A recipe for ‘Urban Magnets’

A recipe for ‘Urban Magnets’

Things are heating up, southern style, for DIALOG principal Alan Boniface. Boniface is engaged in a massive new mixed use project in Memphis, Tennessee. The project is an ambitious attempt to revitalize a one-million square-foot heritage building which draws in part from the firm’s experience recreating Granville Island. This from Thomas Bailey Jr. of the Tennessee Commercial Appeal:  

My caption lives here.

To create great Memphis public places that draw people like a human magnet, keep it real.

That’s the message from urban design expert Alan Boniface, whose architectural firm DIALOG has championed preserving and integrating real, authentic industry on Vancouver’s Granville Island.

Boniface credits the boat-building and concrete plant there as key ingredients in making Granville Island the second-most visited attraction in Canada, behind Niagara Falls.

The workaday, blue-collar jobs are integrated with Granville Island’s newer public market, art college, live theater, microbrewery, arts and crafts shops and restaurants.

Several hundred people gathered last week at Memphis College of Art to hear Boniface speak on “Urban Magnets: Lessons in Sustainable Place-Making.”

Boniface’s firm designed the redevelopment of the once industry-dominated Granville Island in 1975 using three human magnets: Food (fresh food is produced and sold there); boating and marine services; and all aspects of art, including making it, selling it and teaching it.

Memphis must identify for itself what authentic Memphis activities can help make a success of such developments as Overton Square, the South Main District, Sears Crosstown and other public spaces, Boniface indicated.

But clearly, he said, Memphis has a deep history with music and entertainment.

In great place-making, design follows and celebrates the real activities that already exist.

And good design doesn’t sterilize a place.

That notion has implications for the redevelopment of places like the Madison Avenue corridor and the Memphis riverfront.

The Turner Dairy operation, for example, sits adjacent to the Overton Square entertainment district, which Loeb Properties is redeveloping. Some have talked of encouraging the dairy to move to make room for apartments.

But Boniface’s urban-magnet design theory would consider that the dairy has roots in the neighborhood, adds a different texture to the experience along Madison, and contributes value because it actually produces something.

Besides, Boniface said, “A dairy is something that isn’t too noxious.”

Real, blue-collar production is a key part of the urban-magnet mix.

“It’s critical to have blue-collar jobs so there is some production on site,” he said in an interview before the speech.

“The idea of a ‘magnet’ is it’s based around activity.”

The same lens could be used in considering whether to remove more industrial activities and buildings from the Memphis riverfront.

Even in Vancouver, Boniface said, the waterfront has become too sterilized.

Dialog has fought against the call by some in Vancouver to remove the concrete plant from Granville Island.

That gritty Ocean Construction Supplies production site, on the island since 1917, has now become such a part of the mixed-use scene that it paints the drums of its trucks to promote Granville Island.

Another part of Memphis’ great potential are all its older buildings, Boniface said. Other cities leveled blocks of their older buildings for redevelopment.

Even spots where a beautiful old building borders a vacant lot offer opportunities to create a range of good architecture, Boniface said.

Memphis has “incredible history” in music, civil rights and other areas, he said.

He called them geographic “moments.”

“You’ve got these moments in the city that, as a visitor, I find remarkable.”

Comments (1)

  1. rethinkdev

    That is a striking photo of the public market, i love going there with my family.

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