Shelby Farms Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country, has implemented a master plan, developed by James Corner Field Operations (JCFO), to revitalize the Park into a unique, 21st century landmark. An ensemble of buildings and structures is located around the 80 acre Hyde Lake; together, the buildings, lake, and landscape are imaged as the “Heart of the Park.”
The buildings at Shelby Farms seek to live in between, balancing the local and the universal, introducing one to another and honoring the value of both. This has long been a role for Memphis, offering a collection of its local culture to the world at large. Now Shelby Farms Park offers the opportunity for these tides - the outflow of the local, and the inflow of the universal - to wash across a common landscape. Intensely specific in their function and articulation but universal in their abstract figuration, each member of this family of silhouettes attempts to recreate strangeness, offering a familiarity that is somehow elusive.
Drawing upon the local vernacular, each building is born of a common porch language, establishing an ensemble of figures with a shared material palette. Centrally located, the Visitor Center creates a new iconic image for the reformed landscape. The building acts as the nerve center of the Park, serving as a hub and point of arrival for visitors. At the east end of the lake, the Restaurant and Event Center is an economic and social catalyst for the Park. The Event Stage, Boat House, and Lakeside Picnic Pavilions contribute to the active and playful landscape at the Heart of the Park.
Seemingly more porch than building, the Visitor Center embraces and intensifies the landscape. Elegant and rhythmic from a distance, a generosity is revealed in person, with a material palette born of the intersection between the natural and the industrial. Local cypress walls offer warmth and tactility in the transition to the striking cleft that overlooks the new lake. In contrast, an elusive skin of aluminum bar grate gently filters sunlight while hinting at the architecture of industrial agriculture and allowing the humid Memphis air to drift in, slowly threshed by large fans hovering overhead.
A deep porch is provided at the Restaurant and Retreat Center, a place to watch as the sun sets across the subtle bend of the lake. Slung low and spreading as it becomes one with landscape, the stone base provides a permanence that complements the ethereal, protective wing of the roof.
Located at the base of a broad lawn, the Event Stage stands tall along the water’s edge with a striking point to both earth and sky. The Boat House is long and low, an ephemeral body with a sturdy carapace that is simultaneously wispy and firm. Its long tail offers shade before taking to the water. Lakeside Picnic Pavilions are lithe, but no less ambitious. A thin folded plane of wood provides a lining for the roof above, providing shelter and framing moments of intense activity.