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Mansfield Town Square at Storrs Center
Pedestrian-Oriented Public Space

Landscape Architecture by Kent + Frost


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The town of Mansfield, Conn., was in desperate need of a pedestrian-friendly town center. Kent + Frost Landscape Architects worked with local officials and with the nearby University of Connecticut to create Mansfield Town Square at Storrs Center. The half-acre square was designed to accommodate visitors on foot, bicycle and skateboard, and in strollers and wheelchairs. The wide variety of transportation accommodations required that the majority of the site be paved.


The town of Mansfield lies approximately 25 miles east of Hartford, Conn. The University of Connecticut was established there in 1881 at Storrs Village, one of 19 small villages that make up the town. The rural setting was perfect for an agricultural school. By the late 1990s, UConn had diversified and grown to over 20,000 students, but the commercial strip across from campus lacked a sense of place or community; it was composed of mostly one-story buildings and parking lots. The town's two-lane highway, Storrs Road/Route 195, was dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists, and acted as a barrier between town and campus.

 

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The aerial overview, left, was taken before the lighting, pavilion, and sculptural elements had been installed.



Planning Context
Within this context, the town and UConn began a collaborative design to envision a walkable, mixed-use town center, with pedestrian-oriented streets and public spaces integrated into a series of small neighborhoods. Ground floor retail and commercial spaces would open onto landscaped sidewalks and intimate streets with a variety of residence types above and in adjacent neighborhoods. After years of planning, the Mansfield Downtown Partnership (MDP) was formed and Storrs Center, a public-private partnership that leveraged $200 million in private investment with $25 million in public funds, began implementation.

The heart of the Storrs Center development is Mansfield Town Square. The project fronts Storrs Road, across from UConn's School of Fine Arts complex, E.O. Smith Regional High School and Mansfield Town Hall. New buildings containing ground floor retail with high-density housing on the upper floors surround the square on three sides. The half-acre site is the nexus of pedestrian movement from all directions, and its design became a carefully choreographed composition of hardscape, softscape and placemaking elements. The budget for the square was $1.75 million, sourced from a variety of public and private contributions.

 

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Public art was a key element in designing the square. The "Weaving Shuttle" sculpture, by David Boyajian, was selected and commissioned through a competition. The sculpture represents the silk textile industry that operated in the Mansfield area during the 19th century.



Design
The square was designed to accommodate informal social activity, cross-circulation and events. Its striking design makes a strong visual statement about the value of shared public space. By day, the site is remarkable for its heavy pedestrian use, brightly colored furniture, bold paver choice and sculptural elements. By night, it's a sparkling oasis with custom light effects that attract casual users and create a memorable landmark.

The principal elements consist of a plaza on the north side, an arc of five elm trees (Ulmus 'Patriot'), a 50' diameter lawn panel, curving seatwalls with native plantings, and a raised stage area with central stair and pavilion. A large white oak was preserved on the northwest corner.

 

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Kent + Frost used a combination of gray, white and charcoal Unilock 'Eco-Priora' permeable pavers around the central lawn, and Series 3000 pavers in the same colors around the edges of the square. The permeable pavers were installed in a circle around the lawn, while the larger pavers were placed in a diagonal pattern to express the dominant pathway through the square. The 20" tall by 24" wide planter/seatwall is 'Skyline' granite schist. The native plants within include New England aster, meadow sage and ornamental onion. The curb surrounding the lawn is Vermont granite. The four steel pylons placed on top of the curb have LEDs and carvings representing fireflies and tall grasses. The town manager was originally quite apprehension of the plan to specify lightweight, moveable furniture, small-scale tests indicated theft would not be an issue (and hasn't)! The red bistro chairs and tables coordinate nicely with the plaza's metal-crafted elements.



The site was designed to accommodate visitors on foot, bicycle and skateboard, and in strollers and wheelchairs, thus requiring that the majority of the site be paved. Since the primary desired lines of circulation cross the square on diagonals, all corners are open to pedestrians. A diagonal pattern of charcoal, gray and white concrete Unilock 'Series 3000' pavers was employed to scale down the expanse of the plaza and express the dominant pathway. 'Eco-Priora' permeable pavers by the same manufacturer encircle the central lawn and run through the plaza in bands.

The central lawn is a kid magnet. At 50' in diameter and slightly elevated atop a bullnosed Vermont granite curb, the lawn becomes an irresistible place to go barefoot and run, jump, and dance. It also serves as a place to sit back and enjoy a concert, sunbathe, or practice yoga.

Anchoring the southeast corner is a 20' wide granite stairway that transitions up 2' to the sidewalk level. A 24' x 28' pavilion overhangs the concrete stage area, creating a dramatic placemaking element. The pavilion is constructed with massive steel pylons and translucent polycarbonate panels (by 3form), backlit with B-K LED lighting. Programmable Philips Color Kinetics LED fixtures are set on the front and back of the roof, giving the stage a full range of lighting options. The pylons that support the pavilion are topped with internally lit LED beacons. When not in use for events, the area serves as a gateway to the square.

Great lighting was considered essential to the design. Ambient light from the surrounding streets and buildings allowed for low level indirect and accent lighting on site. Four 16' tall steel pylons on the lawn curb, designed by Kent + Frost, emit light through cutouts representing tall grasses and fireflies. The cutouts were made using a computer-guided tube laser following a CAD layout. Accent LED lighting on the pavilion, trellises and seat walls completes the scene.

The curving stone planter wall was designed as a transition between the upper level of the stage and the circular lawn plaza. Skyline schist wall stone from northern Connecticut matches other nearby off-site walls and provides a convenient seat for events and daily use.

The planters are filled with perennials and grasses, including New England aster (Raydon's favorite), blue star (amsonia), blue false indigo (baptisia), meadow sage (salvia), ironweed (Vernonia), ornamental onion (allium 'Mt Everest'), and Appalachian sedge (carex). A hedge of inkberry (Ilex glabra) provides enclosure and a backdrop for the perennials. A custom-designed railing along the back of the sidewalk protects the planters from pedestrian shortcutting and doubles as a continuous bike rack.

The 4" caliper 'Patriot' elms within the square are set in recessed Ironsmith paver grates and planted within a continuous band of Cornell University's CU-structural soil. Duckbill root ball anchors will ensure stability until the roots have spread into the surrounding structural soil.

Town manager Matt Hart said of the square, "I'm very pleased that we chose to combine a permeable hardscape with a protected lawn area and other plantings. The hardscape is much more durable and looks great in all seasons. The square is quickly becoming the heart and soul of our community."

 

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The steel and polycarbonate trellises were designed to contrast with the native plantings while connecting with the pavilion and the rest of downtown through the use of the color red. An LED uplight from B-K Lighting is centered underneath each trellis. The sculptures were fabricated locally using a CNC (computerized numerical control) tube bender for the curved pieces, and a CNC router to cut the red polycarbonate panels.



Public Space, Public Art
From the outset, artistic form was an important principle of the square's design. Kent + Frost designed the six vine trellises to create vertical accents that relate to the pavilion. Composed of 1" stainless angle bars, the plant-like forms emanate from welded bundles and terminate with flared panels of polycarbonate that match the pavilion roof. Red trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is planted at the base.

A public competition resulted in the commission of "Weaving Shuttle" by Connecticut artist David Boyajian. The sculpture represents Mansfield's history as the home of the first silk mill in North America, built around 1810 on nearby Hanks Hill.

Use of the Square
The square has performed well since opening in June 2015. Since seating was a priority, Kent + Frost advocated for moveable furniture on the square, but the owner was wary of theft. A small-scale test indicated this shouldn't be a problem. There are now dozens of lightweight bistro tables and chairs. Some mornings, a motivated resident arranges the furniture along the arc of elm trees. By evening, they are scattered and in use across the plaza.

On a sunny September day the "Celebrate Mansfield" festival attracted crowds to booths, food vendors and live music in the square. A parade down Storrs Road, with a performance by the high school marching band, ended at the plaza.

The surrounding streets were closed to traffic and filled with tents and vendors. For an afternoon, the downtown was a pedestrian-only zone that revealed the magic of a central open space within a mixed-use urban community.

Project Team
Client: Town of Mansfield, Matthew Hart, Manager
Mansfield Downtown Partnership, Cynthia Van Zelm, Executive Director
Storrs Center Developer: Leyland Alliance & EdR
Landscape Architect: Kent + Frost, Brian Kent, PLA, lead designer
Chad Frost, PLA / Tim Magee / Elisa Magee / Andrea Fossa
Structural Engineer: e2, Scott Erricson
Electrical Engineer: Acorn, Mark Gendron / Rajesh Karki
Landscape Contractor: Mountain View Landscapes, Scott Moore / Nic Brown
Pavilion & Light Pylon Fabrication/Installation: XTX Associates, Stephen Pazdar
Trellis Fabrication: Swift Innovations, Wade Swift
Electrical Contractor: Eastern Electric, David Pallanck
"Weaving Shuttle" Sculptor: David Boyajian

Products
Pavers: Unilock Series 3000 and Eco-Priora
Tree Grates: IronSmith paver grate
Stage and Pylon Lighting: Philips Color Kinetics
Accent Lighting: B-K Lighting
Polycarbonate Roof: 3form Koda XT
Steps and Lawn Curb: Granite Industries of Vermont







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