Return to Case Study Briefs

Sundance Square Plaza

Landscape Performance Benefits

Environmental

  • Reduces the peak stormwater flow rate for a rain intensity of 2 inches per hour by 18.8% from 2.9 cfs to 2.4 cfs by reducing impervious surfaces by 7.3%
  • Sequesters 6,567 lbs of CO2 annually through 61 newly planted trees, equivalent to the CO2 emitted from driving 7,923 miles in a passenger vehicle. These trees also intercept 23,858 gallons of rainwater annually in their canopies.
  • Reduces mid-day pavement surface temperatures by 22°F under the structural umbrellas. In the spring and summer, the umbrellas, trees, and new buildings shade 22% of the plaza, compared to only 7% shade pre-development.

Social

  • Attracts an average of 133 people at a time on Saturdays and 39 people at a time on weekdays in summer, excluding times during special events.
  • Encourages people to linger in the plaza. Of the 629 groups (1,991 people total) observed staying in the park longer than one minute, 43% stayed for more than 15 minutes, with a 21 minute average length of stay. The average stay for families with children playing in the fountain was 49 minutes.
  • Functions as the “civic living room” for downtown Fort Worth, hosting an average of 10 free public events per month, including weekly yoga classes and weekly movie nights which draw over 1,600 attendees.
  • Improves the quality of life for 88% of the 120 survey respondents and promotes healthy living for 75% primarily through relaxing, leisurely strolls, and fountain play.
  • Improves perception of the city for 88% of the 120 survey respondents and creates a sense of identity for 87%.

Economic

  • Helps stimulate economic activity and revitalization. In its first six months, the plaza activated over 90% occupancy in two new buildings adjacent to the site. Over 275,000 sf of mixed use development surrounding the plaza has occurred since its completion.
  • Contributed to a 5% increase in per square foot sales prices of residential units in Downtown Fort Worth during the plaza’s first six months of existence.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Michael Vergason Landscape Architects

  • Project Type

    Courtyard/Plaza

  • Former Land Use

    Greyfield

  • Location

    Sundance Square Plaza
    Fort Worth, Texas 76102

    Map it

  • Climate Zone

    Humid subtropical

  • Size

    1.37 acres

  • Budget

    ~$13 million

  • Completion Date

    2013

The Sundance Square Plaza is Fort Worth’s new “civic living room,” replacing a 2-acre parking lot in the heart of downtown. The two-block pedestrian plaza celebrates the city’s heritage as the “City Where the West Begins” and provides a public open space for cultural events and activities for the city’s diverse population. Downtown Fort Worth’s revitalization story began with Victor Gruen’s 1956 plan. Most of the current urban design framework, including the concept and location of the plaza, were set by the 1981 plan by JJR. With the vision and drive of the Bass family of Fort Worth, the Sundance Square district experienced renewal at a block-by-block scale. The most recently implemented piece of this vision is its centerpiece, Sundance Square Plaza, which sits astride Main Street and connects the historic courthouse with the modern convention center. The plaza design aligns with the modern Texas art-deco aesthetic employed by David Schwarz’s architecture. Within the plaza, visitors are witness to monumental sculptural umbrellas that introduce both a decorative and environmental aesthetic. The edges are activated with alfresco dining and two water features, which act as nodes providing a dance of movement, light, and sound. The plaza is a regional destination and a catalyst for downtown living that supports vibrant public life and interaction.

  • A portion of the plaza is graded to drain into 3,127 square feet of permeable surface that contains a bosque of 18 native Cedar Elm trees planted with structural cells. Runoff drains through the decomposed granite surface, through 31 inches of engineered soil, and finally into an aggregate base where it is slowly released via perforated underdrains.
  • 43 native Escarpment Live Oaks are planted as street trees with subsurface drainage pipes. Tree well soil volumes are increased by extending structural soil under slabs that support sidewalk pavers.
  • Red brick pavers with an SRI value of over 29 meet LEED requirements and complement the historic buildings of the Sundance Square district. The pavers were set on sand base over a concrete subslab to provide a strong foundation and a maintainable surface, while gravel-filled PVC weep-hole sleeves were set 20 ft apart and at all low points in the subslab to allow for drainage. With this design, pavers can easily be reset or re-leveled on the sand base, in the event that a repair needs to be made.
  • Four sculptural umbrellas provide 5,791 square feet of shaded space. The umbrellas are retractable for days when lower temperatures make sitting in the sun pleasant. At night the masts are illuminated with color-changing LED lamps, accentuating the umbrellas’ sculptural character and activating the plaza with a light show.
  • A 3,120 sf programmable fountain provides relief from the hot Texas climate when active and can be deactivated to provide seating and viewing space for larger performances or events. This allows the plaza to function well both during ordinary activity levels and bursts of intense usage. A second wave fountain also provides climate relief.
  • Sundance Square Plaza has public seating for 498 people, with primary seating options that include 279 movable chairs at 79 cafe-style tables and 24 seven-foot benches. Secondary seating options include 392 linear feet of seatwalls and a performance stage. There are an additional 214 outdoor chairs and 82 tables at the cafes, restaurants and pubs with frontages on the plaza.

Challenge

The project aimed to convert a downtown parking lot into a centerpiece for Fort Worth’s revitalization. Specific issues included the need to respond to Sundance Square’s historical context and to create a permanent home for existing programming. A significant challenge would be to create comfortable spaces for year-round use, given the hot summer climate. Additionally, the landscape architect needed to identify areas where environmental features could be implemented. The poor condition of the on-site soils posed a significant design challenge for both drainage and plant growth. The plaza’s subgrade consists largely of expansive shallow limestone clay soils with no clear soil profile. The plaza’s anticipated use would require durability and a significant structural slab to handle the frequency and loading of crowds and large trucks or service vehicles needing to drive and park temporarily in pedestrian areas.

Solution

The design solution introduces an urban plaza that integrates with Sundance Square’s historic aesthetic. Water features and shade – from four artistic umbrellas and bosques of native trees – create cooler spaces to combat summer heat. Concentrating planting on the southern plaza edge and the streetscape enabled continuous panels of amended soil to be used for tree growing media. The landscape architect worked with horticulture and urban soils experts to create a soil mix to promote the growth of the Cedar Elms. The installation of structural cells throughout the soil panels prevents compaction of the soil from pedestrian and vehicular use and dedicates approximately 1,800 cf of soil to each tree. On the street edge, structural spanning slabs are used to increase soil volumes with a minimal budget. The landscape architect coordinated with the structural engineer throughout the project to provide sufficient support to protect the fountain plumbing, intricate paving , and tree root systems below the surface.

  • The site was formerly a parking lot with spaces for 196 cars. With a daily parking price of $13, if all spaces were occupied on a weekday, the gross daily revenue would total about $2,548. Currently the plaza provides space for 190 outdoor chairs at 72 tables for three sit-down restaurants on the plaza. The potential gross daily revenue for these tables just for lunch and dinner time is $16,294, figuring that all seats are occupied and that only average priced entrees are ordered. This is a 604% increase in potential gross revenue from the outdoor space.
  • The initial design left the plaza bisected by Main Street, though it did table the street to be raised to the plaza level with the purely pedestrian spaces east and west of Main Street protected from traffic with rows of bollards. This generated significant pedestrian safety concerns, particularly at the 3rd and 4th Street intersections. Eventually, at the initiative of Sundance Square management, the decision was made to propose closing Main Street and rerouting traffic around the plaza to allow a free and safe pedestrian flow between the two halves of the plaza. This decision was presented to the City in the context of larger downtown revitalization efforts and infrastructure upgrades, and supported by traffic studies demonstrating that the closing would have a calming effect on this key pedestrian strip. The closure of Main Street did not result in any detrimental traffic issues; downtown traffic has adjusted to the change without significant congestion or adverse effects to surrounding businesses.
  • The computer-controlled, jetted fountain is a magnet for families with small children who live outside downtown Fort Worth. The presence of these families draws onlookers, activating the plaza and providing potential patrons for downtown businesses and attractions.
  • The north edge of the plaza is framed by two buildings that do not have active plaza-level restaurants or retail. Though this north edge has an elevated “prospect” view and is furnished with umbrella tables and moveable chairs, it is far less active than the eastern and western edges, which are framed by buildings that have plaza-level restaurants with alfresco dining.
  • There are significant climate challenges to establishing vibrant outdoor social and civic life in Fort Worth, particularly during the hotter portions of the year. Consequently, much of the design effort was directed toward solutions for establishing comfort in the plaza, particularly through the use of water (fountains) and shade (bosques, umbrellas). The social performance of the space is greatly dependent on the success of these design elements.

Sculptural Umbrellas: SL Rasch GmbH
Brick Pavers: Yankee Hill Brick
Structural Cells: Deep Root
Gravel Paving Units in Bosque: Invisible Structures
Water Feature Consultant: Fluidity Design Consultants

Project Team

Client: Sundance Square 
Landscape Architect: Michael Vergason Landscape Architects 
Fountain Design: Fluidity Design Consultants 
Lighting Consultant: CM Kling 
Special and Lightweight Structures: SL Rasch GmbH 
Soils Consultant: Urban Trees + Soils 
Structural Engineer: Datum Engineers, Inc. 
Irrigation Consultant: Lynch & Associates 
Civil Engineer: Dunaway Associates 
Design Architect: David M. Schwarz Architects 
Architect of Record: Bennett Benner Pettit, Planner + Architects 
General Contractor: The Beck Group 

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architect led a specialized design and worked closely with the client to meet the significant needs of the anticipated daily and seasonal activities program, while still retaining enough refinement to be used for smaller scale, unplanned gatherings. The fundamental design principle was to maintain spatial flexibility to meet the needs of current uses and to support new programs and events as the plaza matures.

Case Study Prepared By

Research Fellow: Taner R. Ozdil, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Texas at Arlington
Research Fellow: James Richards, FASLA, Associate Professor, University of Texas at Arlington
Research Assistant: Dylan Stewart, MLA, University of Texas at Arlington
Research Assistant: Justin Earl, MLA Candidate, University of Texas at Arlington
Research Assistant: Ryan Brown, MLA Candidate, University of Texas at Arlington 
Volunteer: Natalia Chuprakova, MLA Candidate, University of Texas at Arlington 
Firm Liaison: Rob Holmes, Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, Ltd. 
August 2014 

Topics

Stormwater management, Temperature & urban heat island, Carbon sequestration & avoidance, Recreational & social value, Health & well-being, Property values, Economic development, Permeable paving, Shade structure, Trees, Placemaking, Revitalization

The LPS Case Study Briefs are produced by the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), working in conjunction with designers and/or academic research teams to assess performance and document each project. LAF has no involvement in the design, construction, operation, or maintenance of the projects. See the Project Team tab for details. If you have questions or comments on the case study itself, contact us at (email hidden; JavaScript is required).

Help build the LPS: Find out how to submit a case study and other ways to contribute.