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New Heart of the City
Downtown, Rochester...Minn., That Is

by Craig Ruhland, ASLA, Yaggy Colby Associates

The Peace Plaza in the heart of downtown Rochester shares the neighborhood with the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota, hotels and numerous shops and eateries. General pedestrian illumination, the bright white lighting, is provided via energy efficient metal-halide lamps incorporated into towers (right). The towers also house color-changing RGB LED fixtures
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The Peace Plaza in downtown Rochester, Minn. was created through public design process, thoughtful design implementation and creative programming. It has become the new heart of the downtown district. Rochester. Together with the city and the Rochester Downtown Alliance, the landscape architects at Yaggy Colby Associates in Rochester led the multidisciplinary team through planning, design and construction for the $3.3 million plaza. The design team worked relentlessly with the client, other design professionals, local businesses and contractors to deliver a design that has transformed the face of downtown Rochester.

The "Doves of Peace" bronze sculpture by Charles Eugene Gagnon is of intertwining doves circling a jet of water. It was relocated at the terminus of a lawn area bordered by ginkgo trees. A cast stone fountain supports the refurbished sculpture, anchoring the east end of the plaza. Touchstone submersible MR16 fixtures with Ushio 35w 10,000 hr. lamps sit below the trench grate to illuminate the fountain's sheet flow. The illuminated sheet flow creates serene visuals. The stone bowl and bronze sculpture seem to float above the water before the sheet flow disappears into a decorative cast iron grate.

The landscape architects were challenged to design a "place" that would function as the heart of a revitalized downtown. Initial studies hosted by Projects for Public Spaces and the city crystallized the need to improve the public space between the Mayo Clinic and the Galleria, the prime downtown retail center, including the existing 25 year-old Peace Plaza. The design team coordinated closely with business owners, Mayo, hotels, retailers and restaurants seeking input and soliciting creative ideas for the space.

Ingrade RGB LED fixtures (Exterieur Vert) in the pavers highlight the curving nature of a river as it winds through the plaza space. The lawn softens the plaza ground plane and pushes the eye level to the terminus of the space. The information kiosk, located near the lawn (left), houses the audio system, power and lighting controls, events information and security.

The vision was to create a gathering space for residents, workers and visitors to downtown businesses and Mayo Clinic. Workshops were held with stakeholders to develop strategies for bringing activity and life to the area. Seasonal strategies ensuring the plaza would become a year-round destination were crucial. The vision was to:

  • Create an inviting community-gathering place.
  • Start simple, allow for experimentation and make improvements as appropriate.
  • Develop a seasonal, all-weather programming strategy.
  • Make pedestrian safety and access a priority.
  • Emphasize street-level retail and lively mix of downtown activities.
  • Brighten up the district to provide liveliness and activity.

First Street is a major link between the Mayo Medical Campus and the central business district. It became clear vehicular traffic on First Street inhibited pedestrian movement and consumed space necessary for public gathering and flexible programming. As downtown circulation was reviewed it became apparent that project success would benefit by modification of several local streets to calm traffic and improve the pedestrian environment.

The renovated Peace Plaza stretches from the Galleria Building (the "M") that houses the University of Minnesota, Rochester, to the Mayo Clinic's Gonda Building, a two-block distance. This view is from high up in Gonda Building looking east to the Peace Plaza. The high-rise towering behind the plaza (seen in the photo above) is the Broadway Plaza Bldg., 29-stories of apartments and the tallest building in Rochester.

Design Inspiration

Inspiration for the design was taken from the healing and life giving nature of water and the peace symbol of doves. Thematically, the flow of people between Mayo and the Galleria follows the metaphor of a river and migratory birds. In-grade LED color changing pavers programmed to flow like a river, illuminated mesh birds. Custom light towers help to articulate the plaza's design inspiration.

A winding "river" symbolizes the life-giving element of water. The river surface of colored concrete incorporates recessed programmable LED lights, symbolically linking the healing nature of the Mayo Clinic on the west and culminates dramatically at the fountain to the east. Morphing with shades of blue, teal and purple the river surface creates the effect of flowing water.

The plaza crosses one street as it accommodates visitors throughout the year. At this location, the light towers have a white metal-halide illuminated cylinder to light the intersection and a cylinder at the top with blue LEDs that serves as a beacon for drivers and pedestrians.

The "Doves of Peace" by Charles Eugene Gagnon is a bronze sculpture of intertwining doves circulating a jet of water. It was relocated at the terminus of a lawn area bordered by ginkgo trees. The water jet at the center of the fountain is illuminated with submersible color changing LED fixtures, bathing the interior of the sculpture with warm reds and ambers. After the water jet settles in the bowl, the water flows in sheets over the edge of the stone and into decorative cast iron grates. Hidden lights beneath the drip edge illuminate the falling waters. The sheet flow is up-lit with long life MR16 fixtures, dimmed to conserve energy and improve lamp life. The illuminated sheet flow creates a serene visual experience. The stone bowl and bronze sculpture seem to float above the cascading waters.

The typical plaza environment during Rochester's weekly summer festival, "Thursday's on First." Creative programming with street vendors, live music and food keep the space active and alive. After only two full seasons of use, the Peace Plaza has become a significantly popular attraction.

Light towers along the "river" are custom-fabricated aluminum structures holding wire fabric forms, a metaphor for "birds in flight." LED lights illuminate the birds and the towers incorporate power access for plaza vendors, a sound system for music and public events, wireless internet, security cameras and lighting. Careful design consideration was given to the light towers to maintain emergency access and several of the towers where construction over occupied spaces. The light towers support mesh birds, illuminated with color-changing LED fixtures concealed in the arms below. The fixtures are programmed to give the illusion the birds are flying along the plaza. The colors can be changed for various holidays or special events.

Pedestrian Illumination

General pedestrian illumination is provided via energy-efficient metal-halide lamps incorporated into the towers. Metal louvers inside the frosted acrylic cylinder reduce glare, yet maintain proper light levels for pedestrian comfort and safety.

These light towers support mesh "birds" illuminated with color changing LED fixtures concealed in the arms below. The fixtures are programmed to give the illusion of birds flying along the plaza. The light fixtures provide color variable LED lighting, audio (speakers concealed within metal grills), security cameras and power.

At the intersection of the plaza and the roadway, larger towers frame the crosswalk, providing pedestrian safety and a visual enticement for passing drivers. The towers have a white metal-halide illuminated cylinder to light the intersection and a cylinder at the top with blue LEDs that is a beacon for drivers and pedestrians.

There's a New Energy in Town

Since the Peace Plaza has been renovated, the space has created a new surge of energy into downtown Rochester. The increased space and pedestrian-friendly lighting, furnishings and accessibility has produced a flexible framework for creative programming that has stimulated tremendous commercial and social interaction in the heart of the city. Outdoor dining, street vendors, live music and fashion shows have all inspired social interaction in the new heart of the city.

Project: Rochester Peace Plaza, Rochester, Minn.

Team (by profession, alpha order)

Architects, Civil Engineering, Structural Engineering, Surveying and Project Management
Yaggy Colby Associates
Rochester, Minn.

Pember Companies, Inc.
Menomonie, Wis.

Design Consultant
Bryan Carlson, FASLA
Bryan Carlson Planning and Landscape Architecture

Electrical Contractor

Neitz Electric
Rochester, Minn.

Electrical & Mechanical Engineering

Sebesta Blomberg
Rochester, Minn.

Fountain Contractor

Flair Fountains

Landscape Architect
Craig Ruhland, ASLA,
Yaggy Colby Associates, Rochester, Minn.

Landscape Contractor

Sargents Landscape Nursery
Rochester, Minn.

Lighting Design Consultant

Michael DiBlasi and Paul Whitaker, LEED AP
Schuler Shook


Aluminum Light Fixtures

Laval, Quebec

Cast Stone Supplier

American Artstone Co.
New Ulm, Minn.

Concrete Coloring and Texturing

L M. Scofield Company
St. Charles, Ill.

Site Furnishings

Landscape Forms, Inc.
Kalamazoo, Mich.

Tree Grates and Ornamental Drains

Urban Accessories
Tacoma, Wash.

Turf Grass System

Rehbein Environmental Solutions, Inc.

About the Firm
Yaggy Colby Associates is a 110-person multidisciplinary consulting firm celebrating 40 years (1970 - 2010). This U.S. Green Building Council firm has offices in Rochester and Eagan, Minn., Delafield, Wis. and Mason City, Iowa. The firm offers comprehensive design and construction services in transportation and municipal engineering, planning, landscape architecture, architecture and surveying.

Robert Ellis President, COO, Chairman
Scott Samuelson, PE, CFO
Jose Rivas, AIA, LEED-AP, Secretary
Michael Court, PE, Vice President
Terry McCarthy, Vice President
Christopher Colby, AIA, CID, Principal
Mark Mickelson, PE, Principal

Yaggy Colby Associates personnel (by title, alphabetical):
Administrators: 17
Architectural Staff: 11
CADD Technicians: 17
Construction Inspectors: 5
Engineers: 33
Landscape Architects: 7
Planners: 2
Real Estate Specialists: 6
Surveyors: 12

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June 17, 2019, 8:47 am PDT

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