For over a century the Powell Avenue Steam Plant used coal to transform water into steam and electricity to power and heat downtown Birmingham. In the heart of the city and on the NE/SW railroad connecting New Orleans with New York, the steam plant was also at the nexus of the city’s industrial activities. Manufacturing facilities flanked both sides of the rail lines, dependent on the plant’s steam and electricity and the rail connection to markets. Decommissioned in 2013 after over a century of service, the plant and the site are being transformed into an innovative center and contemporary urban plaza centered on providing a healthy, beautiful and engaging environment for re-energizing the community of Birmingham.
The plaza design draws from Birmingham’s rich geography and environment and celebrates its industrial and cultural history. From the structured limestone walls recalling the regional geology and extraction methods, to the seep fountains representing the hydrology of Alabama – the proposed materials and elements reference the city and the site.
The plaza is designed to be flexible and dynamic with multiple scales of spaces for people to gather in and enjoy. Stacks of cut stone provide places to sit and gather next to a scrim fountain that reflects the monumental smoke stack. A shaded hardwood grove and outdoor pavilion offer a cool and comfortable place for respite with a view towards the perennial gardens. The loblolly pine stand provides an inviting space for food trucks or farm stands and the public while the adjacent section of Powell Avenue is converted into a pedestrian concourse connecting Powell Avenue Steam Plant Plaza to Railroad Park. The plaza frames the main building and its primary entrance and provides a foreground that references the building’s façade.