As the highly debated demolition of the New Haven Memorial Coliseum and construction of the downtown gateway project move forward, plans for downtown’s design are taking shape. Located in the recently redeveloped Ninth Square district of New Haven, downtown gateway will serve as the entrance to downtown New Haven. The space will be home to Gateway Community College, the Long Wharf Theater, a conference center and hotel, 54,000 square feet of commercial space for restaurants and stores, 280 new apartments, parking for over 800 cars and over two acres of open park space. Herbert S. Newman and Partners, a New Haven architecture firm that has completed a wide variety of public and private projects throughout the United States, was selected by the city as the master planner of the project. Newman, the firm’s founder, spoke to scene about the firm’s vision for a new downtown New Haven.
scene: Why do you think Herbert S. Newman and Partners was chosen to design the master plan for the downtown gateway project?
Newman: Our office is responsible for the master planning of cities. We have successfully completed similar downtown redevelopment projects in places like Boca Raton, Fla. We do architecture, we are urban designers and we have a history of experience with downtown New Haven.
s: What is the philosophy behind the design of the project?
N: Our idea is to create an outdoor space that will serve as a campus for Gateway Community College, just as Cross Campus and Old Campus serve for Yale University. Our other goal is to line the ground floor of the college with commercial activities like retail and restaurants that will make the area vibrant both day and night. This will serve the students as well as the people who live and work in the Ninth Square neighborhood.
s: What inspired your design for the downtown gateway project?
N: Rome’s Piazza Navona is the model for the open area in the project. Of course it is a little smaller because that is Rome and this is New Haven, but we are working with the same idea. The Piazza used to be a circus, so it is long and narrow with surrounding buildings of uniform height. We hope this makes for an accessible and neighborhood-friendly destination that can draw crowds late into the night, like New York City’s Rockefeller Center.
s: How do you decide on the placement of all the different pieces of the project?
N: It is not as important where each building goes as that they will all be included in the plan. The essence of our design is the open space. It is an intimate park that will act as the center for all the other new and existing elements including the theater, the college, new housing and, most importantly, retail. We also projected in our plan to include an open-air skating rink for the summers in the park.
s: How do you feel about all the controversy surrounding the demolition of the Coliseum and the downtown gateway project?
N: Those issues have not really been a part of our work. We were hired by the city to come up with a master plan for the city if the Coliseum were demolished, so we did not consider it any other way. Our entire concept is based upon the idea that the Coliseum will be removed.
s: Will you be responsible for designing all the buildings in the project as well?
N: We removed ourselves from the selection process of who the architect will be for Gateway Community College, because as designers of the master plan, that would be a conflict of interest. But we will be working closely with the city as consultants to make sure the design of the college fits in with our plans and aspirations for the project. Nothing has been determined yet about the other buildings in the area.
s: What do you think the downtown redevelopment project will bring to New Haven?
N: All the new activities available in the area will share in the common life of the neighborhood. We hope our design will bring intimacy and pedestrian life to the streets of New Haven and to the space itself. The essence of our project is to make the most of the space and to achieve an integrated, multi-use vibrancy in downtown New Haven. And the integrity of our design depends not on where each building goes, but on the space as a whole.