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  Glacier Blue® Architectural Topics & News
     Monthly Newsletter
February 2009
opic of the Month: Reinventing Grand Army Plaza
In This Issue


Topic of the Month: Reinventing Grand Army Plaza

Architectural Firm of the Month: Catherine Paplin Architect, Design & Consulting (CPArch)

The AIA's "Navigating the Economy" Website

Green Meeting Industry Council

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Architects: What Would You Like to Know?
In our effort to create a newsletter that is of interest to you - architects, designers and other building industry professionals - we would like to know if you have any questions regarding any stone-related topics. If so, please contact us and we will be happy to provide you with the answer in one of our newsletters.

Also, if your firm has completed a project that you're particularly proud of, we would like to hear about it! All you have to do is write to us with a brief description of your project and we may include it in an upcoming issue of our newsletter. Your firm will also be featured as our "Architectural Firm of the Month". Contact us by writing to:

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Architectural Firm of the Month: Catherine Paplin Architect, Design & Consulting (CPArch)
woodstock housePhoto: Here is a photo CPArch's first completed project from-the-ground-up, a two story addition to a 1920's cottage in Woodstock, NY. CPArch matched the wood "novelty" siding, the exposed rafter tails, and the wrap-around sunroom window (not visible here) of the original, and on the interior exposed the brick chimney and created a sitting area overlooking the double height living room, while putting a new kitchen, dining room and master bedroom in the addition itself. The contractor was Matt Meola Construction.

Catherine Paplin Architect, Design & Consulting (CPArch) became a full service architecture firm located in South Amboy, New Jersey in 2006. Catherine is the principal, and a registered architect in New York State.

The firm does not embrace a particular design style, but is dedicated to reviving and transforming traditional architectural vocabulary. The firm specializes in the fields of historic preservation and restoration, existing building envelope repair, and development of exterior details for modern stye buildings. The firm's core philosophy is that traditional forms and ornamentation have both social and technical functions which have been largely forgotten, but that our knowledge of these older forms and functions should inform our modern designs.

The firm's ideal project is renovation and addition, or infill, as this provides an opportunity to reconnect past and present, which Modernism has radically disjoined.

CPArch frequently works on joint venture projects with Martina Bacarella Architect, and under the name Bacarella Paplin Architects Collaborative.

For more information visit:

Topic of the Month: Reinventing Grand Army Plaza
Catherine drawing
Architect Catherine Paplin was kind enough to speak with us about her thoughts and ideas for the reinvention of Grand Army Plaza, a historic landmark in Brooklyn, New York.

In the Spring of 2008 a competition was held to reinvent and lay the groundwork for a new, improved Grand Army Plaza. The competition was held by the Design Trust for Public Space in partnership with the Grand Army Plaza Coalition and the deadline for submissions was in April of 2008. In the Fall of 2008, an outdoor exhibition was on display at Grand Army Plaza that showcased thirty plans that were selected from over 200 submissions from around the world.

The Grand Army Plaza was designed by famed landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1867 as a parade ground and threshold for Prospect Park. Originally known as Prospect Park Plaza, the name "Grand Army Plaza" was bestowed in 1926 to mark the 60th Anniversary of the end of the Civil War.

It is perhaps best known for the Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch, construction of which began in 1889. After two and a half months of site preparation, William Tecumseh Sherman laid the cornerstone of the arch on October 10, 1889. After almost three years of construction, President Grover Cleveland presided over the unveiling on October 21, 1892, as the noted architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White began to formalize the entrance and transform the Plaza into a classical space. The Plaza is also known as the site of the Bailey Fountain, a monument to John F. Kennedy, statues of Civil War generals Gouverneur Kemble Warren and Henry Warner Slocum, along with busts of notable Brooklyn citizens Alexander J.C. Skene and Henry W. Maxwell.

The 11 ? -acre site consists of a series of concentric ellipses formed by Plaza Street and its buildings, berms (earth banks surrounding the central oval), the avenues and major interchanges and the central islands. Construction on Prospect Park was stalled during the Civil War, but resumed in 1865, when Vaux was asked to submit new plans for the space. His new plan called for an elliptical piece of land at the main entrance to the park, known then as simply "the Plaza." In 1866, the Plaza began to be graded and its interior paved with granite Belgian blocks and, in 1867, the Plaza's distinctive mounds (berms) were built. In 1973 the Arch was designated an official City landmark, and in 1975 the entire Grand Army Plaza was designated as well.

Grand Army Plaza, the oval at the main entrance of Brooklyn's Prospect Park, was meant to provide a wide and picturesque approach to the park, which park designer Calvert Vaux considered a vital design element. The Plaza was one of the first features of Prospect Park to be built and marks the beginning of the Eastern Parkway, the world's first parkway built in 1866. The parkway's intended purpose was to connect the City's parks with ornamental roads free of commercial traffic, but today hazardous conditions for pedestrians and cyclists impede access to neighborhoods, cultural institutions, and the Plaza's center.

In the competition, "Six core principles to reinvent Grand Army Plaza," as outlined by The Grand Army Plaza Coalition last year, were as follows: "1) To improve pedestrian access; 2) To enhance commercial presence; 3) To make aesthetic improvements; 4) To "Close the GAP" and explore options to reunite the Arch to the Park and improve access to both; 5) To reclaim asphalt and create more green space; and finally, 6) To rethink traffic flow so that all visitors can travel and reach their destination efficiently and safely." However, none of these principles mentions or even addresses the need to maintain or extend the historical significance of the Plaza.

Paplin explains, "It's been five years since I've done a competition. I felt really compelled to do it. Grand Army Plaza was created, at least at first, with the idea of making a monument to the Union Army and the victory of the Union Army in the Civil War."

"The arch sits at one end of the oval and there's a monumental axis there that was never really completed. It has these two sculptures on either leg of the arch, in front of the arch facing Prospect Park, that are bristling with soldiers on one hand and sailors on the other. Inside the arch there are two plaques facing each other; one of them is General Grant and the other one is President Lincoln tipping his hat to General Grant."

In 1894, Park Commissioner Frank Squire hired Frederick MacMonnies to design three sculptural groupings for the Arch: the Quadriga, The Spirit of the Army, and The Spirit of the Navy. Inside the arch and on facing walls are equestrian relief sculptures of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant sculpted by William Rudolf O'Donovan. Thomas Eakins sculpted the two horses.

"My idea is to complete what was started, but also to take it in a direction that to me seems appropriate for how history has gone in the U.S. Our relationship to war and the triumph of the military is certainly a good deal more complex than it was at the time that this was built."

"The meaning of all this is, first of all, it's about a victory of the Union over the south and the forces of disunion. It is about a military victory. This was a monument to the Union victory in the Civil War and therefore it's also a monument to the freeing of African Americans and the stamping out of slavery in this country. There's this military pride of having vanquished a threat, because all these armies and the victory chariot are all facing south, and yet at the same time the two, Grant and Lincoln, they're leading the triumphant army back home, so they're actually facing north. Meanwhile there are two empty statue bases on the other side of the arch, and to me, the obvious thing would be to bring in, on the one hand the black regiment that fought, and on the other hand perhaps a group of the members of the underground railroad so that the whole other point of the Civil War would be commemorated. I decided the monumental axis should continue a narrative of this movement towards freedom and Civil Rights with the struggle of African Americans at the center of it. And since that side of the arch faces the center of the oval, it begins a whole axis that could be drawn out to talk about the meaning and the fact of stages of emancipation, if you will, not just of blacks, but also of everybody. Arches along the top of the flanking berms would be dedicated to different immigrant groups so that all of them would have a path down into this axis that represents progress towards freedom and unity in America, and the coming together of all these different races and all these different nations. And rather than Alexander Skene at the other end of the axis, I would like to put a statue of Martin Luther King delivering the "I have a dream" speech. So he would be at the foot of the berm at the end of the axis."

"And then on top of the end berm, I proposed to put an arch that was originally designed by Isamu Noguchi, the Japanese-American sculptor who had his studio here in Queens. He's really one of the city's greatest sculptors, and he had created a design for an arch as a memorial to the victims of Hiroshima, but it was rejected by the Japanese because he was American. He hoped that maybe sometime it would be built in America as a gesture of regret. It's a black granite arch, certainly a very modern but also a certain kind of Japanese form recognizably. The granite has little bits of quartz like night stars, so it's almost like an arch at midnight to me, an arch of midnight stars, and I think he really meant it that way."

"So I think it could be a great kind of antidote; now the two poles become balanced because there's a pacifist end, and then a kind of martial triumphalist end of the axis now. One arch commemorates the soldiers and sailors and their sacrifice, and the other commemorates the dead civilians of war, if you will, and the cost of war in that sense. And at the same time it commemorates what you might say is the end of the hundred years struggle for Civil Rights with Dr. King's statue." The bust of John F. Kennedy was added in 1965. "And then I thought we would get Kennedy's monument redone as a kind of obelisk which would be a sundial. I have a whole verbal program for this entire design. Kennedy has a quote that "Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions...," so I would have that quote around the sundial for the idea of change of heart over time. I actually still believe in engraving words in stone, literally, as part of a memorial. I don't believe that form can do it all."

"I also proposed that we rename Grand Army Plaza to Union Plaza. Basically the idea would be to make an integrated space that tells the story of our perfecting our Union, in the words of Barack Obama in his "Race Speech," and our continuing struggle to perfect our Union and to make everyone free."

Paplin mentions some of the practical problems that need to be solved when redesigning Grand Army Plaza. "The berms right now are covered with a jungle of trees, and they obscure the center, so when you're outside of the center of the oval, you don't know what's on the inside, and it's very hard to get a sense of where everything is. So I decided I would clear the trees off of the berm, although I love trees, and start afresh. I would put an arcade along the top of the berms and have lines of flowering trees like Hawthornes, Apple and Cherry along there so that it would get very colorful in the spring. There would still be a sense of the trees, but they would not be overwhelming. They would have a shorter stature so they wouldn't be blocking everything."

Another practical issue to be solved would be the flow of traffic. With the advent of the automobile, the busy junction of streets around the Plaza became increasingly dangerous and a "Death-O-Meter" was installed at the Plaza in 1927 that kept track of Brooklyn automobile fatalities. By the 1950s, the Plaza was dominated by traffic. Over forty traffic signals were added in 1955, and the roadway was entirely repaved in 1958.

"There are six or seven lanes of traffic zooming between Prospect Park and the arch, so anyone who actually wants to cross over to the monument space is taking their life in their hands. The space was originally planned in a time when the automobile did not rule the world. But of course by our time the automobile did rule the world, and in fact The Grand Army Plaza itself is a huge turnaround for traffic."

Paplin shares her thoughts on the entries that were among those selected to be in the top thirty designs in the contest, "I remember there was one premiated solution which I thought was very elegant, and indeed probably more elegant than mine in terms of the way it just solved the problem of dealing with the traffic and at the same time created some very nice spaces for people to dwell in. It actually used a kind of asymmetrical idea where one side of the oval was occupied with park area, green space of various kinds, gardens, a playground and all kinds of things, and the other side of the oval was sort of buried underground to allow traffic through. I thought that could work well. But there was no sense that this place had any history or meaning beyond that."

"I know that there are people who might do better formal solutions than I would, or come up with better ideas from one point of view or another, plus it's such a big and complex project that it's difficult to come up with something that's going to solve everything."

"The space has great potential, but the solutions that were selected pretty much all focused on formal solutions and did not take on the level of social meaning and historical meaning that this place could have. I guess my hope is that if you did create a space like this, it would have meaning. Public space is important in a democracy because the people need places to come together and it's one of the great assurances against tyranny and against disunity, that there should be places in cities, literally, where people can come together. We need as many of those places as we can make, and what more appropriate place than this, for that."

The AIA's "Navigating the Economy" Website
The AIA has created a website called Navigating the Economy which offers helpful links to articles and resources for architects during these challenging economic times. Some of the resources listed include: Available Project Listings, Design Opportunities for the Federal Government, a Speaker's Registry, various podcasts and webcasts regarding the state of the economy, Tax Breaks for architects, and numerous articles with suggestions on how to not only survive, but build your business during an economic downturn.

Please visit:

Green Meeting Industry Council
The Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) is a non profit 501(c)(6) membership-based organization. Their goal is to encourage collaboration within the meetings industry toward the development of green standards that will improve the environmental performance of meetings and events on a global basis. The GMIC is the only professional green meetings organization that is a member of the Convention Industry Council.

For more information visit:

We hope you enjoyed our informative monthly e-newsletter. For questions, comments or more information, please e-mail or call us today.
Liz Benton, Editor 
Glacier Blue® Architectural Topics & News
Devonian Stone of New York, Inc.
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