Romare Bearden Park, USA

december 27, 2014, charlotte, nc, usa - charlotte skyline near romare bearden park

Opened in the summer of 2013, Romare Bearden Park in Charlotte, North Carolina was created to enrich the lives of the community, providing opportunities for intellectual, social and physical well-being.

Envisioned to grow into an established landmark and destination, it provides space for urban recreation and gathering in the heart of Charlotte’s city centre. The $11m space commemorates the life and artistic achievements of internationally regarded black artist, Romare Bearden – born in a long-gone house at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Graham Street, Charlotte in the early 1900’s near to where his namesake park is located today. Bearden became an internationally known creator of original oil and watercolour paintings, drawings and abstract art collages, up until his death in 1988. Although Bearden moved north as a child, some of his art depicts Charlotte’s early 20th Century African-American community.

Located near the entrance of Charlotte’s new Triple A baseball stadium, the park is actively enjoyed by many who visit this newly popular city setting. Boasting 5.4-acres, the park covers an entire square city block, formerly home to a city bus parking lot. It was designed with several distinct areas, each inspired by facets of Bearden’s life and his career-wide acclaim that grew steadily over decades. In creating Romare Bearden Park, its design was awarded to the landscape architecture company LandDesign, who has offices in Charlotte, NC amongst others and artist Norie Sato. LandDesign followed its corporate philosophical underpinnings of honouring the land and allowing it to accommodate a vision for a special place. Its sensitivity to location ensured people and land were brought together in a manner that provided a powerful, encompassing personal experience.

LandDesign’s master plan for the park evokes Romare Bearden and his artistic use of his own memory, for what he termed ‘triggers’ for key inspirational points when he was designing and executing his artworks. The influence of Bearden resulted in an eclectic mix of urban park elements that include two adjacent multi-acre gardens and greens with adjoining courtyards. Moveable in-park tables and chairs evoke thoughts of Paris, where Bearden travelled to and lived for one year. Courtyards are shaded by substantial natural, indigenous canopies of trees throughout the park, and on park sides of adjoining city streets.

A large formal event common, known as Big Moon Green, transitions into an open area for informal children’s activities, as well as for structured events for people of all ages.  Gardens named Madeline’s and Maudell’s, recall previously articulated memories by Bearden of gardens his mother and grandmother had, that inspired several of his artworks. The park also has interactive digital chimes and waterfalls.

Working alongside LandDesign was architectural lighting designer Randy Burkett, founder and principal of Randy Burkett Lighting Design, headquartered in St. Louis. Burkett and LandDesign agreed that lighting for Romare Bearden Park should subtly serve as a complement to Bearden’s lifelong artistic sensibilities, and his evolved appreciation for lasting good design in the creative, artistic sense. Built upon this strong visual imagery, the lighting design further exploited the metaphors into the night.

Ordinary pole-mounted street lighting would simply not do. With this in mind, Burkett selected Hess America Fiora and Riva pole-mounted luminaires on inverted tapered poles, which distinctively light main pathways and an interactive play area in the park.

One main pathway, known as The Evocative Spine, runs diagonally through the site, allowing visitors to see and experience individual park vignettes as they walk. Fiora, a striking feature pole from Hess using light reflected from a faceted disk, is used along the Spine’s edges to clearly define the pathway when seen from the far reaches of the site. These luminaires are primary components of the park, integral to its overall design and function.

On the whole, the lighting played an important role in establishing visual hierarchy and scale for the park’s pedestrian pathways. Along many walkways, conventional pole and bollard path-lighting techniques are eschewed for those emphasising reflected illumination from surrounding vertical surfaces.

This approach provides soft, welcoming facial light while helping to fortify visitor orientation and enhance wayfinding. This lighting of walls, landscape and art became a toolbox of sorts, used extensively throughout the project.

Visible from numerous high-rise residential, hospitality and office towers nearby, the park’s individual experience zones are articulated after dark using variations in light intensity, boundary light reinforcement, source colour and subtle dynamics. Views of the park grounds from the surrounding elevated structures bring to mind the artist’s passion for collages.

Water features are cast in an important role in visually animating space. Nighttime enlivenment comes from colour, generated by submerged LED RGB sources. More subtle light effects, however, reinforce the park’s underlying messages, like the stone niches seen through a waterfall’s veil revealed by light, suggestive of a distant and hazy memory. A dispersion of low-level pathway lighting forms an organic arrangement of circular LED wafers embedded within the paving material, symbolising the ever-changing journey along life’s path.

Pronounced shadows are revealed throughout the gardens by well-positioned precision accent light clusters mounted to poles. Lighting has helped create an authentic urban experience that celebrates Charlotte’s history and culture. Both orientation and wayfinding are reinforced by insightful arrangements of lighting equipment, with respect to the various activity nodes.

The park’s design memorialises Romare Bearden, through thoughtful use of architectural lighting, inviting people to walk through and enjoy the venue’s design and amenities.