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Parking Lot to People Space West Capitol Terrace, Iowa
State Capitol

By Confluence, a consulting firm of landscape architects and planners with offices in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, Kansas City, Mo. and Sioux Falls, S.D.




The first task was to remove an existing parking lot (inset). Pedestrian accessibility was achieved by four sets of ramps and steps, now called the Capitol Terrace. At the top of the second set of ramps is a central plaza space with a large in-grade fountain behind the pioneer statuary. Site amenities include architectural area lighting (Lighting Solutions) and a plenitude of benches (DuMor
Site Furnishings).

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The West Capitol Terrace is identified by the 2000 Iowa Capitol complex master plan as the "forecourt across which the Capitol Building is viewed from downtown Des Moines." The master plan visualized the space for public celebrations and gatherings, a space for private respite and relaxation and a welcoming presence for visitors coming onto the grounds. It should serve as a physical link between the state and city of Des Moines and be a symbolic link between the state government and citizens of Iowa.




On the ground plane is a granite map of Iowa that is oriented to true north and terminates the East Locust streetscape. The granite is "Rockville white" from Cold Springs Granite, Minn.

Our firm, Confluence, was brought in by the state to design and implement improvements for the West Terrace grounds based on these master plan guidelines.





The map is bordered with Unilock Pavers in Chardonnay Tan, Onyx Black, Platinum Grey and Mocha Brown.

Design Concepts

The design builds on the strengths and tradition of the French plan and Beaux Arts that can be seen throughout the Capitol complex. The shape of the Capitol's golden dome is repeated throughout the design, informing and defining the way people experience the space. The design not only creates a fitting home for the Capitol Building, but creates a space that will have transformed a parking lot into a sanctuary for the public to assemble, demonstrate, picnic, walk and contemplate.





Granite in Charcoal Black, Carnelian and Rockville White make up the star emblem.

Design Solutions

The first task was to remove an existing parking lot that has served as the Capitol's front lawn experience for years. In its place, the design team created a pedestrian-oriented space that provides a connection between the Capitol grounds and downtown. Pedestrian accessibility is achieved by four sets of ramps and steps that are arranged to provide similar experiences for people of all abilities as they negotiate the grade. The ramps divide the space into five distinct areas, creating a sense of progression, a separation between uses, and different experiences as one moves through the mall. On the west, a large plaza with entrance monuments introduces the visitor to the Capitol complex. On the ground plane a map of Iowa oriented to true north terminates the East Locust streetscape and completes its theme. The East Locust streetscape lists all the county seats as one walks east towards the Capitol, then, as one enters the terrace, all the county seats are shown in relation to one another on the Iowa map. As one moves east through the first set of ramps, they enter a transitional space scaled down to a more human scale; this space has planting beds and seating for those who wish to pause and enjoy the space. At the top of the second set of ramps, one enters the central plaza space; banks of flags flank the space to the north and south, and a large in-grade fountain punctuates the whole West Capitol Terrace from the City of Des Moines with a burst of color and water. When the fountain is turned off, the plaza acts as a gathering space for small to medium sized public events. Passing through the third set of ramps, the visitor will come to another transitional space mirroring the first. And finally, at the east end of the mall, the visitor emerges onto a large public plaza. This plaza can act as a stage to crowds gathered on the west terrace for special events such as the annual Fourth of July Concert. The whole length of the mall is flanked by a double row of overstory trees that frame the views from the east to downtown Des Moines, and from the west, toward the Capitol Building.





The plaza design includes a cast stone (Edwards Cast Stone) balustrade custom colored to match the State Capitol. Some of the benches are backless for unobstructed viewing.

Site Characteristics and Context

The project area was previously the location of on-grade asphalt parking lots with traffic control gates, pipe and chain bollards, and shoe-box style light fixtures that contrast sharply with the elegance and beauty of the Capitol Building and its remaining grounds.

Installation of the fountain and additional landscaping will be completed in subsequent phases of this project.


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October 20, 2019, 5:47 pm PDT

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