There are two kinds of events which compel us to create monuments and great public spaces: aspiration and triumph. High achievers like Jefferson, Washington and Lincoln are nobly represented with their own landmarks. So too, with triumph. The Eiffel Tower symbolizes the conquest over industrial technology much as the Saint Louis Arch heralded our opening of the west. A monument well-conceived can place a recognizable and positive identity on a city as much as any “quality of life” index can.
Notable cities contain distinguishing elements and separate them from less ambitious metropolises. As Charlotte moves forward to market itself as a new Southern city – progressive, cultural, aesthetic and high tech – it could also secure a recognizable benchmark that enhances its acclaim and perhaps more importantly, its visual identity. In addition to all of our cities’ recognizable assets, physical symbols tend to remain the most obvious image that imprints a memorable connection to a place.
Can Charlotte create a public space that signifies its aspirations? I believe it can.
A public garden
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Recently, I submitted an Ideas project to the London International Creative Competition. The concept was titled “A Giving Ground,” simply stated, it is a public garden of words. It was short-listed as one of the notable entries in the competition that drew thousands of entries worldwide.
The idea is based on an age-old belief that discourse, and the human capacity to use language and words as a positive force, is both universal and unassailable. Positive discourse overcomes the alienating power of indifference and embraces diversity and inclusion.
We live in a world increasingly dominated by inhumane displacement and humanitarian crises, a world where reprisal and retaliation are the operative modes to deal with conflict. Can a public space be created to respond to this disruptive paradigm? The project I designed suggests a physical model, an area of refuge to engage in collective discourse. Imagine a topiary garden of words, oversized, powerful and direct. In an age of media domination and visual stimuli, the capacity of words to carry forth a message is less certain but likely more important than ever. Thus, the dynamic of words visually expressed can energize them and illuminate their reality by making them a more positive force in our discourse. A large-scale installation project like this would add gravitas to our city as we seek to contend and compete with other first-tier cities.
In addition to its livability and recognition, Charlotte can embrace a different and more noble aspiration and engagement where unity comes to symbolize inclusion over indifference. As we continue to pursue the goal of a highly dynamic and desirable city, we should openly reconsider what a fitting symbol of our future is and how we choose to be recognized. Charlotte could become a national model for nurturing the acceptance of diversity and the power of inclusion as it pursues an inspired future.
David Wagner is a Charlotte architect and president of Wagner Murray Architects.