Fuzhou Pavilion during the moon festival at Tacoma Chinese Reconciliation Park, © J.A. Brennan Associates

Good civic spaces provide communities with vital places for congregation and celebration and can augment, if not define, the spirit of a neighborhood and city. Part of the design process for public spaces involves pinpointing and expressing significant and unique character traits and culture in the resulting forms. Through creative collaboration with the community, designers can assist groups in interpreting their identity and the specific needs for public spaces. As landscape architects we synthesize our physical understanding of a site and its history with our creative ideas to establish placemaking features into a space.

Eureka Focal Point_20091019_2009-10-19_0056
Focal point at the end of F Street in Eureka, California, © J.A. Brennan

Over the next several weeks the JABLOG will explore processes and design techniques that invigorate civic life and articulate a neighborhood’s character within the public realm. We will discuss how history, people, landscape interpretation, art, and architecture are translated through the design process to create bold or subtle statements about a community’s identity.


A component of developing successful civic spaces includes establishing placemaking features and/or iconic focal points in collaboration with the people who use the space and who it represents. This is a process of exploring a community’s understanding of itself.

Inherent in designing is the task of finding common ground and working towards a common purpose, distilling a vision from many voices. An inclusive public process brings people together to express and hear diverse ideas, bonding the participants.

How does it happen?

Understanding -> Vision -> Design


Artist Smoker Marchand's installation at Beebe Spring's Natural Area, © J.A. Brennan
Artist Smoker Marchand’s installation at Beebe Spring’s Natural Area, © J.A. Brennan

The importance and history of a site are known to those around it.  As designers we work with the public to understand and articulate a community’s core values and its culture. Some have a clear vision of how to express their identity. Others look to the landscape architect to facilitate the process of synthesizing the ingredients they have gathered to make a bold statement. Ultimately, good placemaking expresses the core of a community in the design.


The designer distills what is learned about the site and uses forms, materials, colors, and natural elements to design placemaking features.

Bitter Lake Reservoir Open Space Expanding Waterdrop Plaza
Bitter Lake Reservoir Open Space’s Expanding Water Drop Plaza, © J.A. Brennan

There is the satisfying moment of finding the perfect expression of a place.

Will it be…

  • A gateway marker?
  • A view?
  • A pattern in the wall?
  • A signature structure?
  • A fountain?
  • A sculpture?
  • A story told in the landscape?

Iconic placemaking elements ultimately enhance gathering places, enrich relationships with the landscape, and improve wayfinding and navigation within the geographic setting.

A good process results in an iconic placemaking element and spirit of place that is embraced by the community.



Entiat Park Revitalization Update

Entiat Park on the Columbia River is getting a big makeover by the Chelan County Public Utility District (PUD).  J.A. Brennan Associates is leading a multi-disciplinary design effort to update this well-loved and well-worn camping and day use waterfront park.  Built in the age of big lawns, rows of poplar trees, and motor-first recreation, the new park will be revitalized to fit today’s ecological and recreational values.

Entiat Park is closed for 2014 while construction is taking place.  To date, much of the invasive species eradication and extensive earthwork and has taken place.  Currently, the contractor is nearing completion of the soft shore installation.

Construction photo
IMGP5003 Before
Pre-construction shoreline conditions

The new Entiat Park will offer a well-rounded recreational experience that includes provisions for both motorized and non-motorized watercraft, organized individual and group tent camping areas close to the water, as well as improved RV facilities.  By relocating the campground road away from the water’s edge, we could open up the shoreline to accommodate a regional trail and improved day use areas along the river.

One of several touchpoints to access the waters of the Columbia River

The design calls for a series of touch points, separated by lengths of native vegetation, where park visitors can access the water for wading, fishing or other activities.  In these locations, the shoreline is graded gently to expose the site’s sandy substrate, which makes for a fine beachy surface.

J.A. Brennan is bringing today’s ecological design tools of soft shore design and native plant restoration to the park.  After suffering years of unabated intrusion of invasive species, the new park will include a lush, native riparian ecosystem along the river as well as select restoration of the unique shrub-steppe environment.

Habitat-friendly, soft shore applications include native cobbles and root wads

The design calls out two types of shoreline applications. In steeper areas, the design employs a mix of on-site cobbles and boulders with live stake plant material in the interstitial spaces to form a densely vegetated, naturalistic rocky, cobble shore.  Where slopes are a bit gentler, a seeded gravel/soil mix provides a green and dynamic shoreline, backed up by vegetated coir log installations.

Campsites and utility hook-ups under construction

We are excited to see the project moving forward.  There are many more exciting improvements to come before the grand opening in time for the 2015 season.  Check back in later to see the progress.  Thanks for reading!