April 22, 2015
Riverfront Development Corporation manages the 11 parks and green spaces that lie along the Mississippi River. The newest destination among them is the state-of-the-art Beale Street Landing. The construction of the 21,887 square foot complex, which opened in June 2014, was the result of an international design competition that generated 171 entries from 20 countries and 27 states.
The winning design of the space took into account a plethora of considerations to not disrupt the landscape and to be as environmentally conscious as possible. Beale Street Landing lies between Tom Lee Park and the historic cobblestone landing. Living at the landing are Riverfront Bar & Grill, a riverboat-themed gift shop, the box office for Memphis Riverboats, a modern docking facility, public restrooms, an island that is a combination water park and play area, and a second island more passively designed with natural grasses and seating.
At first glance one can’t miss the grass covered arch that is the roof of Beale Street Landing; however, this environmental feature is much cooler than it looks… literally. As opposed to a tar or asphalt covering, the Bermuda grass prevents an urban heat island and assists in regulating the building’s temperature during scorching Memphis summers. In the event of rain, the roof prevents runoff by retaining 80% of the water that falls onto it. The remaining 20% is filtered by the grass as the rain runs down its slopes. Aesthetically, the roof allows continuity to its southern neighbor Tom Lee Park, maintaining the utility of the land which had been the north end of the park.
Another aesthetic goal of the design team was to keep the building from blocking views of the Mississippi river. The 13,800 square feet of glass walls preserve this view and make for an awesome backdrop during a meal at Riverfront Bar & Grill. Additionally, the pixilated color scheme of the elevator bulkhead protruding through the roof is modeled after the color scheme of a sunset on the Mississippi River.
The world class docking facility at the landing actually fluctuates with the ever changing level of the water. The “dolphins” that would normally be used to allow a dock’s height to adjust accordingly would have been an eyesore and quite distinguishable. Instead, the design team decided to go with two mooring arms that sit tucked away underwater. That feature, along with the red helical ramp, grants Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance for universal access to the docking site. Another ADA compliant feature is the zig-zag walkway that follows the slope of the lower landing down the bank to the walkway and river below.
In addition to many other things, Beale Street Landing serves as a solution to a preexistent erosion problem. With the lower end of the park sitting under water 44% of the time due to flooding and the wash from barge traffic pushing even more river onto the bank, there has been a real threat to the stability of the lower end of the park. Rip rap could not be used without creating a tripping hazard and vegetation would suffocate under flooding and siltation. Therefore, articulating concrete blocks were used as an inexpensive and functional answer.
The focus of these environmental efforts were not centered on the building area alone. The two islands at the landing were built with tropical hardwood from the Ipe Tree that naturally grows in Central and South America. In support of the forest conservation, the wood was supplied with replantation certificates which warranty the trees have been replaced.
Most public fountains and water features run continuously over an extended period of time. However Island Play at Beale Street Lading is equipped with water features that are manually turned on by the children during their natural course of play and turn off automatically.
At its heart, Beale Street Landing is a civic amenity on the Memphis riverfront. The dock, the islands, the grass terraces –are all meant to give people access to the third largest river in the world. So feel free to head down to the riverfront and experience the newest addition on banks of the Mississippi River.