Crayola Crayons have been instrumental in the lives of so many generations of American children that they have become one of our cultural icons. The product is manufactured in Easton, a city whose downtown had suffered the downward spiral typical of the shifts in employment patterns and retail development out to the suburbs. When the city organized itself to try and reverse this trend, the manufacturer of Crayola Crayons, Binney & Smith, was eager to help.
Easton had commissioned two reports to strategize the revival of the downtown area and both had concentrated on the citys assets as a potential cultural tourism destination. It was envisioned that this would be the means to spur the development of a core shopping and restaurant district. The city has a great industrial past, recognized by its designation as part of the Delaware and Lehigh Canal National Heritage Corridor of the National Park Service, however, in its decay, the citys architecture had become more of a liability than an asset. Part of the strategy for renewal was a much needed cosmetic improvement to the streets but the city needed a catalyst that would attract visitors into the downtown area. The Easton Economic Development Commission proposed that a group of abandoned buildings on the citys central square be converted into a multi-use museum complex. The National Canal Museum, already located in Easton, needed a new home to boost its flagging attendance. But the city realized that its greatest asset for creating a major attraction would be to create a destination that could leverage the popular appeal of Crayola Crayons. Binney & Smith was more than willing to establish a Discovery Center devoted to its product within the site. The complex then became an opportunity to establish a forum where other local attractions and events could be promoted; a Visitor Center, a small auditorium, a restaurant and a shop were added to the program.
Schwartz/Silver Architects was chosen to design the facility, working with a local A/E firm as Architect of Record. The site for the project consisted of a group of five buildings, including an abandoned department store, right on the main central square and there were a number of technical issues involved in rendering the buildings accessible and coherent because of different floor heights. The design turned the practical solutions to these issues, a sloping bridge and an independent elevator tower, into identifying features of the complex. Although they function as a distinctive visual marker, they do not distract the onlooker from the surrounding buildings. They serve to discreetly re-emphasize the industrial heritage of the historic architecture, making a positive feature of the environment. This theme is carried through to the interiors, where the exposed steel and heavy timber frame structures of the original warehouse spaces are used to inform the history represented in both The Crayola Factory and The National Canal Museum. Schwartz/Silver collaborated closely with exhibit designers, Krent Paffett Associates, to make sure that this was an harmonious and integrated effort.
Urban design was also addressed by the architecture so that the museum complex could serve as a cut-through between the central square and the citys main parking garage behind it. This added to the function of the complex as the main forum for the city and also allowed the opportunity for casual passers-by to be attracted to visit the museums in the complex. Positioning the retail store at the far edge of the complex, out into the central square, was also devised as a way to lure visitors out into the downtown area where other shops and restaurants might have a better chance of attracting them.
By taking full advantage of the existing buildings and selectively adding strong architectural elements, Two Rivers Landing is both a dynamic setting for the museums and a new landmark in the fabric of the city.
Its real success is measured by how well it has achieved its goal in revitalizing Easton: since its opening in late summer 1996 more than a hundred new businesses have been established downtown and the city is thriving once again. Annual visitation to the complex is four times the projected 100,000 of prior feasibility studies and, in its new location, visitation to the National Canal Museum has increased by eight hundred per cent.
Design Architect: Schwartz/Silver Architects, Boston, MA Associated Architect: Wallace + Watson Associates, Easton, PA
photographs (c) Matt Wargo Photography