Suburban Office Park: The Research Drive example

On July 4th the first building in the Harbour Landing business park (DE 11-48) was approved by City Council.  This was not unexpected, the developers had been telling anyone who would listen how much Regina was lacking in this type of office space.  Although some on Council were suspicious of losing office space downtown, the Harbour Landing folks made a case that this was not downtown appropriate.  What would this suburban office park be like?

During the delegation’s presentation to council, a comparison was made, in reference to the type of development, to the Research Park at the South end of the University of Regina campus. 

I consider Research Drive to be one of the best street-scapes in the city and any comparative development is very welcome.  However, I have my doubts about how effective the Harbour Landing office park will be at integrating and enhancing the emerging Harbour Landing neighbourhood.

So I decided to explore the Research Park, take some snaps and think about the good features the Harbour Landing developers can aspire to and the bad elements they should avoid.   

Following the break are photos and thoughts but for a brief I’ll sum up the important bits here.

Access.  The University’s ad hoc development means lots of dead ends and disconnects between campus and research park and between buildings.  Hyper-awareness of these issues should be a priority for the business park because it’s also likely to be an ad hoc development and it is close to residential who will be stuck looking at what ever comes up.

Build in a way that limits the visual power of parking an emphasizes safe corridors for walking with calm traffic as the main street.  Research Drive is this type of main street and it is mostly successful at promoting the pedestrian, relegating cars to the background, fostering accessibility and creating third spaces.

I also want to credit Hilary Craig and her community walks at the University for generating discussion about the Research Park, particularly about parking and common areas.

Click on the icons in this map for photo locations.

 

Intersections and connections

                             

A)  The link between the Riddell Centre and Education Building is a, pleasant, glass enclosed space with a path heading South to the Research Park.  This path is very wide, well-lit with landscaping, flowers in planters, break areas and lawns.

The main problem is the path visually terminates on the 2 Research Park unintentionally.  The building abuts the path without any consideration for connection or view.  The Northern end of the path (above left) terminates on the doorway to the glass connector.  The Southern end (above right) ‘T’s with a nice micro plaza (featuring benches) but to reach the cross walk, one must jag West rather than continue forward.

B)  The intersection and cross walk: in the above picture to the bottom left is the drive way to a Riddell Centre loading dock.  A busy intersection is probably not the best place for a loading dock access road, but, like most issues in this area, the concern is a result of ad hoc development. 

Mid-way in the image is the cross walk.  Here there are wide sidewalks with coloured pavement (red and yellow) identifying the transition from pedestrian to vehicle space.  The sidewalk and road are flush to allow seemless access for wheel-chairs and alike.  Crucially, there is also an indented pattern (seen best in the red) that can alert the visually impaired through a change in sound (different contact from pavement) and touch.

Boullards on the South side of the cross walk along with the large white bands across the road help identify the pedestrian corridor for vehicles.

Finally, 2 Research Drive is a three-story office building with a great human scale. 

 

C)  The Saskatchewan Disease Control Laboratory is the most recent addition to the Research Park.  The building does not have the same sort of public access as say #2 or Terrace but the scale, and design are sympathetic to those around it.

There is metered parking indented  into the sidewalk and boulevard space which allows for a narrow one-lane, two-way travel. This slows down traffic and generally makes the pedestrian experience better.

The sidewalks again are wide and feature colour and texture changes at the interface with the right of way.  Another feature is signage, the cross walk traffic sign and parallel white lines (faded) are visual indicators for vehicles.

D)  The reverse of (C), we see again the issues with ad hoc development.  The earlier Terrace has established a streetscape that the newer development must work around.   The sidewalk dead-ends into parking.  There is no direct access for wheel chair and/or wheeled devices.  There is also potential for confusion for the visually impaired with a clear walk way ending in impediments like parked vehicles, curb and parking meters.

The Terrace continues the three-story human scale.  

 

E)  The intersection looking South down Research Drive (Top) and North to the Riddell Centre (bottom).

The cross walk connection (see (B)) is stronger than the street. Research Drive is an attractive boulevard but it dead-ends without an interesting terminating image in the Riddell Centre.  Well, it sort of dead-ends, there is the loading dock which is obscured by landscaping yet still makes an off kilter match with the street.

From the top image, the wider intersection allows for a transition from wider roads to narrow.  

F)  At the East end of the Research Park/Plant and Campus interface is the new gym and its large entrance way and main parking area (top).  The opposite view, again, shows no visual match, even with an interesting terminating option like the Aztec like Heating Plant. 

The Heating Plant side of the street does not have paved sidewalk but a gravel path.  The sidewalks are much more narrow here, the same width you would expect on most Regina streets. 

The tree cover is mature but inconsistent.

The gym entrance way is very strong but visually relates to only vehicles coming toward it.  Pedestrians, either entering after parking or the few travelling the sidewalks will be after thoughts.

G)  The most modest entrance, the South way into the Education Building has the best door-to-door connection with the Greenhouse Gas Technology Centre (GGTC).  The parking around the Heating Plant and GGTC is well screened with landscaping. 

The pedestrian intersection on the South side (bottom image) is the transition from gravel path to sidewalk continuing West.

Entrance Ways

H)  The initial entrance to 2 Research Drive as you walk South from the Campus has excellent street furniture and ample bike parking.  There is a parking indent with meters here along with a lamp-post, which provides light in a waiting and gathering area.

 

I)  The main entrance to the Petroleum Technology Research Centre has a stong pedestrian connection across the street (unlike the Terrace and Sask Disease Control Lab).  There is bike parking at the entrance way, giving priority access to cyclists.  There is also a statue-display oil derrick with plaque to visually add interest and inform passers-by to what’s happening inside.

J)  The main entrance into the Terrace, similar to the Riddell Centre but smaller, there is ample landscaping and a subtle slope up to the doors.  On the right side are benches and bicycle parking spaces.  The Terrace has more adjacent bicycle parking than can be found in Victoria Park and at the F.W. Hill Mall downtown.

K)  A break area between The Terrace and Petroleum Technology Research Centre featuring tables and chairs.  The gate delineates the space but leaves the sight lines open.  The landscaping screens for private spots but is not over whelming, making the area secluded and unsafe.

The reverse match to this photo is the image at the beginning of the post.  What the screening does best is obscure the massive parking lot behind those three pine trees.  This break space bridges the parking and formal ‘front door’ space along the boulevard, it provides alternative access to the buildings and third space opportunity between two buildings, all in a comfortable setting.

L)  This is a formal garden just in front of the atrium at The Terrace. Hidden from street-view, this relaxing area is the only space in the Research Park to incorporate water.  There is plenty of seating in both sun and shade.  The colonnade screens another seating area with chairs and tables. 

Parking

M)  The Eastern entrance to The Terrace. The parking lot is obstructed from the ‘front door’ on the Western side of the building.  Rather than let the Eastern entrance be bald parking lot, great effort has gone into screening and elevation to lessen the visual impact of parking and calm traffic. 

The entrance is not as grand as the West side, but it still provides bicycle parking, shade/lighting and appropriate furniture for waiting areas.

N)  The Southern entrance to the Research Park and The Terrace.  Here, there is visitor pull-in parking radiating around a traffic circle (the only traffic circle in the city). We can see a deviation from the cardinal orientation of the other road ways with a match between the Terrace atrium and this road (the road orientation is due to the curvilinear nature of Wascana Parkway).  Again the visual termination, like with the gym (F), is to the primary benefit of the vehicle.

As soon as a vehicle comes from the Wascana Parkway it meets a decreased road width and if that’s not enough to reduce speed the traffic-circle/obstacle  provides more incentive.

On the left side of the image is the beginnings of a sidewalk, allowing some access on a right of way mostly oriented to vehicles.    

O) A closer look at the amount of screening on the East side of the Terrace.  The berm puts the viewer at low angle and thus improves the effectiveness of tree screens, especially with immature trees.

The small pathway provides, one of many throughout this lot, alternative ‘short-cut’ access to the able footed and helps preserve the landscaping. 

I give these pathways more of a pass on accessibility than some previous connections ((D) in particular) because they are secondary (for example, not the route you would take to handicapped parking).

P)  The new parking lot with berm and screening (Top) and the old (bottom), below ground level, less screening from the road.  These different parking styles are across an access road from one another.

Another thing to note is the width of the road.  Not only is it wider than along Research Drive but has less defined sides, especially further South, where people may park in the roadside/ditch. There is an non-paved sidewalk only on one side until you reach the above intersection and pavement begins on the West side of the street.

Street elements

Q)  Double row of trees and a wide boulevard create a strong separation between vehicles and pedestrians.  It also allows for the indented parking space along the right of way.

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Suburban Office Park: The Research Drive example

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