicated that greenery would be preferred to concrete, and the Board of Architectural Review recommended as low-profile an overpass as could be built. “They wanted a narrow structure of a bridge that almost melted away,” said Janiczek.
Rummel Klepper & Kahl, the firm with primary design responsibilities, indeed created a very slim overpass that’s flanked not by massive-looking concrete abutments, but by embankments planted with low-maintenance meadow grass.
Given that one of the stated goals of the project was to “create a gateway experience into the city,” said Janiczek, aesthetic details mattered. Concrete bridge supports, for example, are not simply utilitarian massifs, but are stamped and painted to give the appearance of stonework. “It had to look random, with no repeating pattern,” said Janiczek.
She acknowledges the controversy surrounding all elements of the parkway, but ultimately has praise for the process: “Because of the issues that were raised, it helped the design team really hear what the public wanted,” she said. “The key is the conversation.”