Behind the Design of Colonial Lake

The driving concept behind the redesign of Colonial Lake is to respect the rich history of the park while creating a design that matches the current needs of local residents and visitors using the much-loved green space.

“One of the things we learned about Colonial Lake is that it has about 10 different lives,” says Scott Parker, a partner with DesignWorks, which crafted the Colonial Lake design. “It has changed dramatically over the years. Public spaces change with the needs of the community. We want to respect the traditions of the past but the new design is about designing a place for the community today and the neighborhoods around Colonial Lake today.”

While park visitors will certainly appreciate the improved water quality, they are most likely to take notice of the new gardens, trees and plant selection that will have Colonial Lake flourishing in all seasons.

Currently, most people walk or jog around the lake so Parker says that promenade experience played a large role in the park’s overall design. When you think about a great promenade and what makes walking enjoyable it’s a comfortable place, Parker says. You have something nice to look at.

So walkers, runners and stroller pushers will have plenty of nice scenery once the park renovation is complete.

Each side of Colonial Lake is somewhat unique so the design plays to those strengths and the garden design will be slightly different on each of the four sides. The space along Ashley Avenue is narrow so the width of the street will be reduced slightly and an avenue of oaks planted along the street.

Rutledge Avenue is wider so there’s an opportunity to border that area with more extensive plantings that require lots of sunshine. On Beaufain and Broad streets, the park space is a little wider with some existing trees, so those areas will be planted as shade gardens.

Plus, they will provide pathways that allow people to vary their walking or jogging routes beyond just the rectangle around the lake.

The plants also will be selected to create year-round interest and dramatic seasonal changes, Parker says. “If you come in early spring, there will be flowering trees and enough of them that people will notice,” he says. “It will be the symbol that spring has arrived.”

The main reason the Colonial Lake redesign will have such extensive gardens is thanks to the maintenance provided by the Charleston Parks Conservancy. “You can only really design according to the level of maintenance you will have,” Parker says. “Because the Conservancy will be part of the ongoing maintenance, we’re able to design a much more sophisticated garden.”

In addition to the blooming gardens, there will be a variety of seating options for people who want some time alone as well as for friends and neighbors who want to congregate in the park for an impromptu evening visit.

Better lighting, grass for stretching out on a spring afternoon and a marker showcasing some of the storied Colonial Lake history are all part of the grand park plan.

“It’s a really unprecedented opportunity to take one of the great public spaces in Charleston and make it really wonderful,” Parker says.

Complete information about the Colonial Lake renovation including diagrams, sketches and project details can be found at

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