Published: July 10, 2020


Design by Passage team Kate Burgess, Tiffany Filatov, Gabe Onderdonk and Alec Stolz.

The Longmont Downtown Development Authority plans to use designs created by CU Boulder students to help transform St. Stephen's Plaza on Main Street from a little-used space to a creative hub and gathering place. The students–all landscape architect seniors enrolled in the Program in Environmental Design's (ENVD) Spring 2020 Longmont Praxis Studio–worked in teams of four to five students and submitted three redesigns to the LDDA at the end of the semester.

"We were truly amazed by the bright ideas, thoughtful questions and thorough explanations brought forth by each group of students," said Kimberlee McKee, executive director of the LDDA. "Each group had a very unique and impactful design and presented in a professional manner."

The university-city partnership was organized through the Community Design Workshop program of CU Boulder's Community Engagement, Design and Research Center (CEDaR), which creates opportunities for CU Boulder students and faculty to take part in community projects. Community Design Workshops begin with a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between cities and the university, and the MoUs guide classes, studios and other student and faculty research that address a priority defined by the community, said Brian Muller, CEDaR's director.

Longmont's defined priority is the revitalization of the old downtown area, he said. The Longmont project began in spring 2019 with a studio, linked seminar and several internships where students generated design interventions for enhancing Longmont's plazas, breezeways, alleyways and creative businesses in the downtown area, creating the foundation for the spring 2020 studio. 

The real-world connection motivated the students to deliver high quality solutions, said Jesse Van Horne, an ENVD lecturer who supervised the project.

"These kinds of relationships allow more ingenuity than a typical client-contractor relationship," Van Horne said. "We were not operating under budget constraints, so there was more opportunity for creativity, invention and new solutions. The students received real-world experience; the clients received top-quality design work, and they didn’t have to pay for it."

Gabe Onderdonk, one of the students enrolled in the class said knowing his designs could potentially be considered was very motivating.

"The class gave us a look into the operational aspects of real-world design," Onderdonk said. "It put us directly in contact with our client, which proved very successful when trying to understand the client's needs and wishes and in terms of what our class decided to propose."

City's response
Kimberlee McKee said the LDDA plans to transform St. Stephens Plaza on Longmont's Main Street to a central gathering place for small groups.

"We envision a place where friends from different neighborhoods can come share, learn and enjoy," she said. "The current design makes events or other small performances impossible."

At the beginning of the spring 2020 semester students researched the area, including the history, climate, relationship to the sun, traffic and users, and concluded that the plaza lacked "stay and gather" spaces and felt uninviting during the winter. Afterwards teams of four to five students developed three distinct design solutions to transform the plaza to an artistic space where residents could attend events .

"We learned new, innovative solutions to problems that our group had never considered," McKee said. "We felt each design could hold its own, but in the end we found elements that we loved in each of the presentations.  Our hope is to move forward with a combination of these elements."

McKee said the LDDA would like to incorporate the following elements from the students' designs: a stage visible from Main Street on the plaza's southeast corner; a ribbon fountain/mister; a round fireplace with copper ‘sticks’; fabric shading; ribbon or another type of lighting element near the Kitchen Company; wood treatment benches; an education display demonstrating the effect of ozone on plants; and a raised platform on the northwest side of the church.

Designing in the face of a pandemic
Prior to restrictions due to the pandemic, the students met twice in person with the LDDA. Once restrictions were in place, all team meetings as well as the final presentation to the LDDA were held digitally over Zoom.

"It was a strange semester because of COVID," Van Horne said. "Some students struggled, but despite the unforeseeable challenges that came up, the students thought on their feet about how to deliver high quality design work with no physical product. No one jumped ship. They stayed devoted to cranking out some super design work."

McKee said the students incorporated all of the LDDA's thoughts and goals for the plaza into the compact space. Onderdonk said the real-life experience was invaluable.

"It was a glimpse into the type of work we can do after graduation," Onderdonk said.

CEDaR plans to continue the university-city partnership into 2020-2021, including more studio work on the St. Stephen's plaza leading to construction, Muller said. Improvements for St. Stephen's Plaza have been delayed due to COVID-19, but tentatively will begin in 2021, McKee added.

Proposed redesigns of St. Stephen's Plaza include: 
Art Envisioned 
by Riley Chustz, Camden Hocker, McKinley Parks, Logan Phelps and Miles Shapleigh, incorporates art into the functional aspects of the site in a way that coincides with the creative district’s identity and facilitates larger gatherings and events. It also offers creates an environment more suited to hosting events and large gatherings, as well as individuals and small groups. These additions, along with a careful selection of plants, will make the space more inviting and lively throughout the day and year, the student group said.

Rib Rock Plaza by Stephen Cannon, Tori Civitello, Ayushi Patel and Ian Fuller, echos the variety of Colorado’s naturalistic and novel environments, as well as creates an opportunity to provide a passive educational experience where users can see the geological layers beneath them and begin to understand the forces that created the area. A fountain at the center of the plaza features water that cascades over the layers before collecting into a reflection pool. Under this design, users can walk through the plaza, sit and enjoy the sound of flowing water that masks some of the traffic sounds or warm up next to fire pits along the edge of the fountain. Other users can climb up into the rock layers and dive into the planted landscape that grows from the fountain to follow the water to its source.

Passage by Kate Burgess, Tiffany Filatov, Gabe Onderdonk and Alec Stolz, opens up the sight lines from Main Street to the back alley to allow a safe path from the pedestrian mall to the parking lot; adds seating on the north side of the site to allow groups to gather and linger; and replaces the broken fountain with a circular fire pit to encourage families and groups to soak up the warmth on a cold day. The plan includes movable seating and two potential stage areas for different programming.