Ithaca Commons, a two-block pedestrian mall, is the social and economic center of Ithaca. Sasaki completed a concept design to assess existing conditions and provide recommendations to improve the commons as a retail environment and community gathering space. The preliminary concept plan draws inspiration from the striking gorges of Ithaca, incorporating them into the urban fabric of the city to establish a vibrant, active center.
The central design theme of the commons is tying the space to its greater context. The distinctive paving pattern blends historic circulation patterns of the area with the linear quality of the geologic features of the gorges. Planted amenity zones seem to grow from the splits in the stone in a controlled, yet natural, succession. The water feature along Bank Alley was directly inspired by the cracking, splitting characteristics of the stone found in Ithaca's gorges. Water bubbles, seeps, and drips over the stone in a playful manner that invites children to explore. Interpretive play features on State Street utilize raw materials and natural systems of the region and allow children to experience the visceral qualities of their surroundings. These features, combined with improved performance spaces and ample amounts of movable seating, supply the energy and vibrancy needed to activate the commons. Additional elements—trees that provide dappled shade and a lawn for informal gatherings—soften the space and unify the landscape.
Public meetings and feedback are an integral component of the design process. The reuse of existing site materials and incorporation of local resources emphasize the sustainable approach of the project. Salvaged granite from a previous fountain and locally harvested Black Locust wood are part of a larger strategy to incorporate responsible design practices on the commons.