A public plaza is a community amenity that serves a variety of users including building tenants and visitors and members of the public. This space type may function as pedestrian site arrival points, homes for public art, settings for recreation and relaxation, and inconspicuous security features for high profile buildings. Plazas are a beneficial feature of any lively streetscape.
The most important consideration in designing exterior plazas and public spaces is the future, potential use of those spaces. Plazas should be designed to cater to a diverse set of activities including those that are active or passive, formal or informal, group or individually oriented, and planned or spontaneous. Plazas should invite users to partake in programmed activities (eg. by providing seating, tables, and shade: lunchtime diners may be encouraged to frequent a space), but should also be flexible enough to accommodate activities that users plan themselves (a shaded, grassy area could host a performance, an impromptu game of Frisbee, or solitary reading). Typical features of plaza space types include the list of applicable design objectives as outlined below. For a complete list and definitions of the design objectives within the context of whole building design, click on the titles below.
- Accessible Route: Grass and earth covered plazas must be well maintained in order to ensure compliant routes and ground surfaces. However, masonry surfaces can be easily designed with compliant slopes that meet accessibility standards and properly direct rainwater. In addition masonry surfaces are less expensive to maintain. See also WBDG Sustainable—Optimize Operational and Maintenance Practices.
- Water Features: Water may be used as a visual and acoustic element. However, water features should not become a maintenance burden. In colder climates provisions must be made for easy shut-off and drainage during the winter season. The U.S. General Services Administration restricts fountains and reflecting pools with pumping systems to Category I areas of a site. Water features should not be placed over occupied space since leakage problems occur frequently. See also WBDG Sustainable—Protect and Conserve Water.
- Sculpture: In and around federal buildings, sculpture may be provided as part of the GSA's Art in Architecture Program. Under this program, art is not addresses by the site designer except as a coordination effort since the sculptor is selected under a separate contract. However, it is crucial in such cases for the artist and the A/E to coordinate not only the art installation, but how people will move to and from each other's designed areas and how one might support the other.
- Use Durable Materials: Materials for outdoor amenities and furniture should be very durable and resistant to the elements and vandalism. Metals that do not require repainting are recommended.
- Programming Plazas: Consideration should be given to development of plazas and courtyards for employee and visitor uses, and for both planned and passive activities. It may also be possible to incorporate the building's program requirements into these spaces, for example, for use as outdoor dining or meeting spaces.
- Encourage a Variety of Activities: The design team should discuss with potential users how they would like to use the space, in order to incorporate appropriate amenities, relate outdoor areas to inside uses, accommodate traffic to and from the building, and provide for regular programmed use of the spaces and special events, as appropriate. Consideration should be given to different areas of a public plaza which would be appropriate for different types and intensities of public activities. With proper accommodations a plaza can bring the public in by housing performing arts events and vendors. See also WBDG Functional/Operational—Account for Functional Needs.
- Manholes: The placement of manholes in plazas and entry courts should be avoided, particularly along the main pedestrian routes and walkways.
- Storm Water Management: Where paved areas are adjacent to buildings, provide slopes of 2 percent minimum away from the structure to a curb line, inlet, or drainage way to provide positive drainage of surface water. See also WBDG Low Impact Development Technologies.
Relevant Codes and Standards
The following agencies and organizations have developed codes and standards affecting the design of Plazas. Note that the codes and standards are minimum requirements. Architects, engineers, and consultants should consider exceeding the applicable requirements whenever possible.
Accessible—Provide Equal Access and Flexibility, Aesthetics—Understanding the Language and Elements of Design, Functional / Operational—Account for Functional Needs, Functional / Operational—Ensure Appropriate Product/Systems Integration, Productive—Provide Comfortable Environments, Secure / Safe—Occupant Safety and Health, Sustainable—Optimize Site Potential, Sustainable—Protect and Conserve Water, Sustainable—Optimize Operational and Maintenance Practices