“Going Vertical” – Jehna Winger, DAG Architects

I always say the toughest part of my morning is going from horizontal to vertical.  Before I plant my feet on the floor, I “snooze” in multiple 9-minute increments.  While it may appear as though I’m dozing and delaying, I really use these quiet moments to day-dream and reflect, plan my work, play out conversations of the day, and answer more than a few emails.  There’s quite a bit of mental activity taking place, but all from the comfort of horizontal.  Eventually the moment comes when I must go vertical and begin bustling about my day.

At the Cascades development, we’ve just gone vertical!  What has felt like a sleepy, almost dormant site for some time is finally buzzing with activity.  That’s not to say we’ve been snoozing!  There’s been a tremendous amount of effort by the entire development team for the last three years to arrive at this moment.  Our project has gone through a sort of “horizontal” phase, much like my morning routine, with visioning, planning, conversing, and sheets and sheets of drawings.  And then one day, we can delay no more – we pour footings and vertical, tangible columns spring up from the muddy earth.  It can be one of the toughest transitions in a project, and one of the most exciting.

The vision for the Cascades district was first conceived for our community through planning studies and efforts that began years before Cascades Park was built.  That vision was carried forward by our community leaders, and then answered by our client, North American Properties.  As part of the development team of local architects, engineers, historians, and community engagement leaders, we set out to create a transformative vibrant mixed-use development for downtown Tallahassee.  To provide a residential product not yet available to the downtown workforce, to support the entertainment function of Cascades Park, and to bring retail back to our downtown.  To have enough varied uses, including a hotel and office and restaurants, all built at the same time, to make it a successful 18-hour destination.  To remember and honor the significant history of this place, and at the same time usher in something completely new.

As the architect, our charge was to reconcile multiple public and private priorities into a vertically-integrated development.  This effort required lots of listening, discussion, and collaboration; it took numerous meetings and presentations, commissions and hearings – all a necessary part of the process.  It required lots of drawing, and redrawing, and then drawing again, until we could truly understand and respond to each facet of the project.  And above all, we had to keep our true purpose at the forefront of our thoughts and actions – to create a space for people.  Architecture isn’t just buildings – it’s about people-focused environments.  We embraced an opportunity and responsibility to design a place, an experience, somewhere people connect.

One day soon, when my kids and I visit the park, we’ll enjoy ice cream on the new grand cascading stairs.  Residents in the apartments will exit their elevator right onto Cascades park, swing by the corner coffee shop, and walk to their downtown place of work.  Friends will gather on the outdoor patio of the restaurants along the Promenade before a summer concert.  The plaza will come alive with special events and the curb market and children’s programs.   Visitors will stay at the hotel, relax at the sunset roof lounge, walk downtown, and enjoy our Cascades park.  We’ll tell our children of the history of Tallahassee when we pass through the historic memorial plaza.  And so much more.  Life happens in these places, and as architects, we are humbled and delighted to share in its creation.

One morning last week I awoke before my alarm, and rather than succumb to the comfort of the covers and my usual morning snooze button session, I jumped out of bed, laced up my sneakers, and went for a sunrise walk at Cascades.  Watching the sky change colors behind a series of the first few columns rising up out of the ground was the best way to start my day.  We’ve imagined, envisioned, and day-dreamed what this place will be and how our community will interact with the buildings and public spaces.  We’ve wrestled with challenges, found a few “ah-ha” moments, and poured ourselves into the design work up until the last moment.  And there is still much to do.  But right now, this is a memorable moment.  It is no longer just an idea, no longer exists solely on sheets of paper.  We’re going vertical.