What Were They Thinking?

April 1, 2005
What Were They Thinking? CHECKMATEWhen the city of Glendale, CA, the Glendale Chess Club and Los Angeles-based Rios Clementi Hale Studios teamed up to create an innovative urban park design, it was a winning move for everyone.The Chess Park at the Brand Boulevard Passageway in Glendale, which opened late last year, began as an idea by the Glendale Chess Club to have a designated public space where the club and others could play. The city took it a step further, seeing an opportunity to utilize an undeveloped city space—the Brand Boulevard Passageway, which connects a city parking structure to storefront shops, restaurants and theaters. Associates Samantha Harris and Tony Paradowski of Rios Clementi Hale Studios, a multidisciplinary firm whose specialties include landscape architecture, were called in to design the city's first urban park."The objectives for the space were to accommodate all of the programmatic elements, which included providing 16 well-lit chess tables, as well as creating places for causal lunches, book readings and outdoor performance, mural space and an eight-foot clear path for emergency vehicles—all in a very small and narrow space," Harris says. She adds that the design team made sure not to forget the reason they were there. "We wanted to incorporate the functional elements into the space developed through study of the strategic moves of the game of chess," she says.The major materials used in the project were chosen for their simplicity, durability and refined color. TREX—recycled plastic wood composite lumber—in gray was the main material, used for the light tower bases, screen walls and the performance platform. White synthetic canvas mesh is stretched over steel frames on the light towers; the ground plane, benches and chess tables are made of standard gray concrete; and drought-tolerant, low-maintenance plant materials in shades of deep green add a soft touch to the perimeter. The height of the light towers acts to create human scale within the narrow passageway, and the limited color palette is augmented by the color brought in by the people using the space. In the end, Harris says, the final product closely matched what its designers had envisioned. "The completed space feels extremely secure," she says. "The park is no longer a place to avoid by night; it is now available to the community at all hours. People walking to Brand from the parking lot get to experience something almost magical, and completely unique."

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