Gary Bladen is not afraid to think big. When Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson invited “citizen architects” to submit their designs for a public component of his proposed downtown sports and entertainment complex, the 23-year-old El Dorado Hills native responded.
He got help from local landscape architect Leah Bray, who authored the artist rendering of Bladen’s design, which was recently named one of three finalists.
Bladen’s “Emerald Plaza” is a 3,500-square-foot open-air plaza that uses sun, water, and earth design elements to evoke the region’s agrarian roots. “I want to demonstrate how natural resources were an important part of the region’s past and will continue to play an important role in our technical leadership in the future,” Bladen said.
As a lifelong Kings fan, Bladen said he’s been rooting for Johnson’s arena all along, and jumped at the opportunity to be a part of it. He credits award-winning Oak Ridge High School science teacher Stan Inverson for stimulating his interest in environmental science.
Bladen graduated from U.C. Davis last year. He studied both environmental science and urban and regional planning. He currently lives in East Sacramento, where he bicycles to work at the startup Vivelan Group, which he describes as a sustainable development company.
Bladen cites the Waterford neighborhood of El Dorado Hills as his primary influence in urban design.
“The houses and landscaping are unique,” he said. “Even as a kid I remember thinking it was a special place. Then I traveled around and saw a lot less elegant urban designs and appreciated Waterford even more.”
He spent a year in Europe studying sustainable cities, and was particularly taken by the Black Forest city of Frieburg, Germany, named as one of the world’s five greenest cities by treehugger.com.
Shallow medieval stone gutters called “Bächle” run through the city center. Once used as a primary water source, they now provide natural air conditioning in the summer, and are much beloved by children and tourists.
Bladen would like to create a similar feel in the Emerald Plaza, which he hopes will become a focal point for the area even when the new arena is not in use.
Solar panels mounted on shade/rain structures power the plaza. Terraced gardens house indigenous plants and community gardening projects. The plaza floor evokes a map of the region, with earth-brown bricks representing the land. Major waterways are marked by either colored tiles, artistic renderings or, hopefully, actual waterways, either open to public splashing like the Bächle or enclosed under glass.
“Water shaped our history and I want it to be a central element,” he said.
The design calls for recycled water, either rain or grey, to feed “headwater” ponds that represent the Delta, Shasta Lake and Folsom Lake, which might include native aquatic and plant life.
Bladen would like some aspect of the water component, perhaps one of the ponds, to be a splash area for children in the summer, possibly with shooting fountains.
The plaza includes concession stands for the sale of local produce, Kings merchandise and other local products to help fund plaza operations. Use of rail yard construction waste in the plaza, including brick or even rails, would incorporate the region’s important rail history, he said.
The plaza floor includes areas for commemorative bricks, the sale of which would help pay for the plaza’s sustainability features.
The winning design will be determined by a Facebook poll. To vote visit facebook.com/thinkbigsacramento and click “poll.” You must be a Facebook user to vote.
Bladen worries that the approach could turn the design competition into a popularity contest and said he hopes that, ultimately, the best ideas from all three finalists can be incorporated into the plaza.
Family friend and longtime El Dorado Hills resident Bray, who rendered Bladen’s design, is no stranger to competition. Her work has been featured on the DIY network’s “Turf Wars” yard design competitions eight times, with more in the works.
Her record? “I’m eight for eight so far,” she said by phone. Sometime in November she and Bladen will find out if she’s nine for nine.