Simon and Helen Director Park
Landscape Performance Benefits
- Prevents over 990,000 gallons of stormwater from entering the city’s combined sewer system, saving $200 in annual storage and pumping costs. This also helps avoids a projected $3.9 million in future capital costs to upgrade stormwater infrastructure, such as constructing a larger combined sewer overflow (CSO) tunnel.
- Eliminates the need to use potable water for irrigation through rainwater harvesting and drought-tolerant planting palette, saving 64,500 gallons or $300 annually.
- Stores 2080 lbs of carbon and sequesters 258 lbs of carbon per year in 24 new trees.
- Hosts roughly 24,000 visitors for events per year. Between 2010 and 2012, the park hosted 228 events and attracted over 73,000 event-specific visitors. In summer 2013, the park hosted 53 free events open to the public, including ice-cream giveaways, dance classes, music performances, and yoga classes.
- Attracts an average of 1495 people per day during summer months (June through September). Of these visitors, 96% engaged in recreational activities, 87% of which were also social activities. Average daily winter visitation (November through February) is 376 users. Summer visitation increased 19% between 2010 and 2012 and winter visitation increased 50%. These figures do not include event attendance.
- Bolsters local economy. Between 2009 (when the park was completed) to 2012—a period when the real estate market shrunk by 3%—the estimated market value of Director Park shrunk only 1%. Over the same period, the market value of two nearby plazas shrunk 10%. In spite of economic slow down, the assessed value of the surrounding properties within a half-block radius of the Park increased by 9%.
- Generates an average annual gross revenue of over $34,000. Between 2010 and 2013, the park generated $140,000 in revenue from event rentals with annual gross income increasing by 91% between 2010 and 2013.
- Creates jobs, supporting two full-time maintenance staff, an events coordinator, and numerous part-time park host positions. The park cafe also employs five full-time equivalent (FTE) employees.
- Stimulates economic activity. On a typical summer weekday in 2013, 23% of park users entered the park’s cafe, participating in 620 average daily transactions. This increases to 870 on weekend days.
At a Glance
Former Land Use
877 SW Taylor Street
Portland, Oregon 97205
Formerly a parking lot the size of a city block, Simon and Helen Director Park is now a bustling urban plaza in the center of downtown Portland. Built over a six-level underground parking garage two blocks from the iconic Pioneer Square, the park hosts a range of amenities and activities, and has become a popular destination for residents and visitors. The community engagement process for the park lasted decades, with the park ultimately delivered by a public-private partnership including the Portland Development Commission, City of Portland, the Portland Parks Foundation and a number of private donors. While the city has many green spaces, Director Park is unique as a European-style urban piazza offering diverse programming and rental space for events of varying size. Amenities include a water feature with arching jets, movable tables, permanent seating and an on-site cafe. The plaza’s edges are defined by street trees and rain gardens planted with species appropriate to both the urban and Pacific Northwestern context.
- The park provides a family-friendly destination in the downtown area through its inclusion of a seasonal water features, interactive sculptures, a 730 sf cafe, public restrooms, and 9,500 sf of highly flexible program space.
- The 6000 sf, 28 ft-high glass canopy extends the park’s hours of use to the public by providing artistic lighting in the evenings as well as an outdoor shelter in a notoriously rainy climate.
- Stormwater from the site and its immediate surroundings is captured through systems of grading, porous hardscape (water drains between mortarless pavers), and sunken infiltration planters that capture and store rainwater for reuse in the park’s rain gardens, stormwater planters and fountain.
- To maximize reuse while adhering to municipal codes governing human contact with recycled stormwater, the interactive fountain has a closed system for treating and recirculating water.
- Water collected by the canopy channels directly into a stormwater planter, protected from human contact by a high-backed bench, where it is filtered and sent to a cistern for irrigation use.
- Ample and diverse seating options, including movable chairs, and the flexibility of open hardscape in the park’s main area, provide for dense and consistent usage by a mixture of downtown shoppers, office workers, tourists, and neighbors. The movable furniture is the most popular seating choice, with 72% of park users choosing movable furniture when a choice is available. Of those park users who choose movable furniture, 97% adjust the position of furniture.
- The scale and slope of the interactive fountain make it suitable for the use of both children and adults. Ample seating space and the pooling of water at the fountain’s low-point create a restorative environment in which adults can put their feet into the water without being affected by children playing and splashing water higher on the slope.
- To encourage alternative modes of transportation and endorse Portland’s bike-friendly culture, more than 20 bike racks are spread throughout the site.
The landscape architect originally envisioned a canopy for the site that would take advantage of the frequent rains in Portland to add an artistic and engaging waterfall element to the interactive fountain. The canopy was designed to have a sloped, v-shaped glass roof with a metal runnel that could direct water to a short fall into the fountain below. This and other plans to recycle stormwater from around the site through the fountain were rejected due to the types and levels of treatment required by the City of Portland to enable human contact with recycled stormwater.
The designers maintained the glass canopy to capture rainwater, but changed the direction of its slope and added a long stormwater planter at its base, below its lowest point and behind a high-backed bench. The functionality and much of the visibility of the original system were thus retained while direct human contact with the untreated water was mitigated. To ensure more generally that water in the interactive fountain–which was designed to receive heavy and consistent human contact–was sufficiently treated, the landscape architect designed the grading, paving, and drainage on site to support two completely separate systems. The fountain drainage system was designed to capture water and direct it for treatment and eventual use in the fountain. The grading plan for the site–which drops nearly 9 feet from its NE to SW corners–and the hand-carved or cord-sawn runnels cut into its granite paving direct water from the rest of the site into small swales that lead to sunken stormwater planters at the site’s lowest point.
- Early iterations of the park’s design included a 2,200 sf open space planted with turfgrass. After achieving a design for the park with hardscape that supported both the stormwater and flexible programming goals of the project, the designers were able to avoid the costs of installing and maintaining an irrigation system for lawns, and of the regular re-sodding, mowing, and irrigation they require. This saves the city over $2600 annually–a payback period of 10 years for the more expensive hardscape design.
- Raised planters and bench bases were also originally intended to be made of or clad in stone. Cast-in-place concrete was ultimately substituted in these applications, which reduced the total cost of these elements by $204,314, or 72% of their initial cost estimate. This particular substitution was instrumental to ensuring that no further reductions or substitutions were required of signature elements of the park, such as its canopy or its fountain.
- A lack of early coordination between complementary projects constrained the initial design process for the park. Design and construction of the site’s underground parking facility for a separate client began before the client and stakeholders of the public plaza above it had agreed on a direction for their space. This led to the very challenging situation that the landscape architect faced at the park’s SW corner, where the elevation of the the garage’s lip necessitated the addition of steps and left no opportunity for planting outside of raised planters. Once it was in place, the team designing the park was able to coordinate elements such as street-level pedestrian entrances to the garage with the consulting architects.
- The original electrical plan called for one 110V circuit with six electrical outlet points around the site. Following a number of overloads, it became clear that this capacity was insufficient. The park’s downtown location is noisy and many events require amplification to be heard over the traffic, MAX (lightrail) trains, helicopters, and other loud ambient noises. Considering the electrical needs of the many different events hosted at Director Park, the electrical equipment has since been upgraded to three circuits. These upgrades cost the City of Portland over $60,000.
- Wireless internet was not included in the original program for the park. However, park users and event organizers have come to expect this amenity in a public park. Although a local internet service provider agreed to supply the park with internet, it cost the City over $50,000 to install adequate equipment–in part because the large glass canopy impedes the signal. Since then free, wireless internet attracts many users with laptop computers.
- Sun glare had the effect of rendering some of the ends of the “feathered” steps–where they narrow as they meet the grade–undetectable. Following a series of accidents where park users tripped and fell in this area, small wooden “toadstools,” which allude to the wood benches elsewhere in the park, were added to these corners to call attention to the steps and mitigate trip/fall hazards. There have been no falls reported since the stools were added.
Bike rack: Landscape Forms, Inc. Bola bike rack
Tables and Chairs: Landscape Forms, Inc. Parc Centre tables and chairs
Custom: Ipe wood benches on concrete bases, cast in place concrete planter walls, Gobi granite paving and stair treads
Client: Portland Development Commission, City of Portland
Landscape Architect: OLIN
Architect: Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects LLP
Local Landscape Architect: Mayer/Reed
Consulting Architect: TVA Architects
Structural and Civil Engineer: KPFF Consulting Engineers, Inc.
Mechanical and Plumbing Engineer: SOLARC Architecture & Engineering, Inc.
Electrical Engineer: Interface Engineering, Inc.
Lighting Designer: Benya Lighting Design
Fountain Designer: CMS Collaborative, Inc.
Cost Estimator: Architectural Cost Consultants
Signage Consultant: Design West
LEED Commissioner: Green Building Services
Urban Strategist: Tad Savinar
Artist: Dan Corson
Contractors: Brant Construction
Role of the Landscape Architect
The landscape architect was initially consulted by city officials to recommend improvements to the site and its street network context in 2001. After initiation of the site’s underground parking facility in 2004, the client and prime consultant engaged the landscape architect to lead the design of its streetscape and public space components. The landscape architect collaborated with and coordinated efforts among a diverse team, including consulting architects, civil and structural engineers, lighting designers, fountain designers, cost estimators, artists, fabricators, signage consultants, urban strategists, and programming planners.
Case Study Prepared By
Research Fellow: Roxi Thoren, MLA/M.Arch, Professor, University of Oregon
Research Assistant: Andrew Louw, MLA/MCRP Candidate, University of Oregon
Firm Liaison: Karl-Rainer Blumenthal, OLIN
Thoren, Roxi, and Andrew Louw. “Simon and Helen Director Park.” Landscape Performance Series. Landscape Architecture Foundation, 2013. https://doi.org/10.31353/cs0630