For over two centuries, Moore Square has persisted as an urban green space of tree canopy and turf providing
a mix of shady and sunny places to gather and recreate, to see and be seen.
Like all great public squares, the 4.5 acre park has evolved over time to
fulfill the changing needs of the City of Raleigh. Its character of continuity
lies in its persistent use as a public space.
In 1792, the same year Raleigh was founded as North Carolina’s capital city, the General Assembly chose
Senator William Christmas, a surveyor, to envision the lots and streets of the
new capital. Christmas laid out 400 acres of city fabric through 1,000 acres of
woodland, in a geometric grid which emulated the plan of Philadelphia. Moore
Square, along with Nash Square and Capitol Square, is one of three remaining
squares originally planned by Christmas and, as such, it is a significant
example of early American town planning.
While an enduring greensward, Moore Square’s landscape forms, spaces and surfaces have evolved over time. This evolution has occurred in response to changes in the character and use of
the urban context—the surrounding blocks and buildings. As the area evolved
from a residential to a commercial district, from an agricultural trading
center to a vital business and commercial district including Raleigh’s African
American main street during the Jim Crow era, the Square transformed the way
vernacular landscapes do—incrementally, gradually, and often through a series
of ad hoc measures.
In recent years, frequent large
scale events and daily use have taken their toll on the parks vegetation, soils
and paving. This pressure, combined with the planned development in the
surrounding neighborhood, has prompted the City to renovate the square to meet
the changing needs of its users. Sasaki has worked with the City, public
stakeholders and a team of technical experts to develop a consensus-driven plan
for the square.
The proposed design protects and
strengthens the square’s historic configuration: a frame of large shade trees
enclosing an open, sunny central space. At the street edge, where users
requested greater connectivity to the adjacent blocks, the design features a
“dignified frame” of widened sidewalks, granite seat walls, and spacious entry
plazas. On-street parking has been removed along the square’s southern edge to
create a wide linear plaza that will host future farmers markets and other community
events. Bump-outs have been added at all crosswalks to make pedestrian access
to the square safer.
The grand oak trees surrounding
the square, some of which are over 200 years old, are the park’s defining
feature. The design protects the trees by limiting foot traffic within their
critical root zones. This achieved through judicious placement of pedestrian paths,
and a combination of low rails and groundcover planting to dissuade people from
leaving the paths. Where gaps in the tree perimeter exist, or will likely develop
in the next 30 years, new trees will be planted to ensure the frame remains
In the interior of the square,
circulation follows an historic X pattern, with a new perimeter path creating a
promenade encircling the central lawn. The lawn has been engineered to meet the
community’s demand for flexible open space, as well occasional need for larger
gatherings. The entire lawn has a gentle pitch from northwest to southeast to
create an amphitheater effect. Three
small gathering spaces, nicknamed “Grove Rooms,” are tucked within the tree
frame. These feature stone seating elements design be artist Brad Goldberg.
The southeast corner of the square is home to a constellation of public amenities anchored by a flexible civic plaza. The plaza features an interactive fountain which faces west to capture afternoon sunlight. The plaza also includes flexible seating and shade trees to address the neighborhood’s
need for flexible outdoor social spaces. The sense of social space is
reinforced by an open, airy trellis which frames the plaza’s southern edge. A
small pavilion at the center of the trellis contains a café, public restrooms
and storage. Inspired by the vernacular architecture of the region, the
pavilion façade foregrounds three native materials: stone, wood and metal.
Lastly, the square includes an accessible play area designed to evoke the
materials and topography of the broader piedmont region.
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