Railyard Santa Fe: rebirth of a vibrant district

Posted by Chris Wray on May 30, 2009 in architecture and urban spaces |

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With the rapid decline of railroad transportation in the early ‘80s, rail districts throughout the U.S. slid into urban decay. The rail yards and adjacent neighborhoods of Santa Fe, New Mexico were declared a blighted area in 1987, characterized by property abandonment, unemployment, crime, and barren urban landscapes.

Fast-forward twenty years and you will see the same urban geography has been redefined by a vibrant, revitalized community. The design process involved hundreds of participants: citizens, land planners, architects, and city council members. The resulting redevelopment—dubbed The Railyard Santa Fe—incorporates an eclectic mix of performing art venues, restaurants, retail, art studios and galleries, a permanent structure for Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, and 13 acres of open space including a park, plaza, and pedestrian promenade.

During my recent trip to Santa Fe, I visited The Railyard and was surprised how well the redevelopment project integrates with the surrounding urban and natural landscape. The hard-edged, rugged look of the buildings reflects the city’s intention to preserve the industrial feel of the original rail complex. The shinny corrugated metal surfaces, exposed hardware, and strong rectilinear walls unexpectedly harmonize with the prevailing adobe architecture.

The multi-use Railyard Park is a real gem, with its eco-friendly, drought-resistant garden with outdoor performance and picnic areas, playground, and walking-biking trails. Original iron rails and rusted rail car wheels are cleverly integrated into the linear walkways and gardens.

The Railyard marks its one-year anniversary this September. Enjoy my picture gallery (click on the water tower image) and let me hear your comments. For more information on The Railyard, visit www.railyardsantafe.com.

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Jun 1, 2009 at 1:06 pm

A truly interesting photo gallery. As I read the story, what came to mind, in the midst of the area’s redevelopment, was whether or not the local school system was also enjoying an associated redevelopment/improvement? Hopefully so, but there’s no guarantee of that.

Then, when I reviewed the pictures (which I really enjoyed), there was something unique, but what was it? Was it the composition, the lighting, the color or architecture? There was something compelling. And then it hit me: where are all the people? There’s hardly anyone around. They did a fantastic job remodeling, and the buildings look great. But now that they have (re)built it, will the people come?

Chris Wray
Jun 1, 2009 at 2:34 pm

Thanks, Mike for your thought-provoking comments and questions. This series of photos was taken very early in the morning on Memorial Day, hence no people and very few vehicles. I chose this time of day due to the dramatic lighting and the absence of people, which emphasizes the architecture and open spaces. Your observations are spot-on: beautiful buildings and inviting open spaces do not necessarily guarantee success for the community. Because this redevelopment project is quite new, the jury is still out regarding its overall economic and social impact. As a footnote, an artwork titled “Tri-Christus” installed on the roof of the Site Santa Fe gallery, stirred a great deal of controversy in the community soon after Railyard Santa Fe opened. The artwork was later removed. Read about the controversy at santafeblog.wordpress.com.

Jun 3, 2009 at 8:45 pm

I have read your materials in design publications before. Will you write about the architecture and design aspects of World Expo 2010 Shanghai? I am particularly interested in your views on the Pavilions of Participants, particularly France.

Chris Wray
Jun 5, 2009 at 6:20 pm

I’m no expert on World Expo’s, but here are a few observations. First, some background. Next year’s World Expo, hosted in Shanghai, China, is purported to be the most ambitious exposition ever. The World Exposition tradition began in 1851 in London, England. Over 231 countries have signed on to participate in 2010, which exceeds China’s pledge to attract 200 nations. Thus far, China has kept its word by offering $100 million to developing countries in assisting them to take part .

The theme for the World Expo 2010 is “Better City, Better Life,” which encourages participants to explore urban life in the 21st century. Sub-themes include blending of diverse cultures in the city; economic prosperity in the city; and how to create an eco-friendly society and to maintain the sustainable development for humanity.

The architectural rendering submissions for the Pavilions of Participants gives us a glimpse at the daring architectural feats that participating nations plan to feature. After reviewing the renderings, I have two lingering questions: 1) Will the actual pavilions be as beguiling as the artists’ renderings? The vantage point for many of the renderings is from a bird’s eye perspective. Will attendees be able to hover above the ground or be able to climb to heights sufficient to appreciate the structures true magnificence? The France Pavilion, for example, appears otherworldly almost Utopian from above, yet from ground level, the structure disappoints, appearing as though it is to wrapped in construction netting! The Italy Pavilion is inspired by the children’s game Shanghai, in which players drop a cluster of sticks on a table and try to move one stick at a time without moving the others until all the sticks are cleared. The pavilion is a series of not-quite interlocking cubes, whose interstitial voids look like the random intertwined Shanghai sticks—but only from an aerial view. 2) Will the themes of eco-friendly, urban sustainability be promoted in the architecture of the participating nations? The Italy Pavilion, appears cold, uninviting, and seemingly lacks connection with themes of sustainability. Great Britain, on the other hand, appears to embrace the Expo’s directive. The UK Pavilion has no permanent foundation and is built from materials that are recyclable and carbon-neutral.

Well, I’ve rambled on long enough. Thanks for your question, Ejaz. You’ve given me fodder for a new blog post!



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