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A sensitive update to a historic public square delivers on community priorities of cultural heritage, flexibility, and safety

Moore Square

City of Raleigh
Raleigh, NC
4.5 acres
Tzu Chen, Matthew Arielly
Landscape Architecture Foundation
Landscape Performance Series Case Study Brief
Civil Engineering
Landscape Architecture
Additional Services
Community Engagement
Interior Design
Planning and Urban Design
Completed 2019
International Downtown Association, Downtown Achievement Award of Excellence, Planning, Design, and Infrastructure category
Sir Walter Raleigh Awards for Community Appearance, Public Spaces category
Sir Walter Raleigh Awards for Community Appearance, Landscape Design category

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 intact.

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 designed by 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.

For more information contact Zachary Chrisco.

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