Theodora Park an Inspiring Landscape Design

The Post and Courier

In August I had the pleasure to meet David Rawle for a walking tour of recently completed Theodora Park, a pocket park in the Ansonborough neighborhood of Charleston. Although it is easy to fall in love with the historic fabric of Charleston or Savannah, it is much rarer to find a great example of contemporary landscape architecture in harmony in such a historic context.  

When I first came across Theodora Park, it stood out as an exceptional example of placemaking, narrative, atmosphere and craft in the landscape. Our firm has since used images of Theodora Park to inspire clients across the country with the enchanting power of a project well-executed, no matter how small.  

The overall parti, or scheme, of the park is quite simple. Framed by brick walls on two sides and framed along the street by existing oaks and magnolias, the park balances a gardenesque enclosure with an invitation to come linger within. Authentic regional materials – wrought iron, blue stone on the diagonal, basketweave-brick – lend intimacy and human scale.  

The dappled shade of existing trees is in balance with the bright void where one is drawn to a show-stopper of a water feature. Simultaneously functioning as a floating sculptural bench, a cooling microclimate and a narrative device, the pool brings the park to the next level. The abstract ceramic composition beguiles and delights. Is this a map to the coastal marshes? A leaf under microscope? Amphibian habitat? However one reads it, the pool is an example of the rare, successful use of exuberant color in the landscape. Children trace the lines, count the spots, lean over the water, and altogether the pool brings a smile.  

What makes Charleston so appealing to so many people, and urbanists in particular, is the obvious pride taken in the city's history, craftsmanship and sense of welcome. Theodora Park shows that a contemporary design can and should share all these values without becoming overly serious, stuffy or overworked. 

It is truly an inspiring piece of landscape design with many lessons for 21st-century design practice. Most fundamentally, Theodora shows how even the smallest park can deliver a truly inviting and joyful public space for all.  

Principal and Senior Landscape Architect
West 8 urban design & landscape architecture
Hudson Street
New York, N.Y.