The original 1½ acre full-block downtown site, Nollen Plaza was built in 1979 adjacent to the Civic Center, now the home of Des Moines Performing Arts.
The redesign and renovation of Cowles Commons started in 2008 with a purpose of creating a world-class cultural and urban destination for Des Moines citizens and visitors. The $12 million revitalization effort was led by Des Moines Performing Arts in conjunction with the City of Des Moines. Des Moines Performing Arts brought together the design team and led the fundraising necessary to revitalize a downtown Des Moines landmark.
The new Cowles Commons is a flexible use space designed to support a range of downtown programs and activities ranging from daily use to outdoor markets, concerts, performing arts productions, special events and downtown civic space celebrations. The design juxtaposed two alignments to organize the space. One alignment is the context of the downtown street grid that is aligned with the Des Moines River. The other alignment is the greater Jeffersonian Grid that organized the State’s farms and counties. This alignment cuts diagonally through Cowles Commons visually connecting the Civic Center to the Capitol Square building. A boldly striped plaza of red brick and stone is the centerpiece of the design and is organized along this diagonal alignment. The symbolic “red carpet” will host concerts, festivals and other special events.
A new sculpture by San Francisco-based visual artist Jim Campbell that utilizes suspended art and LED lights will join the iconic "Crusoe Umbrella," designed by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. A new fountain named the Lauridsen Fountain, is sited along one side of the red carpet and is designed as an interactive decorative water feature of arcing water jets computer programmed to be ever changing and lit with 55 color changing LED lights.
Framing the red carpet on either side are substantial gardens of ovoid shapes lined with low seat walls. The “ovoid gardens” are planted with a grove of 33 new Oak and Hickory trees to augment the 7 mature Oak trees remaining from the original plaza. Planted under the trees are lush gardens designed with native grasses and perennials. Working with the Iowa Peacekeepers Committee an existing Peace Rock Memorial was been relocated in the Commons and ten thought-provoking peace quotations were incorporated into the face of the ovoid seat walls.
A high canopy of nine 70-foot tall LED dark-sky mast lights provides for a comfortable and safe ambiance in the Commons.
Ken Smith Landscape Architect was the design lead for a multidisciplinary team that included:
Jim Campbell, San Francisco artist who is creating a new LED media sculpture for the Commons.
Jim Garland of Fluidity Design who designed the new fountain.
Jim Conti Lighting Design
Jim Urban, Urban Trees
RDG Design Group
Weitz Construction was the General Contractor
The project financial donors include:
The Gardner and Florence Call Cowles Foundation
The Principal Financial Group
Lauridsen Family Endowment
Kruidenier Charitable Foundation
The City Of Des Moines
Polk County Board of Supervisors
William and Susan Knapp