Rhodeside Harwell Wins Major Design Awards for Riverside Revitalization in Greenville, N.C.

November 5, 2021

Multi-Phase Waterfront and Uptown Development Receives 2021 “Great Places” Recognition

ALEXANDRIA, VA (6/22/21) – Rhodeside Harwell (RHI), a planning and landscape architecture firm with offices in Virginia and New York, has received two additional awards for planning and design projects along the Tar River in Greenville, N.C. The firm’s master plan for the 20-acre Town Common has earned a 2021 Great Places Award from the Environmental Design Research Association in the Place Planning category. RHI’s design of the new Sycamore Hill Gateway Plaza has received a 2021 Honor Award from the Potomac Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

The Town Common and Sycamore Hill Gateway Plaza projects followed RHI’s creation of the visionary Tar River Legacy Plan, which proposed active and passive parks, neighborhood connections, history and nature-based interpretation, and the conservation of environmentally sensitive lands spanning seven miles along the legendary river. The Tar River Legacy Plan was awarded an ASLA Potomac Chapter Merit Award in 2015, as well as an Excellence on the Waterfront Honor Award in 2017 from the Waterfront Center.

After completing the legacy plan, RHI created the master plan for Town Common, a 20-acre civic and recreational park. RHI then designed a fully accessible one-acre playground within Town Common that opened in 2016.

The Sycamore Hill Gateway Plaza, designed by RHI in collaboration with the architectural firm of Perkins + Will, is the most recent project in the revitalization sequence. The park now serves as a prominent western entrance to Town Common along the Tar River and features a commemorative tower, plaza, and gardens. The property was once the setting of Sycamore Hill, an African American community that was razed as part of a downtown urban renewal effort in the 1950s. The tower and associated interpretive elements within the plaza commemorate the vibrant history of the neighborhood, including the inspirational and enduring role of the historic Sycamore Hill Missionary Baptist Church, constructed in 1916 and destroyed by arson in 1969.

The design of the plaza followed an extensive community engagement process that included descendants of families who lived in the neighborhood, members of the now-relocated Sycamore Hill Missionary Baptist Church, local historians and scholars, city and business representatives, and other area residents. Priorities for the community included the creation of an engaging and reflective park that would further connect the uptown community and the waterfront, with interpretive elements to celebrate the history of the neighborhood and the church. The commemorative tower features red and yellow glass that is reminiscent of the stained glass in the church structure.

Sycamore Hill Gateway Plaza has quickly become a popular destination for local residents. “Gateway Plaza will be a historically significant and aesthetically pleasing addition to our park and our city,” stated Greenville Mayor P.J. Connelly at the dedication. “This project is the cornerstone of Town Commons just as Sycamore Hill was the cornerstone of the downtown neighborhood.”

“While this is a time of celebration, it is also a time of reflection,” added Dr. Latham Turner of East Carolina University. “It is a time of remembrance and a time of reverence.”

“This is a very distinctive landmark that was artfully composed,” stated Susan Newman, executive director of the ASLA Potomac Chapter, in reference to the 2021 Honor Award.

“City administrators and the community had a clear vision for reclaiming and revitalizing the land along the Tar River,” says Elliot Rhodeside, FAIA, a founding director of Rhodeside Harwell. “Through this transformative planning and design work, we have had the opportunity to create a civic destination that is meaningful in many ways. We are linking the city with its historic waterfront, we are celebrating the land’s important heritage, and we are connecting residents with nature. With the plaza, playground, trails, and interpretive elements now in place, there is something for everyone to explore and enjoy.”

About Rhodeside Harwell

Rhodeside Harwell has been designing engaging, memorable spaces within the public realm for more than 35 years. The firm’s international portfolio includes pioneering work in historic preservation, ecological conservation, master planning, urban design, and landscape architecture. Recent projects include the award-winning National Native American Veterans Memorial at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.; the revitalization of Branch Brook Park in Newark, New Jersey; the new Conservation Pavilion at the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C.; the University of Virginia Remembrance Garden in Charlottesville, Va.; the Richmond Highway Urban Design Study in Fairfax County, Va.; the Jones Beach State Park Central Mall in Wantagh, N.Y.; several projects at the U.S. Arboretum in Washington, D.C., including the new National China Garden; and landscape design for numerous U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the world. A small, woman-owned business, Rhodeside Harwell maintains offices in Alexandria, Va., and New York City.

Photo Credits

Sycamore Hill Gateway Plaza Photos: Keith Isaac

Town Common Master Plan: Rhodeside Harwell

Playground: City of Greenville