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Guthrie Green Urban Revitalization Through Open Spaces

Landscape Architecture by SWA Group - Landscape Architecture, Planning & Urban Design

The Guthrie Green urban garden offers a dramatic nightscape, backlit by the skyline of downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. SWA's landscape design transformed the site into a lively new urban park offering gardens, interactive fountains, a lawn amphitheater, an outdoor stage, and a cafe pavilion. Credit: Jonnu Singleton

The fountains at Guthrie Green are an active reminder of the geo-exchange system beneath the park, which generates heating/cooling energy by circulating water through 120 wells drilled 500 feet deep. Credit: Jonnu Singleton

A circular fountain with seat walls, lighting and a bocce ball court provide a less formal landscape along the east edge of the park, buffering against the heavily trafficked street. Credit: Jonnu Singleton

The fountains provide a chance to beat the Oklahoma sun during a hot Tulsa summer. The sun also provides electricity for the park through a bank of solar panels on the pavilion roof. Credit: Jonnu Singleton

Four fountains, crafted from five foot black granite cubes, release water from the earth in different forms--seeps, jets, mist, and fog within the western garden area. Credit: Sergio Lima

Guthrie Green, a new urban garden and performance venue in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a 2.7-acre green space forming the centerpiece of the Brady Arts District. Named in honor of Oklahoma singer-songwriter and political rebel Woody Guthrie, the emerging downtown neighborhood includes historic theaters, the famous Cain's dance hall, industrial properties and warehouses, and a growing number of homes, galleries, restaurants and workplaces.

Rehabilitation of the project's brownfield site included removal of contaminated soil and abandoned gas tanks. Today, an innovative geothermal well field under the park is generating energy for heating and cooling of adjacent arts buildings, while the landscaped gardens, fountains and outdoor pavilions invites Tulsans to enjoy outdoor performances, markets and gatherings within a vibrant and modern downtown neighborhood. Guthrie Green also illustrates the benefits of effective private-public partnerships. Tulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) spearheaded the $8 million park project as part of a $113.5 million public-private investment in the Brady-Greenwood downtown districts. The project's sustainable approach garnered public funding including a $2.5 Million ARRA Energy Demand Reduction Grant, a $125,000 Brownfield Development Grant from the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, and additional local funding. Developed in coordination with the city, the park will remain under GKFF ownership and maintenance.

The story of Guthrie Green began with a district-wide urban design study by SWA, in conjunction with Bing Thom Architects, for the 19-block Brady District of downtown Tulsa. The team identified streetscape corridors to connect Tulsa's BOK Arena to a proposed baseball stadium. SWA provided streetscape design and full landscape architectural services for the ONEOK Field baseball stadium, which opened in 2010.

To provide a central green space for the Brady District, the design team convinced the client to purchase a truck loading facility located on the district's main east-west route, Brady Street. The one-block property that became Guthrie Green sits directly across Brady Street from the Tulsa Paper Company building, a historic warehouse that GKFF acquired in 2007 with the intent of providing incubator arts space and retaining the Eugene B. Adkins Collection of Native American and Southwestern Art in Tulsa. In addition to the Adkins Collection, the building has become the home for the Woody Guthrie Archives, along with galleries, classrooms, studios, a wine bar and a modern art and design gallery for the University of Tulsa's Zarrow Center for the Arts.

Input from an extensive community outreach process - led by GKFF and including local business owners, cultural organizations and city officials - supported park programming for community events and the performing arts. Together, the park and arts center now create a central hub of arts and open space that is catalyzing redevelopment of the district. The truck facility's central location offered the perfect opportunity for an outdoor "living room" to attract and serve the district's future artists, urban professionals, students, families and visitors.

Views north from the Tulsa Paper Company Building show the 2.7-acre, 11,200-square foot park pavilion occupying a former truck loading dock and frames the park along the north edge. Grass-lined bioswales gather runoff from the pavilion roof and from the east and west edges of the park, processing the discharge before it reaches the municipal stormwater system. Credit: Jonnu Singleton

Park construction included extensive brownfield cleanup and environmental remediation, including the removal of ten buried fuel tanks, despite site records only showing two tanks. Credit: Kinslow, Keith & Todd, Architecture

Park Design
SWA's park design transformed the former truck loading facility into a gathering space, offering gardens, interactive fountains, an outdoor stage with vine-covered "green rooms," a multipurpose lawn for performances and festivals, and an 11,200-square foot cafe pavilion that reuses the area formerly occupied by a loading dock.

The park design takes cues from the site's history and location within the up-and-coming arts district. The cafe pavilion occupies the northern edge of the space and offers a cafe, restrooms, storage, covered open air gathering spaces, and grand stairs that invite visitors to sit and look out over the central Brady Lawn. Kinslow, Keith & Todd Architects designed the pavilion and stage. Wallace Engineering provided structural and civil engineering. Manhattan Construction Company, with Stonebridge Group and Tulsa Industrial Authority, oversaw construction. Shuler Shook contributed the design of overall lighting and sound equipment. CMS and Kusser Fountain Works finalized SWA's design of the fountains. Along the east and west edges of the park, SWA added grass-lined bioremediation swales that gather water from the site and runoff from the pavilion roof, providing the pre-cleaning required before discharge reaches the municipal stormwater system. The meandering alignment of the swales evokes the curving sweeps of the nearby Arkansas River and forms the spines of north-south garden spaces, with more formal fountain courts along the west edge and a more informal tree planting with diagonal paths to buffer against heavier vehicular traffic on the east side. A major circular fountain in the eastern area provides lively entertainment, while smaller fountains carved from granite cubes express the seeping, misting and jetting characteristics of water within the western garden area.

The sustainability plan for the park included a geo-exchange wellfield, LED lighting, bioretention swales, and photovoltaic arrays, which attracted federal, state and local funding.

Guthrie Green's opening day featured fireworks and a performance by Tulsa Symphony's Youth Orchestra. The park's original design intended to save the existing slab as a stage, but that proved unworkable. Credit: Jonnu Singleton

The roof drains to sloped bioremediation swales along the east and west sides of the park (right). Plant selection included October Glory red maples, Blue False indigo, coral bells and several strains of Japanese spiraea. Credit: Jonnu Singleton

A new stage defines the park's southern boundary along Brady Street, which can be blocked off to provide overflow space for special markets and exhibitions. Renovated brick promenade sidewalks integrate the park with the street and help to connect the park space with BOK Arena, ONEOK Ballpark, and other destinations within Brady Arts District. Within the park, concrete paving bands (natural color and colored) enhance the relationship between the different structures and reflect the layout of the geo-exchange grid. Stone was used at the circular interactive fountain. The brick paving along the perimeter of the Park responded to the specific character of the neighborhood's older industrial brick structures and integrated the Tulsa Paper Company building into the overall design. Plant selection presented a special challenge, given the project goals for water conservation, low maintenance, sustainability, and adaptability the wide range of weather conditions in Tulsa, where temperatures typically range from over 100 degrees in the summer to well below freezing in December through February.

Geo-Exchange System
Early in the design process, the design team envisioned a ground-source heat pump system under the park. The system would follow the precedent provided by the headquarters of Tulsa-based engineering company, Wallace Engineering, which is entirely heated and cooled by a geo-exchange system within their parking lot. The resulting low-cost energy would offset operating costs for non-profit groups housed in the Tulsa Paper Company building.

Gardens along the west side of the park include pedestrian pathways leading to the fountains and courtyards. Credit: Jonnu Singleton

The park's geo-exchange system consists of 120 wells drilled 500 feet down, generating 600 tons (7.2 million BTU/hour) of heating/cooling, distributed via underground pipes. Credit: Kinslow, Keith & Todd, Architecture

Guthrie Green's geo-exchange system generates 600 tons (7.2 million BTU/hour) of heating/cooling energy, distributed via underground pipes from 120 wells drilled 500 feet deep. The system serves 120,000 square feet of nearby non-profit users as well as the cafe pavilion and bathrooms. Photovoltaic panels on the pavilion roof supply power for the heat pump system. The system enables 60 percent reduction in energy demand, with paying back the investment the system required in five to seven years.

Along with the district's LED lighting, the geo-exchange system provides a model for sustainable park design. Flynt & Kallenberger and Dr. James Bose of Oklahoma State University collaborated on the geo-exchange design, using a Rygan Corp.-designed high-efficiency closed-system technology and installation.

Park Programming
Today, the project's grid layout of gardens, paths, and interactive fountains reflect what is unseen below the surface. GKFF will maintain ownership and maintenance of Guthrie Green; they are actively programming activities in partnership with the Tulsa Performing Arts Center Trust and other local non-profit groups. The foundation is also providing funds for a series of local performing arts presentations. Guthrie Green's public market currently offers fresh produce and local crafts. Local residents and downtown workers enjoy free yoga and exercise classes on the lawn. At its recent opening, Tulsans celebrated Guthrie Green with performances, fireworks, and food, opening a new chapter for a shared and revitalized urban life.

The project won the 2012 Excellence in Construction Award from the Oklahoma chapter of ABC (Associated Builders and Contractors), and was shortlisted for the World Architecture News Urban Regeneration award and the ECOWAN Award. For more information on programming, visit

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February 17, 2020, 1:50 pm PDT

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