From a public landfill in the mid-1800s to a world-class public park in a Midwestern city of 100,000, South Bend, Indiana’s Howard Park has become the city’s marquee park property. The park has undergone several iterations since its opening in 1899, but over the decades had fallen into disrepair. The park grounds and community center were aging and underused, and the ice rink no longer operational. That all changed in November of 2019 when the community celebrated Howard Park’s transformation.
South Bend-based Alliance Architects was selected to design the 13-acre park. Alliance Architects’ Bill Lamie, AIA, the principal leading the project, tapped Landscape Architect Kevin Clark, from The Lakota Group, to collaborate on the park design.
Aaron Perri, executive director of South Bend Venues, Parks, and Arts, refers to Howard Park as “Everybody’s party. We wanted to ensure that people would keep returning to Howard Park, that the design and park elements would create a sense of wonder, discovery, and Instagram moments,” says Perri.
Surprise and delight are in no short supply at Howard Park. The centerpiece of Howard Park may be the playground, ice pond, and ice trail. “The master plan was to bring back ice skating to the park in a new way,” says Lamie. “Instead of a large ice rink, we designed an interesting ice trail that contains the playground area. People enter the playground under the bridge that features rotating colored lights. The forms, colors, and landscaping that buffer the ice trail and playground become sculptural elements that blend together.”
The park’s location on the St. Joseph River informed the designers’ concept for the landscape architecture, which built on the idea of a flowing river. “The landscape has movement with grade changes and winding trails. The blue and green palette and stone buildings and outcroppings create an organic feel,” says Clark. The design of the Landscape Forms lighting and site furnishings selected reinforces the organic, sculptural characteristics of the park’s buildings, hardscape, and greenscape. Howard Park is on track to become the area’s first LEED v4-certified public park and incorporates ecological design and material choices throughout. “LEED certification became a major part of our program. It is a recognizable achievement a for South Bend’s first urban downtown park and sends a nice message to the community and visitors.”
FGP area lights and Torres area, wall-mounted, and catenary lights were chosen for their contemporary aesthetic, which Clark describes as “timeless and interesting.” The FGP area lights are located along the perimeter of the park, pathways, and ice trail. The family of Torres fixtures gave Clark the ability to aesthetically connect elements from taller area lights around the ice pond to smaller scale, wall-mounted fixtures on the Community Center and other buildings. “Lights are an important element to any site, even in the daytime,” says Clark. “They link things together. They create a visual experience at night, but they also unify shapes and define pathways.” Architecture and engineering firm Stantec created the park’s electrical and lighting plan. The plaza area features Escofet’s Twig and Lungo Mare benches, FGP benches, and Stop Bollards. “Visitors comment on the sculptural nature of Lungo Mare seating and Twig benches,” says Lamie. They reinforce and complement the consistency of Howard Park’s design. All of the elements work well together, and that’s the strength of the final result.”