Got a Great Idea for Moore Square? A Community Open Call for Ideas and Raleigh’s First Public Design Competition
by Grant Meacci, ASLA, and Trisha Hasch

In recent years Raleigh, North Carolina, created several new public spaces downtown including Fayetteville Street, City Plaza, and the Festival site. Since opening, these public spaces have attracted thousands to downtown Raleigh for high-profile public events including concerts, art events, festivals, parades, and regional celebrations. The new public spaces have relieved downtown’s Moore Square from its previous status as one of the few outdoor venues for large gatherings. The four-acre Moore Square was not designed for large events and the constant heavy traffic over the years had created a space that is worn and downtrodden with significant maintenance issues. However, it was still a place of great significance to the community.

History of Moore Square

Moore Square originally was conceived in 1792 when it was designated as one of four public spaces in Raleigh. It began as a tree-dotted meadow but in early years saw a succession of small civic structures. Over time, pathways were created and trees were planted, with their locations shifting as the surrounding uses changed. In the 20th century, the adjacent neighborhood was converted to commercial and institutional uses. While the Square has always been a valued green space within the city fabric, and a “pivotal” space within the Historic District, its physical form and spatial character was far from ideal. Much of the green surface of the Square had been substituted with vast mulch beds. Thirty years of small-scale ad hoc changes—planters, walls, benches, light fixtures, electric junction boxes, and a kiosk—cluttered the space and adversely impacted the visual character and integrity of the Square.

View 1 of the existing Moore Square landscape. Image courtesy Raleigh Urban Design Center.

View 2 of the existing Moore Square landscape. Image courtesy Raleigh Urban Design Center.

View 3 of the existing Moore Square landscape. Image courtesy Raleigh Urban Design Center.

Disarray after an event in Moore Square. Image courtesy Raleigh Urban Design Center.

Police patrolling the perimeter of Moore Square. Image courtesy Raleigh Urban Design Center.

Visions for the Square

The Raleigh Urban Design Center was established as a team of urban designers and planners who envision and design solutions to create a better built environment for the City of Raleigh. The team engages and leads the people of Raleigh in deliberate, targeted design discussions to build consensus around innovative solutions. Public participation is at the core of the Center’s approach to public realm initiatives.

During a brainstorming session, the Center’s team focused on how to re-imagine the Square. As a result, Mayor Charles Meeker issued a “community open call for ideas” in 2009 to reconceive the square. This was the birth of Raleigh’s first public design competition. The Moore Square National Design Competition was intended to provide a physical bridge to Moore Square’s next great era and its latest generation of residents and visitors. A new design would ideally create a unique public space and urban experience for 21st century Raleigh. Competition objectives included:

  • Engaging the public in the concept design process through a community open call for ideas that would provide the competition design parameters
  • Providing an opportunity for young designers and the area’s local firms to engage in the momentum that has taken place in downtown Raleigh
  • If the design competition format is successful, replicating it across the City for parks and public facilities in established and growth areas.

The Competition: From Ideas to Plans

The competition kicked off with three open calls for ideas events. Residents and other stakeholders were encouraged to bring big and small ideas to help competitors design a public space to meet the needs and wants of the community. At each of these events, individuals could tour the Square with use of a map and explanations of the Square’s features, and view historic and current large-scale maps and images, as well as the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission publication, Common Beauty: History of the Physical Form and Uses of Moore Square. They could also work with AIA and ASLA drafters and facilitators who volunteered to translate ideas to a site plan, and ask questions of City staff regarding the tour, displays, ideas for the site, and its future programming. Finally, the site plans were collected and scanned for viewing on Flickr.

Participants at the open call events and visitors to the project web page shared thoughts on memories of the Square, its significant history, their current experiences there, and its future as a communal gathering place. They valued openness, safety, and providing for activities such as small concerts, other community performances, and sporting events. They also wanted to protect its large old trees, green space, and other nature areas. Finally, they wanted diversity among its users so that it was a welcoming place for all, including the homeless.

Example 1 of submission to the Public Open Call for Ideas. Image courtesy Raleigh Urban Design Center.

Example 2 of submission to the Public Open Call for Ideas. Image courtesy Raleigh Urban Design Center.

All of this information was integrated into the Competition Application Brochure, which also included the Moore Square site plan, context map, 3D model images and aerial topography, critical root zones, the stormwater network, parking, and historic district maps. The brochure listed surrounding business and institutions and a synopsis of future development.

Choosing the Winning Entries

The Competition submission process took place in September 2009 and The Raleigh Urban Design Center received more than 90 applications from around the country. The jurors for the competition were Dr. Robin Abrams, ASLA, AIA (Head of the School of Architecture, North Carolina State University, College of Design in Raleigh); Kofi Boone, ASLA (Assistant Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture, North Carolina State University, College of Design); Sally Edwards (President, Marbles Kids Museum, downtown Raleigh); Perry Howard, FASLA (Program Coordinator and Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, in Greensboro, North Carolina); and Edna Rich-Ballentine, (a Raleigh native, long-time community leader, and past member of the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission). The jury was guided by competition advisor Rodney Swink, FASLA (past leader of the North Carolina Main Street Program in the Department of Commerce in Raleigh, and leader of many ongoing transformative initiatives in the City).

Cash awards were presented to the first, second, and third place winning concepts, and five honorable mentions also were recognized. The Mayor presided over the awards ceremony, which took place in the last week in October 2009. The winner was Christopher Counts, of Christopher Counts Studio, Brooklyn, New York, with a design that builds upon the square’s unique and significant characteristics while it expanded the square’s sense of space and programmatic range. His plan also organizes the site into visually and functionally distinct areas that accommodate a wide range of uses addressed by the participants in the Community Open Call for Ideas. The City of Raleigh Parks and Recreation Advisory Board enthusiastically embraced his plan, and in April 2011, the Raleigh City Council approved it. The Christopher Counts submission is now part of an evolving master plan process that is currently underway. He has also expanded the design concept to incorporate additional feedback from the public. The next steps in 2011-2012 include schematic design and development, and in 2012-2013 preparation of the construction documents. These steps await funding. 

Christopher Counts draft plan: the Moore Square plan evolves. Image courtesy Raleigh Urban Design Center.

View all winning and honorable mention designs and the draft Moore Square Master Plan.    

Grant Meacci, ASLA, is a landscape architect and managing designer at The Raleigh Urban Design Center and can be reached at: Trisha Hasch is an urban planner at the Raleigh Urban Design Center and can be reached at:

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