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Downtown Cary Park

Cary, NC

Studio 431 Custom Elements:

Custom Benches 

Design Partners:

OJB

Team Members:
Downtown Cary Park

Embracing Growth

Cary, North Carolina is a town on the rise. Since 1990, its population has nearly tripled, and being situated at the heart of North Carolina’s Research Triangle—currently the third fastest growing region in the country—those numbers are only set to rise. 

Welcoming a new wave of young professionals and families seeking opportunity and a high standard of living set against the immense natural beauty of the Piedmont region, the Town of Cary is seizing the opportunity to transform and revitalize. A cornerstone of this revitalization is the new Downtown Cary Park, one of the region’s first truly modern urban parks that takes accessibility, sustainability, connection to native landscape, and grassroots community involvement into full account. 

"This project has been transformative for Cary. Less than a decade ago, downtown Cary was kind of a ghost town, especially after 5 p.m.,” describes Joy Ennis, General Manager of Downtown Cary Park. "Following our first revitalization initiative, we began seeing renewed interest from the community and from private development. But it was the announcement of the park’s plans—a vision that’s different than anything else in this region—that threw fuel on the fire and really became an economic development engine for our area."

Building the Blueprint for Revitalization

Behind such a transformative public infrastructure project was the Boston office of OJB Landscape Architecture whose biophilic design plan artfully marries diverse and engaging programming with an authentic connection to the rich Piedmont landscape. Shade gardens, perennial gardens, wetland and aquatic plantings, pollinator gardens, and native meadows all intertwine with opportunities for play and community activity at Downtown Cary Park. A network of serpentine paths and elevated walkways stitch together a series of outdoor “rooms” that include a pavilion with a marketplace, an interactive water feature, an experiential and inclusive play environment, a great lawn, a flexible event space, and the dog-friendly Bark Bar. 

"There’s a running joke that there’s not a straight line on this project, but there was an intentionality behind that,” says Simon Beer, ASLA, PLA, Principal at OJB. "We wanted to keep the site as organic and natural as possible while still allowing for an immense amount of programming and activation to occur.”

The sinuous, flowing and organic basis for the park’s design was both a stylistic choice and a practical one, reinforcing a connection to nature while also navigating existing features like century-old pecan trees, stormwater channels, and 30 feet of grade change from west to east across the park. "With all of these aspects combined, we knew we had to be flexible and customizable in just about every built element on this project,” continues Beer.

Beer and the team at OJB tasked Landscape Forms’ Studio 431 custom team with crafting Downtown Cary Park’s custom seating, including a collection of curvilinear benches designed specifically to harmonize with the site’s unique geometry. "We brought in Studio 431 after we had a good idea of what we wanted to accomplish.”

"We knew that we needed someone who could build to really unique conditions and be precise with that. And of course, Studio 431 was at the top of our list.”

- Simon Beer, ASLA, PLA, Principal at OJB

Bringing Design Vision to Reality

Studio 431 worked closely with OJB to ensure the custom seating precisely met the project’s design goals. Over a series of calls and reviews of shop drawings, the teams honed the design details—concealing structural components, highlighting the character of the wood, even dialing in the exact powdercoat color of the hardware—to guarantee the finished product matched the firm’s exact creative vision. 

"There’s a meticulous nature to the way the curvilinear benches are constructed,” Beer describes. "Every single piece of piano keyed wood is custom cut to fit a unique radius. It’s not a simple process, but when you’re on site, the benches look simple. There's a special craftsmanship to making something so complex seem so beautifully simple in its built condition."

“What we love about Studio 431 is how they can take an idea and push it forward in a way that’s high-quality, well-constructed and also beautiful.”

- Simon Beer, ASLA, PLA, Principal at OJB

A testament to what the new Downtown Cary Park means to its community, the November 2023 ribbon-cutting ceremony alone attracted over 20,000 visitors—quite the crowd for a town of 180,000 residents. “Before, we were creating events to try to convince people to come downtown, and now we’re on the other end of that spectrum, grappling with things like parking space and volume of traffic,” Ennis says. "And that’s an excellent challenge to have.”

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