In our last post, you met the finalists of the 2013 Rudy Bruner Award, a biennial program that recognizes excellence in urban placemaking. This is the first of our dispatches from the field, as the Bruner Foundation team travels the country to examine the five selected projects. During our intensive, two-to-three-day visits to each site, we’re conducting interviews, taking photographs, and gathering information for our selection committee’s meeting in Oklahoma City this coming May, during which they will select the Gold Medal winner.
Congo Street, Dallas, TX
For our first trip, we headed south late last month, trading cold and snowy Boston for the relative warmth of North Texas to visit Congo Street Initiative in Dallas.
The project is among the smallest of this year’s five finalists. Located along a reconstructed block-long street in the East Dallas community of Jubilee Park, it involved the construction of a new “Holding House” and the reconstruction of five existing houses in collaboration with the street’s residents.
Congo Street Site Plan
The idea for the project emerged from a desire to stabilize home ownership for the families who live on Congo Street, many having occupied their homes for generations. The modest 640 square-foot houses, built in the 1920s, were in various states of disrepair, targeted for demolition and redevelopment.
Working with the residents, city, corporate, and nonprofit partners in the Dallas community, buildingcommunityWORKSHOP, a local nonprofit community design center that submitted the project, crafted an alternative strategy for redevelopment. It focused on rebuilding the existing homes and street infrastructure over the next five years without displacing a single inhabitant. Staff from bcWORKSHOP and architecture students from the University of Texas at Arlington began working with Congo Street residents in 2008, exploring approaches that would enable them to remain in place without undue financial burden. (more…)
Congo Street Initiative, Dallas, TX. Courtesy of Congo Street Initiative
As an architect and advocate for better urban environments, I am excited about my new role as director of the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence at the Bruner Foundation (Cambridge, MA). The biennial award, founded in 1987 by architect and adaptive reuse pioneer Simeon Bruner, recognizes places distinguished by innovative design and their social, economic, and environmental contributions to the urban environment. To date, the RBA has recognized 67 projects and awarded $1.2 million to support urban initiatives.
In the world of U.S. design competitions, the RBA is unique. We ask our applicants to submit detailed written analyses of their projects—from multiple perspectives—along with descriptive images. And entries must have been in operation long enough to demonstrate their impact on their communities. Our selection process includes intensive site visits to our finalists’ projects to help us fully understand how their places work.
Inspiration Kitchens, Chicago, IL. Courtesy of Inspiration Kitchens
The RBA selection committee meets twice: first to select five finalists and again to select the Gold Medal winner. Assembled anew for each award cycle, the committee comprises six urban experts including a mayor, design and development professionals, and a past award winner. This year’s group includes mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City, planner Ann Coulter from Chattanooga, landscape architect Walter Hood from Hood Studio in Oakland, architect Cathy Simon from Perkins+Will in San Francisco, Metropolis Editor-in-Chief Susan S. Szenasy, and Jane Werner, executive director of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the 2007 Gold Medal winner. The committee reviewed 90 applications from 31 states and the District of Columbia to choose the 2013 five finalists. Collectively, the projects they chose represent a diversity of creative, collaborative approaches and scales in tackling significant urban challenges:
- Congo Street Initiative – Dallas, TX – submitted by buildingcommunityWORKSHOP
The sustainable rehabilitation of five houses and street infrastructure along with construction of a new home that provided transitional housing, in collaboration with resident families
- Inspiration Kitchens – Chicago, IL – submitted by Inspiration Corporation
An 80-seat restaurant providing free meals to working poor families and market-rate meals to the public as well as workforce training and placement
- Louisville Waterfront Park – Louisville, KY – submitted by Louisville Waterfront Development Corporation
An 82-acre urban park developed over more than two decades that reconnects the city with the Ohio River
- The Steel Yard – Providence, RI – submitted by Klopfer Martin Design Group
The redevelopment of an abandoned, historic steel fabrication facility into a campus for arts education, workforce training, and small-scale manufacturing
- Via Verde – Bronx, NY – submitted by Jonathan Rose Companies and Phipps Houses
A 222-unit, LEED Gold certified, affordable housing development in the Bronx designed as a model for healthy and sustainable urban living
Louisville Waterfront Park, Louisville, KY. Courtesy of Louisville Waterfront Park
We had modest goals when we first took on the “ideas competition” to design the office building of the future. All we wanted was to use the tight deadline–the discipline and structure that comes with a competition–to organize our ideas about the future of office buildings. In the beginning we saw this as a way to engage in an internal debate about a myriad of related topics. We began as we always do, asking many questions. This time, though, we went beyond our usual inquiry: Will there even be office buildings in the future? How will people want and need to work in an office 15 or 20 years from now? What impact will technology have on design and engineering? But we never once asked, “What will it look like?”
As principals, we calculate the risk against the rewards for our architecture practice. Naively, we guessed that this project would involve a few weeks of work for those staff members who weren’t fully employed on other projects. Our economic risk would be minimal. Our reward would be a 10-minute presentation to show our developer clients, inspiring their thinking about office buildings. With no clear vision of what could happen, we nevertheless pushed our team to reach for something beyond what they already knew. If we were going to enter this competition, then we were in it to win. Go big or go home.
The effect on the office was profound. We took the opportunity to look over the horizon, unfettered by the normal project restrictions and, in the process, energized everyone. Suddenly they all wanted to get involved. We engaged the best engineers to contribute their ideas. We decided to do a video (which we’d never done before). Most importantly, we would allow ourselves to dream. Suddenly the risk expanded far beyond a monetary risk. Now we were taking an emotional risk as well, pouring our hearts and minds into a collaborative effort and then, perhaps, ending up being disappointed with the outcome. When we announced to the office, over champagne, that we had been named one of four winners nationally, everyone cheered!
“Good ideas can come from anywhere,” Mike Hickok, one of our principals at Hickok Cole is fond of saying. His vision and the idea of new collaborations were tested when we were tasked to design the office building of the future.
It took weeks of long meetings and passionate discussions before we finalized our plan concepts. Through it all, we realized that we wanted to work differently than we were used to working, to design the building envelope. We had just seen the Metropolis film, Brilliant Simplicity, which inspired us to look for opportunities of cross pollination or cross disciplinary thinking that we could build upon, tinker with, and synthesize into a simple concept.
A substantial portion of our legwork was done in the form of traditional research. From the books and writings of Branko Kolarevic and Ali Rahim (UPENN); Lisa Iwamoto, Bill Mitchell (MIT); Chris Luebkeman (Arup): and Jim Glymph (Gehry), we learned about digital fabrication techniques like sectioning, tessellating, folding, contouring, and forming. We learned about rapid prototyping and rapid tooling, parametric design and “file to factory,” innovative materials, and new modes of fabrication. And we were inspired by Kolarevic’s phrase, “form follows performance,” and by Iwamoto’s ideas about the correlation between architecture and its modes of representation and construction.
Most design competitions are won by entries with a narrow focus, as architects know only too well. There is simply no time to work through all the issues and tell a comprehensive story. The goal is to unearth a single idea and then work to present it in the most compelling fashion. Those who try to design too much fail. Those who concentrate on a succinct scheme, succeed.
When we began working on the Office Building of the Future Competition we realized that this was one of those game changing assignments, and it needed a completely new approach. Only by integrating a variety of issues such as engineering systems, site constraints, market forces, and architectural design could we hope to understand the challenge facing us. How then, could we achieve this integrated concept with limited time and resources?
We called our friends and some of our most trusted consultants: Mark Tamaro at Thornton Tomassetti for structural engineering; Christian Agulles at WSP Flack+ Kurtz for MEP Engineering; and Paul Totten at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger for building enclosure consulting. We fully expected to have to “sell” them on this project. After all, we wanted them to donate their most valuable commodity, their time. Their response was quick and definitive. Not only would they work with us, but they were excited by the prospect.
Indicative of the civic yearnings of the Upper East Side–They want a High Line of their own! –the competition’s results hinted at some of the unique qualities of the Upper East Side, Harlem, and the East River.
The winning idea–a blue skye concept entitled “3X: 300% More Esplanade,” designed by Joseph Wood—would expand the esplanade with a series of canals and pathways that wind their way through the streets of the Upper East Side and Harlem. While not remotely feasible, the bold proposal shows the necessity for connecting the communities of the Upper East Side and Harlem with the East River.
“3X: 300% More Esplanade by Joseph Wood
Costa Rica, known for its biodiversity, national parks, and thriving eco-tourism, has a severe municipal solid waste management (MSWM) problem that threatens the health of local communities, destroying a fragile ecosystem whose well-being is of critical to those who live and visit there, as well as to the planet.
Starting in 2009 when I visited the village of Nosara for a research project that focused on the biomimetic potential of the dry tropical forest ecosystem in Northwestern Costa Rica, I’ve been hoping to develop a design-build project. I wanted this project to have a positive impact on the local community as well as involve my students from New York.
sLAB Costa Rica is that project. The design-build initiative of the School of Architecture and Design at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) is lead by my studio, Holler Architecture. Based on our research last fall we developed designs for a communal recycling center in Nosara, Costa Rica– to be built by my students over this coming summer. To aid in their expenses for housing and in making a documentary by Ayana de Vos the students set up a Kickstarter campaign to raise $24,000 by May 21.
We love the waterfront. It’s a great place to walk the dog, stroll with your love, and work up a sweat. And for about as long as New Yorkers have lived on the water’s edge, there have been ideas on how to make ours a city of the sea.
This past Wedn…