Before there was a stage, before tables and chairs were set out, even before any shovels hit the ground to create the Mansfield Town Square, a gathering place for the community was carved into the overall design of Storrs Center.
Award of Excellence for Public Space – Mansfield Town Square, Storrs Center
sponsored by Webster Bank
Recipients: Mansfield Downtown Partnership, Town of Mansfield, University of Connecticut, LeylandAlliance (Master Developer of Storrs Center), Kent + Frost (landscape architect for Town Square).
What was initially expected to be a simple town green evolved after it was noted by landscape architecture professionals at Kent + Frost that grass would be difficult to maintain with daily use by residents, business patrons, and UConn and E. O. Smith students. The concept of a traditional New England green then transformed to a Eurpean-style plaza with moveable tables and chairs that provide flexible seating during warmer months, a unique performance stage and a sitting wall that protects the landscaped areas and provides a serene place to rest and enjoy the Square year-round.
By listening to input from residents and stakeholders, the Mansfield Downtown Partnership, LeylandAlliance, Kent + Frost, and the Town of Mansfield were able to create a beautiful space that meets the community’s needs. For instance, although some community members advocated for a band shell or other enclosed performance space, business owners and residents noted that such a structure would block the view of the new buildings. Kent + Frost staff devised a novel approach with a stage roof that serves as a shaded gateway framing the view of the 80-foot oak tree at the opposite corner when not is use as a stage.
The oak tree itself was another element of particular importance to residents, who identified it early on in the design of Storrs Center as an important landmark to preserve and protect. Not just the design of the Town Square, but the entire shape of the neighborhood was determined by the decision to preserve the oak tree. Another challenge literally rose from the ground up – a 3-foot grade change from one corner of the site to the other. Turning this obstacle into an advantage, Kent + Frost incorporated it into the design to accommodate a stage at the southeastern corner. When not in use, the stage doubles as stairs to the center of the Square and provides shade as well as a visual counterbalance to the oak tree on the opposite corner.
Not just beautiful, but functional as well, the Town Square highlights sustainable design via:
- Location: it’s close to existing development and utilities, and previously developed space.
- Materials: the Square features permeable pavers, multi-purpose structures, and durable surfaces.
- Plantings: native species and limited grass are utilized.
The result is a true community gathering place where residents can celebrate, host events, listen to music and enjoy their surroundings all year long. The Mansfield Town Square exemplifies the best of public-private partnerships, one that plans for people, designs a space around the community’s needs, and demonstrates the power and importance of public engagement.