When real estate developer McCaffery Interests acquired The Roosevelt Collection, an existing multiuse residential and retail development in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood, an extensive renovation and update for the 1.3 million square foot complex began. As part of the revitalization efforts, the need for a signature feature that would serve the residents of the Roosevelt Collection’s luxury lofts and attract attention to the development from the street was identified.

“Mr. McCaffery came to us after a visit to Europe with the instruction to ‘humanize’ the landscape of the Roosevelt Collection,” said Lily Mueller-Marcus, chief landscape designer at Private Gardens, Public Places, a Chicago-based design firm. “He was inspired by the amount of flowers and attention to beautifying public space that seems to come inherently to Europeans. We took this as a cue. Our design was inspired by the elegance and majesty of French gardens and public places.”

Jardins du Luxembourg in Paris, the gardens of Versailles and the flower market in Nice were particularly influential. “Since the architecture of the Roosevelt Collection is contemporary, we took elements from these European gardens we so love and updated them,” Mueller-Marcus said.

The team re-imagined the entryway and central courtyard as a sleek plaza with manicured landscaping, outdoor seating and elegant fountains. Lightswitch Architectural created a dramatic nighttime identity for the plaza that complements the bustling urban surround. White pedestrian and landscape lighting, including vertical light poles, help to orient visitors, while color-changing LED lighting creates a dramatic nighttime identity for the plaza.

Using a variety of digital rendering tools, including a combination of Sketchup, After Effects & Photoshop, Lightswitch turned the architect’s renderings into animated video clips that made the colorful lighting concept come to life for the client. The vibrant LED lighting met the client’s wish to transform the plaza into a nighttime destination for residents and shoppers alike.

“We used color-changing LED digital signage and glowing balls that change color in coordination with the RGB fountain lighting,” said Avraham Mendall Mor, partner at Lightswitch Architectural. The new and existing LED lighting are now controlled from a D3 Media controller and Pharos Controller, via Knet2 protocol over Cat6 or fiber optic cable. The main controller – one of three control racks installed on site – is located in the basement under Roosevelt Street near the maintenance office.

Each area of the project has a different conceptual design in the form of a simple abstract pattern of shape and color. These patterns resemble the design of high fashion fabric patterns. The pattern for the playground beds, for example, is based on the swirling prints of Emilio Pucci.

The interlacing diamond shapes of the pattern for the fire pit and ramp beds are reminiscent of the motifs of the Art Deco movement. Once these abstract designs were hand-drawn in colored pencil, the plant list was developed according to flower and foliage color, height, texture and bloom time. The repeated element of the curlicue evergreen hedges is an established concept in French gardens, providing structure and a yearlong presence in the beds, which are highlighted by seasonal bursts of color. The sinuous hedges are a unifying element throughout the different areas of the space, and allow for planting both in front of and behind the line of yews or boxwood, creating an illusion of depth even in narrow beds.

Another request of Mr. McCaffery was for a feature that would draw patrons back to the Roosevelt Collection, visit after visit. The idea for a koi pond came from a desire to make an attraction at the center of the space that would delight all ages. After a visit to the huge koi pond in the historic Union Station in St. Louis, Missouri, the design team decided that this dynamic water feature was perfect for the centerpiece of this park-like space.

“We were tasked with making the space a ‘knockout,’” Mor said. The team drew further inspiration from the warming allure that nighttime lighting brings to the plazas of Europe. “After seeing the Roosevelt Collection in person in August 2011, the need for alluring lighting was one of the things we stressed most to Mr. McCaffery and the Antunovich architects,” Mor added. “Specifically, we addressed the large white globe lights installed at the entrance by playing off their “egg” nature and creating a “nest” around them using dogwood and perennial grasses.”

Another special set of landscape elements was the fire pits, which give a sense of enclosure and separation from the busy roadways. Tall hedges were incorporated to provide a botanical wall around the outdoor living rooms. The plant design was installed on mounded soil beds. There were both climatic and logistical conditions that made this project challenging. The site can be especially hot and windy, even for those experienced with the extreme conditions of the Chicago climate. The wind is funneled into the space by the outward curved shape of the buildings at its entrance. Sunlight reflects off the glass façade to such a degree that it becomes a solar oven.

Furthermore, since the site was built above an underground parking lot, the design team had to work with extremely narrow and shallow planting beds. For this reason, the weight of the soil and plants also had to be kept to a mini- mum. The immediacy of the project’s schedule became another design obstacle when many of the plants originally specified by the designers had to be substituted for flora more readily available.

Some areas were redesigned on site, and others were completed with whatever seasonal plants were available during that season. The 2012 annual plantings were composed strictly of the plants available at the date the team received the design assignment. Thus, the plant list for many areas of the project is comprised of two complex lists: the first is a list of the plants pre-ordered and custom grown for spring 2013 and the years after; the second is composed of available substitutes for installation midsummer through autumn of 2012.