inPRACTICE / PARKS: Celebrating a Community's History
Fairmount Park // Fort Worth, Texas
In 1990, six houses dating from the early 1900s were removed from a block in the Fairmount neighborhood of Forth Worth, Texas, just before the area was named a National Historic District. With the help of public funding through the Community ID: Public Art in Neighborhoods initiative of Fort Worth Public Art, Fairmount Park celebrates the memory of this neighborhood block with an installation that is at once public art and public amenity.
"Fort Worth Public Art is dedicated to bringing art into the community," said Bart Shaw, FAIA, principal with Ibañez Shaw Architecture LLC in Ft. Worth. After the neighborhood applied through the Community ID program, Shaw walked through the park with community stakeholders. "They requested functional art that would allow more use of the park, possibly something you could sit on."
He also discovered a few old cast-iron pipes peeking out of the ground—evidence that there had been houses on the block, which led him to do some more research on the site.
"Fairmount is one of the largest National Historic Districts in the country," Shaw said. "In a place that so values its architecture, and is so thoroughly documented as a district, I felt compelled to research the site and search for evidence of the neighborhood fabric that might be missing from the documented district.
"After talking to local historians and networking to long-time residents, I discovered that indeed there were houses in that block." He searched in vain for photos, but was able to find old maps and aerials that pointed to the houses' location.
The design Shaw created celebrates the memory of this neighborhood block and incorporates stakeholders' requests with stepped tables located where the steps and porches of the houses once stood. The tables and benches reestablish a gathering place for neighborhoods and visitors along Henderson Street, allowing the area to the east to be a community playfield. The tabletops are solid surfaces supported by steel-plate substructure and stainless-steel pipe. Benches are composed of South American hardwood supported by weathered steel pipe.
"Creating spaces to gather where the porches of the old houses stood seemed like a poignant way to accomplish the community's requests and remember the missing pieces of the neighborhood," Shaw said. "The pipe supports for the tables and benches are a reference to the old pipes in the ground. The stepped fronts of the tables sit roughly where the stoops once sat, and address markers are set in gravel that reestablishes walks that once led to these houses."
Basalt gravel fills the absence of those walks, and a single
tree planted at the end of each table provides shade where once there were broad porches to protect residents and their guests. The trees provide different colors throughout the seasons, an homage to the individual character of the homes.
When designing the public art work, Shaw said, the use of the park was "a strong consideration." The park is "… one of only two small open green spaces in the district and is used daily for informal soccer games, yoga, playing catch, etc.," he added. "As a result, the main scope of work was limited to the edge of one edge of the park.
The constant challenge of public amenities—and public art—is durability, Shaw explained. "The pipes are anchored in a monolithic 12-inch foundation of concrete to make sure the three table-and-bench pairings do not experience differential movement from our expansive soils. The substrate for the tabletop is solid steel plate. This is topped with a white solid surface. This was chosen because it would not fade and could be easily seamed and repaired if it experienced damage over time. The bench structures are also made of steel topped with slates of Massaranduba, a very dense South American hardwood with incredible longevity."
And how did the community feel about the result?
"The community really enjoyed the story of the project, the reminder of the history of the site, and the emotional, intellectual and experiential investment in the community," Shaw concluded. RM