Fargo 365 was one of three entries into the Downtown Fargo: an Urban In-fill Competition from Philadelphia-based design firm Wallace Roberts and Todd, the design team of David Witham, Douglas Meehan, Anna Ishii, and Hannah Mattheus-Kairy. Their entry was selected as one of two first prize winners. More images and architects’ description after the break.
The driving force behind Fargo 365 is the conviction that a truly public space is accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Creating a place like this in North Dakota means accounting for wide, sometimes extreme variation in climate conditions. An often-used strategy in extreme climates is to move the public space indoors into skyways or indoor malls. However, issues of access, control, ownership, and governance, not to mention the lack of sunlight and fresh air, make an indoor public space problematic. In light of this, Fargo 365 envisions outdoor, truly public space for Fargo. Where climate conditions present a design challenge, they also presents an opportunity to celebrate the uniqueness of the region. With a contextual and climate-sensitive building form, integrated with cutting edge technology and public art, Fargo 365 celebrates the unique aspects of life in Fargo ND.
Fargo 365 begins by wrapping Fargo’s new civic space with a mixture of uses – residential, retail, and office space – providing a variety of activity and visitors throughout the day. The design then carves into the street wall in important locations to allow street life to flow in and out of the space from all sides, giving emphasis to the connection between Broadway and 2nd, while still holding the 100% retail corner at that intersection. The architectural forms manipulate micro-climate conditions by placing the higher structures to the north of the site, buffering the northern winter winds and opening up to the south sun and summer breezes. In addition, the alley-like connections between buildings require special consideration in order to avoid creating wind tunnels while still creating a public, pedestrian thoroughfare. As such, the pinched form serves a dual function. The narrow space at the mid-point creates control point to modulate the air flow through the space and best take advantage of passive heating and cooling opportunities, while flared edges keep the passageway inviting to the public and open to the sky.
Supplementing the underlying form, emerging renewable energy technology and public art are integrated throughout the design. Geothermal heat pumps, installed in conjunction with the necessary structural caissons, work to create a stable micro climate: cooling the buildings in the summer and warming the buildings and deicing the open space in the winter. In addition to practical considerations, the outdoor heat vents also afford the opportunity to create dynamic sculptural forms that will change daily through the freeze-thaw cycle. Vegetated walls line a network of tall, narrow, indoor atrium spaces and provide energy savings through active photoremidation that filters and recycles the air already within the system. Integrated Concentrating Dynamic Solar Facades on all south-facing walls alleviate the dilemma of choosing between access to sunlight and views on the one hand and renewable energy on the other. Vertical axis wind turbines generate energy on site by harvesting the winds redirected by the sculpted building forms and create an iconic presence on the Fargo skyline.
Perhaps, most important of all, the design seeks to integrate itself into the identity of the community, drawings inspiration from the uniqueness of the region and inspiring a sense of pride and community. A 30 foot high interactive screen anchors the plaza on the east face. The screen’s liquid crystal pixels, which can become transparent or opaque, respond to and express the movement of people in the plaza and skywalk. The public becomes part of a performance in which they are both actor and audience. Additionally, the surface of the public space recalls the iconic prairie potholes landscape of North Dakota, with the pavement opening up to hold water, plantings, and fountains in the summer, and exposing thermal vents heated by the geothermal system in the winter.
The climate modulating design provides a place for year round gathering and public interaction. The sloping forms create places for sun bathing, picnicking, and watching performances in the warmer months. In the winter months, those slopes become perfect for sledding, or catching a few rays of warm mid day sun. Just as its natural counterpart serves as the center of life on the prairie, Fargo 365 envisions a prairie pothole at the center of life in downtown Fargo, a place to gather, play, watch, shop, dine and celebrate.