Project Scope

This project creates a world-class public realm for Rochester, Minnesota—home to the Mayo Clinic. This project re-imagines the car-centric streetscape of two city blocks and a plaza. The new public realm aligns with the city’s vibrant and diverse community that welcomes millions of guests each year (Mayo Clinic patients and their families).
Our client, Destination Medical Center (DMC), is a non-profit organization implementing a $5.6 billion, 20-year economic development initiative expected to generate 30,000 jobs. Heart of the City is Phase 1 of a public realm master plan.
Our Role
We were the landscape architect and design lead. We saw the project from design through construction administration, coordinated all stakeholder and community engagement meetings, and led the team of architects, engineers, and artists.

Design Solution

The project site is adjacent to the Mayo Clinic’s campus with a mix of retail, hotels, and cultural centers. The existing site was challenging. The wide road was flanked with parking; most sidewalks were not ADA accessible; and there were no pedestrian gathering spaces. Constrained spaces, dominated by hardscape and minimal greenery, created a drab and unwelcoming experience.
We transformed this site through three main design processes: 
Creative Community Engagement 
Community engagement played a central part in understanding and addressing the needs of this project’s user groups (residents and Mayo Clinic visitors), as well as other project stakeholders. The design team went beyond traditional engagement methods to meet the community on their terms.
During one of the first engagement sessions, we summarized the public’s 12 core principles for the project. These principles became our guide for the overall project:
•Make It Rochester
•Make It A Destination
•Make It Big & Keep It Small
•Reveal The Unseen
•Make It About Life
•Make It About Art
•Make It About Healing
•Make It Inviting
•Embrace The North
•Make It Bright
•Make It Connected
•Make It Green
We used community sessions to get feedback on site elements—including the desire for a performance stage. The community felt our first mock-up (a full-scale terraced viewing stage) blocked too much of the plaza’s viewshed. Through numerous design studies, we settled on the winning approach: a flexible bench system on rails that could be deployed as seating across the plaza or re-arranged to form a stage.
All told, we held over 70 individual engagement sessions, including 35 one-on-one meetings with business and property-owners, 12 open house and art & design events, 12 pop-up events, 11 prototyping events, and 3 DMC lobby discussions.
Make It About Art 
The community wanted to create a place that captures the imagination of everyone who visits this unique city. With the help of an art curator, we were able to integrate public art through a balance of local and internationally renowned artists.
Peace Plaza celebrates life, death, water, and light. The project acknowledges the history of this site as Dakota land through Ann Hamilton’s artwork Song for Water, which embeds Dr. Gwen Westerman’s poem De Wakpa Taŋka Odowaŋ / Song for the Mississippi River into a 200-foot-long plaza. Eric Anderson’s “Wakefield” consists misting jets along the length of the plaza and is actuated by Mayo Clinic data: emitting mist for every first and last breath (representing birth and death).
The Peace Sculpture predates our work, but we redesigned the plinth so people could stand closer and view the sky through the structure of overlapping doves. This sculpture informed Inigo Manglano-Ovall‘s piece, “Not So Private Sky”. His artwork creates a vertical element made of reflective materials that offer visitors another way of experiencing the sky.
A Healthy Place for People and Nature 
Universal design was incorporated throughout this project. A Mayo Clinic ADA specialist advised on cutting-edge innovations and best practices. Emphasis was placed on creating accessible circulation paths and site furniture—including custom wheelchair-friendly furniture and paving patterns that are easier for visually impaired people to navigate.
One of the community design principles is “Make it Green”. We planted 117 street trees and worked with experts to ensure long-term tree health. Continuous soil volumes were placed under the forest rooms with soil cell systems. Pervious pavement in the forest rooms allows stormwater to percolate down to be stored in the cells. The use of heated sidewalks throughout the streetscape and plaza reduces the need for ice-melting salt—reducing stress on the trees.
Unique Project Attributes
Flexibility Drives Activation Success:
Since opening May 2022, this project has fulfilled its main goal of elevating and activating downtown Rochester. Flexible programming space is the key to this success. As of the end of 2022, the plaza had held 100+ events, and averaged 2,500+ daily pedestrians.
Architecture offices involved in the design: RSP Architects, Latent Design
Location: 1st St SW Rochester, MN 55902
Design year: 2020
Year Completed: 2022

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