Landscape Architecture, University of Kentucky, Southland Drive, Architecture,

By Carol Spence

The rain drenched them, but those who gathered to cut the ribbon at a new “pop-up” structure on Southland Drive didn’t let it dampen their enthusiasm. The Music Lounge, as designer Rakeem Bradshaw dubbed it, will serve as a temporary experimental community gathering spot along a corridor long known for its ties to music through its shops and entertainment facilities.

Bradshaw, 22, a recent graduate from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, submitted the winning entry to the Lexington Division of Planning’s design competition back in the fall during his final year as a landscape architecture student. Funding for the Retrofitting the Retro: Pop-Up Public Space competition and construction of the winning entry was provided by the Blue Grass Community Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Donor Advised Fund.

Before the competition came Retrofitting the Retro: Southland Drive Case Study, a planning and design exercise in collaboration with the UK departments of Landscape Architecture and Historic Preservation and the School of Interiors. During Design Week, students in the three departments looked at options for redesigning Southland Drive to be less automobile-centric and more pedestrian/bicycle friendly.

“This is a really good example of one of the hallmark things we try to do as a department and as a land-grant university, which is engagement and outreach,” said Ryan Hargrove, associate professor in landscape architecture and Bradshaw’s advisor. “The foundation of a lot of the work we do is engaging community and enacting change in a community. It doesn’t always have to be a $10 million project. Sometimes a small project that is well thought out and engages the community in a meaningful way can have a large impact.”

Bradshaw’s structure, with its primary colors and bright flowers, stands out in the concrete-grey corridor. With a pergola for shade, benches for gathering, and found “musical instruments” such as flower pots and pipes to create impromptu “concerts,” Bradshaw hopes it will be a gathering spot for people in the neighborhood during the three months it will be there.

“Something like this can build long-lasting memories for people, and it changes the vibrancy of the community – changes the atmosphere,” he said.

Participants at a community gathering held in the fall by the Southland Association and the Division of Planning voted on their favorite design from about 20 entries. There was also a juried decision for best design. Bradshaw won for his schematic design.

As his senior-level project, Bradshaw elected to build his design, which included producing construction documents and cost estimates. He worked closely with a contractor and sought out donations from merchants along the Southland corridor to help stay within his $8,500 budget.

“He is very humble, so I don’t know if he knows how important this is for him and for the community,” said Carolina Segura, senior lecturer in landscape architecture and, with Hargrove, was his advisor on his pop-up design. “Doing this project in collaboration with the city is a great way to not only help the city, but it also helps the students get involved in real projects.”

The rain couldn’t dampen how special the ribbon-cutting ceremony was to Bradshaw.

“Working with Southland Drive and the community, I’ve loved every bit of the experience,” he told the gathering who had taken shelter from the weather in Geno’s Formal Wear. “I just wanted to make a difference and help utilize and engage and connect the Southland Drive corridor to make it a more vibrant community.”

Lisa Atkins, president and CEO of Blue Grass Community Foundation, also spoke during the ceremony, emphasizing her organization’s goal of creating a more people-centered city.

“We love looking at things that make our communities more livable, more walkable and more bikeable, and that give people places to gather and be engaged with one another,” she said. “This is the perfect project for our kind of investment. We’re excited about it and what it can mean for permanent changes to the corridor and the community as a whole.”

This is the second time a landscape architecture student has contributed to the revitalization of the Southland corridor. In December 2016, Charlie Hall’s Welcome to Southland design of a guitar fretboard was installed at the entrance to the corridor.

Bradshaw is hoping to find a job in urban planning in a large city.