Joe Riley, mayor of Charleston, South Carolina since 1975, will be stepping down from office at the end of this year. Sasaki Associates worked closely with Mayor Riley and the City of Charleston for several decades on a number of initiatives, including the award-winning Charleston Waterfront Park (pictured above) and the Charleston Maritime Center. Mayor Riley's close involvement in city architecture projects and his penchant for details is explored in this career retrospective in Architect, which notes that he requested 40 samples of gravel for the Waterfront Park to "make sure the size was right ('You want it so that you can walk in high heels') and the color appropriate. 'Charleston's palette is this,' he said, nodding to the brick streetscape up the block, 'so we made sure it had something called Baldwin Red in it.'"
While this level of client involvement might be problematical for some designers, Sasaki enjoyed a very productive working relationship with Mayor Riley. Sasaki Principal Emeritus, Stu Dawson, FASLA, was the Design Partner for both Charleston projects and practiced at the firm as Sasaki teams subsequently undertook at least six more projects in Charleston under Mayor Riley's leadership. Dawson vividly recalls his experiences working with the Mayor, starting with the interview for the peninsula master plan that would eventually become home to the Waterfront Park. Here, Dawson shares a few of his memories:
"I can't say enough for this wonderful man, and what a friend he's been of Sasaki, and of so many other people. Joe Riley is ultimately a humanist, a sociologist, a person with 360 degree energy and vision. We first met him at the beginning of his second term, sometime in 1978 or '79. At our interview for the waterfront master plan, we showed two projects: Newburyport, which was more of a 19th century restoration project, and Boston's Waterfront Park, which was really sleek and modern. We got the sense that the Mayor liked the variety of projects, and he also liked that Sasaki is such a multi-disciplinary firm.
After we were awarded the project, we agreed to fly down again and meet with the mayor's project team and walk the site. When we got off the plane we went right to City Hall, where Mayor Riley said "Are you guys ready? We're going to take a walk." And so we walked from about 9:30 in the morning until well past lunch time. We walked through the city, and he pointed at catch basins, curbs and paving stones; at bollards, hitching posts, and shutters; at paving patterns, people, and horse-and-buggies. He literally looked at the city from a microscopic perspective of design details all the way up to the macroscopic level. And at that level, he talked about the views, the corridors, the vistas, and vectors that the city enjoyed along its waterfront. Riley sharing his passion for the city was probably the most memorable experience of my professional career. He was a very personal, committed client and we knew that he knew Charleston better than we would ever know it.
There are so many moments with Mayor Riley that really stand out in my memory, but one in particular is from when we were designing the park. There were four rows of oak trees in the plan, which created space for six or seven vest-pocket parks. One morning, Mayor Riley came in and said "you know, I was just thinking about these little vest-pocket parks. Wouldn't it be nice if each one was just different enough so that if two people were sitting there and one proposed to the other, they would be able to remember which park they were sitting in? I think we should focus on each one being just different enough that that couple could always remember that that's where they decided to get married." That was the kind of stuff Joe he would leave you with, just a little thought like that. And then, of course, you'd struggle for the next six months trying to live up to that idea! He loved that level of detail and he knew that the human side of a beautiful park goes much deeper than just shrubs and flowers."
Joe Riley's career is marked by many great achievements for the City of Charleston and beyond. In addition to numerous award-winning initiatives, he is the founding member of the Mayors' Institute on City Design (MICD), an organization that convenes mayors from cities across the country with design experts to work through urban design challenges in their respective cities. Sasaki has frequently supported the MICD's sessions over the years, sending landscape architects and planners to lend practical design perspective to these unique dialogues.
In honor of his tenure as mayor, Charleston City Council recently voted to rename Charleston Waterfront Park as the Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Waterfront Park.
Congratulations to Mayor Joe Riley on his celebrated and memorable career, from all of us at Sasaki Associates. Click here to read the full article in Architect.
Working with city leadership for multiple decades, Sasaki has helped strengthen the public realm of Charleston, South Carolina through a series of planning, landscape, and architectural initiatives. When...