Grounds for Change: Activating Vacant Land

Mill Race Park


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A landscape of large views and spaces, designed to be flooded.

Mill Race Park was designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) for the Columbus, IN, Department of Parks & Recreation. Stanley Saitowitz was the collaborating architect on the project. The park covers 85 acres at the confluence of the Flat Rock and Driftwood rivers, a flood-prone area formerly a poverty-stricken neighborhood.

The park is organized around a large, perfectly circular lake-aptly, Round Lake-a basin for containing and managing floodwater. Flowering trees surround the lake and are reflected in its normally smooth surface. MVVA's profile of the projects describes how the need for flood control and durability affected the choice of materials in the park's design and construction. Earth excavated to create the lake was re-used for raised earthworks throughout the park. Raised walls in buildings allow water to flow through, and paths were paved in reinforced concrete rather than more traditional materials that would be more prone to removal and wear through flooding. When selecting plants, MVVA designers looked for native species that could survive in both dry and excessively wet conditions.


Urban Arboretum: From Vacancy to Hybrid Landscape. Landscape Architecture 414. The Pennsylvania State University College of Arts and Architecture, Spring 2010.

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