American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2007 Student Awards
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Site map of Perkins Road Underpass site in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Photograph of Underpass area as it exists currently (looking toward underpass bridge (in background) along Perkins Road)
Diagrams from site observations and research: businesses around underpass, automobile devoted spaces, pedestrian movement at midday, pedestrian movement at midnight, public and semi-public spaces, tree canopy.
Diagrams from site observations and research: public green space, night lighting, sun shade studies 8am, 12pm, 7pm.
Diagrams and photos: barriers created by highway/railroad infrastructure elements on site, existing environment under highway visual and audile, dominance of bridge structure on site.
Diagrams of parking study: number of parking spaces available on entire site, shared parking diagrams.



Perkins Road Underpass: Reconnecting Across Barriers
Douglas Thompson, Student ASLA
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Faculty Advisors: Wes Michaels and Brad Cantrell

"Impressive! This project is very penetrating, it looks at so many levels thoughtfully. Sound ideas and ambitions and a very good analysis."

— 2007 Student Awards Jury Comments

Project Statement
Not every highway or large urban infrastructure that divides a city can be buried underground or bridged by a structure with a park on top of it. Such solutions are often too costly, sometimes problematic, and possibly far beyond necessary in most cases. In many instances, reconnecting the severed urban fabrics of a city can be done in beautiful, but simpler ways. Through my investigation of an area known as Perkins Road Underpass in Baton Rouge, my project investigated new possibilities in reconnecting a city across a dividing infrastructure system.

Project Narrative
Many residents of Baton Rouge are familiar with the uniqueness of the commercial district surrounding the area where Perkins Road crosses under I-10. It has a distinctive identity and it is identified as a special place within the city. It is home to a thriving and eclectic mix of local businesses which service the local neighborhoods along with the wider city population. It has a supermarket, a hardware store, a yoga center, several hair salons, and some dry cleaners. It also has a thriving nightlife with several restaurants and bars that are local favorites. The area is the ending point of a Mari Gras parade and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It also has an emerging art scene with some art galleries and the recent addition of a small art festival. The underpass area has become very recognizable as a place within the city. It is a point of destination and it has tremendous potential as a cultural center for the city.

Despite the strength and character in this district, it has weaknesses which prevent it from living up to its potential and which could also endanger its future. The largest obstacle to the district’s potential is the entanglement of roadway/railroad infrastructure systems which cut through and divide district. In addition to the elevated roadway of interstate I-10 running east to west and dividing the site, there are entrance and exit ramps which connect to Perkins Road from the highway, there is a railroad corridor also running east to west, and there is a portion of Perkins Road that is elevated to bridge the railroad corridor. These structures are defining elements for the underpass district, but they also create physical and psychological barriers within the district and between the district and nearby neighborhoods. Bringing about reconciliation between these large structures and the urban fabric they tear through requires thinking about how the structures can be better connected with the activity and the scale of the city and neighborhood they cross, something which the structures around the underpass currently do not do.

In addition to the barriers created by the intrusion of these infrastructure systems, the district has a more general weakness in the organization and design of its connecting public spaces which also needs to be addressed. The connecting spaces between the constituent businesses of the district are haphazard and little planned. This creates an ambiguity which weakens the place’s overall physical identity. Remedying this problem requires a focus on the delineation and the aesthetics of pedestrian spaces. A stronger spatial connection among the component businesses of the district would strengthen its identity to visitors and also its constituents and neighbors.

In creating a design solution and a plan for the site, I developed three goals. First, I felt that the design should seek to strengthen the site’s inherent character rather than overwhelm it. Second, the site should maintain its role as a neighborhood center. Third, the design should create further opportunities beyond its own solution.

The most visible obstacle in the underpass area is the underpass itself, where 1-10 bridges over the district and Perkins Road. It is a highly visible structure and creates a strong division between areas to the north and south. It is easy enough to cross under the bridge, but the noise, darkness, and material nature of the space under the bridge are unpleasant and discouraging. Despite the problems posed by the bridge, it is also a defining feature and is a part of the districts identity. Because of this, solutions to the problems caused by the bridge should be found without hiding its identity and altering what it is. My proposed design solution utilizes a layer of noise reducing insulation and a layer of acoustic absorption material to reduce loud noise but also maintain the bridges structural identity. The texture of the absorption material would become an important part of the aesthetic design underneath the bridge. A layer of spaced wood planks across the bridge support beam perpendicularly, would reveal both the absorption material and the bridge structural beams above. Lighting above the planks would illuminate the texture of the absorption material and lights below would illuminate the wood planking and spaces below.

The space defined by the bridge can become a pleasant place that creates continuity in the fabric of the district rather than dividing it. For example, building upon the emerging character of the site, with the use of the noise reducing materials and the creative reuse of the space, subsidized studios and living spaces for young and visiting artists could be created. A unique atmosphere with affordable living is often appealing to young artists and could be the catalyst which develops the district into the strong cultural center it could be. In addition to studio spaces, green spaces under the bridge composed of shade loving wetland plants could be built which would absorb the water runoff that currently collects under the bridge and would also help to create a more appealing and connective space. Further building upon the structure of the bridge, the division between the east and westbound lanes which creates a strong axis, could become an interesting walkway adding a new dimension to the organization of the district.

A particular strength of the site that was observed early on was that many of the businesses in the district share parking (albeit haphazardly). In particular, much of the space under the highway underpass is used for this purpose. This tradition on the site has helped promote a sense of unity in the district in some ways. Expanding upon this tradition, parking areas could be consolidated further and moved back from pedestrian designated areas to improve the connective spaces between businesses. This would open up opportunities to create a walkable atmosphere and would also open up spaces for the creation of small public gathering and event spaces. These spaces could be designed in a way that reflects the unique and creative nature of the underpass area and would also create a vibrant atmosphere that would become an attraction for visitors and a pleasant amenity for nearby residents.

I addition to the physical design of public spaces in the district, policies to encourage greater connection to a more pedestrian space could be encouraged through the use of an overlay district that would govern future development in the area. The district could be used to create incentives and more opportunities for entrepreneurs and creative industries which would help maintain the underpass area as a location for the unique and local. Additionally, such a district could be used to encourage the type of building which will embrace the district as a unified public space and encourage its unity in the long term. Furthermore, an overlay district would also increase local control by businesses lying within its boundaries allowing for a more deliberate form to development which could match the goals of the district.

An important part of making any improvements of course is financing. Financing can also play a part in strengthening the ties between businesses and the district. One method used might be tax increment financing or TIF. A TIF district will allow the property taxes from added value created by development in the area to be utilized for improvements for a specified amount of time. In short run, tax revenues would be diverted to the district which would increase revenues for the city in the long run as the improvement would encourage new development in the district.


Spatial study of Perkins Road in section.
Plan of design solution: connections across infrastructure, street improvements and additions, sidewalk and open space improvements, parking improvements, vegetation plan, stormwater detention areas, future development areas.
Birds-eye-view and perspective of underpass improvements: artist studios, green space, parking.
Section elevation of underpass improvement along Perkins Road with detail of sound insulation design under bridge.
Street improvement details.
Perspective image of underpass area after improvements (see image #2 for before).
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