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05.07.2014
Studio Visit> Clayco Forum
Design-build firm finds that incorporating nature into design goes deeper than simply practicing landscape architecture.
Gateway Plaza, Richmond, Virginia.
Courtesy Forum Studio

Clayco celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, but the massive design-build firm is looking forward, not back. Last year it moved its headquarters from St. Louis to its offices in Chicago’s Jewelers Building, 35 East Wacker Drive.

That is where AN caught up with the firm, which had just opened the second exhibition in its Art & Science series—an ongoing art show in the firm’s downtown office. Amid a collection of photography from the University of Chicago campus, urban design practice principal Chip Crawford said that while the scope of Clayco’s work is expansive, it aims to tread lightly.

“Where’s nature at the design table?” asked Crawford, who joined the firm in 2012 after 28 years developing HOK’s planning group and whose research interests include biomimicry and ecosystem services. He said incorporating nature as a design partner means more than just practicing landscape architecture. “We’re developers, we’re builders, and we’re designers,” he said. “It’s really a radical partnership. We’re all working elbow to elbow.”

Forum Studio has been the firm’s design arm since 1999, while Concrete Strategies handles construction. Clayco bills itself as a full-service real estate, architecture, engineering, and construction firm. Such design-build practices are more common abroad, but have not caught on the same way in the U.S. The arrangement benefits clients because they have a better idea what a project will entail and cost from the start.

Clayco is active worldwide, but is also heavily invested in its own backyard. The firm’s master plan for Pune, India, includes a seasonal lake for stormwater harvesting. At home, they are remaking public spaces from East St. Louis to Richmond, Virginia.


 

Christian Activity Center
East St. Louis, IL

In the heart of impoverished East St. Louis, a 22-acre park is meant to help stave off urban decay. No mere open space, the Christian Activity Center has space for community gardens, a farmer’s market, and a band shelter to host performances by local artists and musicians. “They’re trying to rebuild community through recreation,” Crawford said. “It’s way richer than just some soccer fields. You could change the way people feel about open space, create a sense of ownership.”


 

Gateway Plaza
Richmond, VA

Around the corner from Kanawha, Forum is working on site design for a multi-tenant office tower at the crossroads of two major highways that will serve as a portal to downtown. Home to law firm McGuire Woods’ corporate headquarters, the tower opens onto landscaped areas that function both as private retreats and stormwater retention areas. With artists Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse, the firm drew on the nearby James River to develop a visual vocabulary for the site around the concept of “flow.”


 
 

Zirve University Hospital
Gaziantep, Turkey

This multi-phase master plan calls for a regional education hub near the Syrian border in Eastern Turkey. Public spaces link the campus buildings, which will include a hotel, gym, dormitories, a hospital with almost 500 beds, a conference and education center, and a 300,000-square-foot medical research facility.


 
 

Kanawha Plaza
Richmond, VA

Parking podiums constrict public space in downtown Richmond, where an underutilized three-acre park known as Kanawha Plaza can feel like an afterthought to the nearby highway. The winning bid for the James River Green Building Council’s 2013 Green Spaces Design Competition, Forum’s plan calls for 175,000 square feet of mixed-use development on site to help fund a rehab of the public space. Cantilevered over the park, the bulk of the building connects Kanawha to the urban fabric and serves as a projection screen for an interactive LED display.


 

Mejillones Masterplan
Chile

In the town of Mejillones, situated along northern Chile’s Pacific Coast, nearby copper mines are spurring unprecedented growth in the city’s Angamos port. But the rapid development threatens the area’s cultural heritage, and threatens to overshadow its touristic potential as a coastal destination in the Atacama Desert. By erecting a programmed berm full of pocket parks between the city’s downtown and its industrial zone, Forum’s design hopes to visually separate Mejillone’s two faces. The landform could even harvest greywater for irrigation in the arid city.

Chris Bentley