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Monday, July 26, 2021

Alumnus thinks big in Sacramento design competition

With a few simple Facebook clicks, UC Davis alumnus Gary Bladen may win Think Big Sacramento’s Citizen Architect Design Competition.

Bladen, who graduated from UC Davis in 2010 with a degree in environmental policy analysis and planning, is one of three finalists in the competition to create an outdoor public space that will be part of the future Entertainment and Sports Complex (ESC) in Sacramento.

Think Big is an initiative started by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to rally support for the new arena, which will be the future home of the Sacramento Kings.

“The Citizen Architect competition was created to have someone from the public put forth an idea that can say, ‘This is our region, our community, we designed it and started these grassroots efforts to get it done,'” Bladen said.

Bladen, an El Dorado Hills native and lifelong Kings fan, knew right away that he had to be a part of the competition because it incorporated his passion for green technology and his current job at Vivelan Group, a sustainable development company.

“I thought I might be able to offer some expertise and design ideas that other people might not be thinking about,” Bladen said.

His design, called Emerald Plaza, is a 3,500-square-foot open-air plaza that revolves around three main themes: sun, water and earth, all of which will serve as an ecosystem for the plaza. Bladen described his design as “sustainable, inspiring, and lively.”

The plaza will serve as a meeting place for the community and will blend entertainment and education.

“It’s going to be a hotspot for education, urban farming, renewable energy and sustainability,” Bladen said.

The sun aspect of the design features solar panels that will power the plaza, including the water pumps of the many water fountains and pools that will have local aquatic life. The solar panel structures will be multi-purpose, serving as shelter, bicycle parking and a concession stand, Bladen said.

Bladen’s experience studying abroad in UC Davis’ Sustainable Cities of Northern Europe program, which exposed students to urban sustainability, was the main influence for his design.

Waterways, inspired by the Bächle waterways in Freiburg, Germany, play a major role in the design. Bladen described Bächle as “troughs of water going through the city.”

“That was an idea I tried to incorporate in my design because all of these water features show how water is an important part of our region,” Bladen said.

The water features, which will be actual waterways covered with glass, fountains, or mosaic tile renderings, will represent Shasta Lake, Folsom Lake, and the Delta.

When UC Davis Professor Jeff Loux, who taught in the study abroad program, found out that Bladen was a finalist, he said in an e-mail interview, “There is nothing more rewarding for an educator than this. That is why we do what do … at least why I do it.”

Bricks, indigenous plants and an urban farming feature with terraced gardens will represent the region’s topography. The bricks will be sold to community members and will serve as a source of funding for the project.

“It will be a place where people can learn how the sun, water and land have affected us, the region and shaped the landscape,” Bladen said.

Throughout the design process, Bladen was assisted by his father, Keith Bladen, and local landscape designer Leah Bray.

“Architecture has always been a passion of mine, and it’s neat because Gary’s passion is green technology, so this is the perfect intersection for our passions,” Keith said.

Father and son both signed up to be a part of the Think Big campaign without knowing the other had. When they found out they were both involved, they took the opportunity to brainstorm together. Keith acted as “the voice of architectural reason,” and said he couldn’t be more proud of his son.

Gary’s design came to life with the help of Bray, who took his digital conceptual design and hand drew the artist rendering.

“He had a vision and I built it and put it on paper,” Bray said. “Gary was amazing to work with. It’s a great forward-thinking concept.”

The winner of the competition will be determined in late October or early November, although no specific date has been given. Gary’s competition includes designs of an amphitheater and a walk of fame.

“I’d rather see them take the best ideas from each design, like let’s do the brick pathway, the sustainable features and an amphitheater powered by solar panels,” Gary said.

Gary and the other “Citizen Architects” will meet and mingle with the public at “Citizen Architect Power Hour” on Oct. 19 at Dive Bar, located at 1016 K St. in downtown Sacramento.

To vote for Gary, log on to Facebook, “like” Think Big Sacramento, click on “Poll,” and vote for “Gary Bladen – Emerald Plaza.”

“If I won, I’d feel like a champion,” Bladen said. “I’d also feel responsible for making it happen and having it live up to my expectations of what it should be.”

CASEY SPECHT can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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