The American Institute of Architects has awarded the University of Arkansas Community Design Center a 2017 Institute Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design for its tornado recovery plan “Reinventing Vilonia.”

The small town north of Little Rock was struck by an EF4 tornado in April 2014. The tornado, which also hit nearby Mayflower, was the nation’s deadliest that year, killing 16 people and destroying more than 400 homes in total. Both towns are in Faulkner County, which is considered a “tornado alley,” with more than 40 tornados touching down in the area during the past 50 years.

The Community Design Center worked with citizen-led task forces to develop a plan that highlights resilience as well as recovery, said Stephen Luoni, director of the Community Design Center, a Distinguished Professor and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. The Community Design Center is an outreach program of the Fay Jones School.

During the past 15 years, tornados have set new records for frequency, devastation and wind speed, Luoni said. According to meteorologists, the only safe refuge now is below ground. Even reinforced building cores like bathrooms, closets and stairwells were inadequate in the EF4 storm that hit Vilonia.

“This reinvention plan begins with the urbanization of safety – a strategy to create an underground safe room network that can be used in other middle-America towns in tornado alleys,” Luoni said. The plan requires the development of a new town center to bring people together, combining safe room infrastructure with a park system along a new town loop.

In such a scenario, residents and visitors alike are within a five-minute walk of an underground safe room, Luoni said. The safe room network is constructed from a modulated system of shipping containers that hold between 30 and 240 people. Landmarks pointing to the safe rooms function as community “hearths” – organizing a set of public spaces, such as parks, squares, trails and neighborhood green spaces.

The reinvention plan also focuses on expanding commerce and housing for the rapidly growing area, projected to reach a population of 10,000 from 4,226 by 2030.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency encourages planners to work with the people affected, rather than coming in and imposing their ideas on a neighborhood or town.

“Urbanism realizes FEMA’s ‘whole community approach’ to emergency preparedness, triangulating people, ideas and hardware,” Luoni said.

The Central Arkansas Planning and Development District hired the Community Design Center to work with organizations in Vilonia and Mayflower, with grants from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Collaborators on the Vilonia project included the Institute for Economic Advancement at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Metroplan and Rebuild Vilonia.

The Community Design Center is one of six design studios in the country designated a Regional Resilience Design Studio by the AIA Foundation, as part of its National Resilience Initiative. The initiative calls for a network of design studios dedicated to helping local communities become better prepared to recover from the impacts of natural disaster and climate change.

“Reinventing Vilonia,” one of five award winners in the category of Regional and Urban Design, will be featured in the May 2017 issue of Architect magazine and at the awards ceremony during the annual AIA Expo and Convention in Orlando in June.

The project previously won a 2016 Urban Design Award from the Arkansas chapter of the American Planning Association and a 2015 Innovation Award from the National Association of Development Organizations.

This is the center’s 13th AIA Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design.

AuthorLinda Komlos

A $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts will allow the University of Arkansas Community Design Center to assist the city of Conway in developing a plan for a town square that integrates wetland-based storm water treatment landscapes with urban land uses and an outdoor performance space.

The Art Works grant will support a project called “Water and Wildness: Reimagining the Town Square as a Rain Terrain.” The Community Design Center will work with Conway and the Ecological Design Group on a proposal to transform a flood-prone scrapyard at the intersection of two redeveloping urban neighborhoods into an ecological version of an art park.

Rain terrains are a new concept for “wet” areas like Conway, a city that receives 51 inches of rainfall a year (30 percent above the national average). Designed to hold water rather than allow drainage, a rain terrain works as a sponge, combining ecological engineering with landscape architecture and hydrology to maximize water absorption and minimize runoff.

“The idea is to use soft engineering to manage the water, which is much cheaper than building new infrastructure, and also gives you a really great landscape,” said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center and a Distinguished Professor in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. “This will allow new investments to come into the neighborhood.”

The Community Design Center is an outreach program of the Fay Jones School.

The Markham Square design proposed for Conway will be surrounded by a green infrastructure of streets and auto parking, featuring low-impact development treatment landscapes, Luoni said.

The landscape design for the square features living walls, wire mesh container gardens and footbridges, rookeries as landmarks, espaliers, and sculptural butterfly gardens that call attention to landscape systems. Water-loving trees such as poplars and willows absorb water through their root systems.

“The idea is an urban park that also delivers ecological services,” Luoni said.

The town square design is part of the larger Urban Watershed Framework Plan for Conway, a holistic planning approach to watershed management designed to remove Lake Conway and surrounding streams from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Impaired Waterbodies List. A three-year, nearly $500,000 EPA grant – administered by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission – has helped fund the planning project.

The NEA grant will allow the town square portion of the project to move into the design development phase. Other partners in the proposed Markham Square design include the Pine Street Area Community Development Corp. and the Lake Conway-Point Remove Watershed Alliance.

This NEA grant is one of 970 Art Works grants totaling nearly $26 million to organizations in 48 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin islands.

Art Works is the NEA’s largest funding category and focuses on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts.

AuthorLinda Komlos

A collaborative project of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center and the UA Office of Sustainability was one of several selected by the American Institute of Architects to represent the professional organization in exhibitions at a United Nations summit in Quito, Ecuador, in October.

Their project, Fayetteville 2030: Food City Scenario, was part of Habitat III: United Nations Conference on Housing and Urban Sustainable Development. A Habitat U.N. summit has been held every 20 years, with the first two summits held in Vancouver in 1976 and in Istanbul in 1996. The event aims to chart the path of global cities in the 21st century.

The AIA's engagement in Habitat III was based on a platform to use design as a solution to the globe's most wicked problems, engage architects early as systems thinkers, and use the AIA content platform to showcase AIA strategic initiatives.

To promote this platform, AIA presented a curated collection of projects in the Habitat III exhibition in Quito. Those same projects also were exhibited in Los Angeles in October at Greenbuild 2016, the international expo, and they will be exhibited in 2017 at the International Union of Architects Congress and Assembly in Seoul, South Korea.

The Habitat III Conference was convened to reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable urbanization, to focus on the implementation of a New Urban Agenda. This includes securing a renewed political commitment for sustainable urban development, assessing accomplishments to date, addressing poverty, and identifying and addressing new and emerging challenges.

According to the U.N. News Centre, the conference drew some 36,000 people from 167 different countries. Participants included parliamentarians, professors, researchers, civil society organizations, foundations, youth groups and trade unions, to name a few. This conference encouraged a discussion among the audience regarding the future and goals of urban development.

"We are pleased to have been selected to represent the AIA over the next two years in discussing the future of cities. As with all of our projects, Food City anticipates the next economy by solving simultaneously for social and ecological challenges to build prosperity," said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center. "Successful cities of the future will overcome their bureaucratic silos and make decisions very differently, while re-engaging the art of strategic and holistic thinking. We are already seeing pioneer cities - large and small - enhance well-being through development of green infrastructure and restoration of urban ecosystems, healthy local food systems, affordable housing, innovation districts, creative public transit systems, and expanded education opportunities."

The Community Design Center is an outreach program of the Fay Jones School. Luoni is a Distinguished Professor of architecture and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies in the school.

"The successful city of the future does not fear creative planning solutions. The age of conventional comprehensive plans and traffic studies - which predictably tell us we need more high-speed highways - to plan places is dead," Luoni said. "The successful future city is using advanced scenario planning to build local resiliency, decreasing risks from economic, climatic and social shocks, while making memorable places expressive of their locality. Unfortunately, many cities will not succeed in making the necessary cultural shift and thus will suffer economically."

Produced by an interdisciplinary team, Fayetteville 2030: Food City Scenario speculates on what Fayetteville would look like if its urban growth integrated local food production substantial enough to create self-sufficiency. This scenario devises a middle-scale urban food production model between the scale of the individual garden and the industrial farm.

The missing middle food shed functions as an ecological municipal utility, featuring green infrastructure, shared growscapes, areas for food processing and distribution, and organic waste recycling areas. Creating a much more self-sufficient urban agricultural environment can increase food security for more people, Luoni said.

Fayetteville currently has an estimated population of 83,000, which is expected to nearly double over the next 20 years. Although Northwest Arkansas is the most prosperous region in the state, it also has one of the state's highest child hunger rates.

Incorporating agriculture back into the city environment will benefit economic development, add value to food products, provide community-wide ecosystem enhancement, and promote healthy lifestyles by expanding access to nutritious foods, Luoni said.

The interdisciplinary team at the University of Arkansas that created Food City worked with local nonprofit groups dedicated to fighting hunger and poverty. This collaborative plan involved the Fay Jones School, the department of biological and agricultural engineering, the Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability, the School of Law and its master of laws program in agricultural and food law, the department of food science, and the city of Fayetteville.

Preparation of Food City was sponsored in part by a grant from the Clinton Global Initiative and the American Institute of Architects under their Decade of Design initiative.

AuthorLinda Komlos

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center was selected as a HIVE 100 Innovator for 2016 by Hanley Wood editors. Specifically, Steve Luoni, director of the center, was named an innovator in the design category.

He was noted for this innovation: designing within the parameters of human influence. This recognition was celebrated during an awards ceremony at the first-ever HIVE conference in late September in Los Angeles.

HIVE stands for Housing, Innovation, Vision and Economics, and the conference brought together a community of innovators in the housing ecosystem. By bringing innovators together, the HIVE conference acted as a setting for inspiration, inventions and progressive plans that can change the future of the design industry and enhance the way builders, architects and land developers design and create.

Attendees of the HIVE 2016 conference ranged from architects to developers to policy makers. In discussing the current housing ecosystem, these innovators explored issues and solutions for improving the housing system in America. Innovators were recognized in five areas that impact housing: design, demographics, finance, products and business management.

"Housing and neighborhood development have been a staple area of design concentration in the center's teaching and research, and practice," said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center. "Between now and 2040, America will need an additional 35 million housing units - one-third of the nation's current inventory.

"Most of this housing will have to solve for changing trends in household structure, urban patterns, aging, and other public health and well-being dynamics. Since we see housing as a cross-section of pressing social issues, it is an ideal venue to study community development."

Luoni is a Distinguished Professor and Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urbanism in the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas. He has served as director of the center since 2003.

The Community Design Center's work in housing has had many key partners, including the UA Office for Sustainability and the Ecological Engineering Group, National Endowment for the Arts, Environmental Protection Agency, Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Commission, Central Arkansas Development Council, Habitat for Humanity chapters of Benton and Washington counties, Little Rock Community Development Corporation and Good Shepherd Ecumenical Retirement Community. Other partners have included the Arkansas cities of Fayetteville, Mayflower, Monticello, Conway, and Vilonia, as well as Freeman, South Dakota, and Kigali, Rwanda.

In addition to a presentation at the HIVE conference, the Community Design Center's work has been featured in the September issue of Builder magazine, on the HIVE website and through HIVE branded social media platforms.

Hanley Wood is publisher of industry magazines in design and construction, including Architect and Builder.

AuthorLinda Komlos

Two projects by the University of Arkansas Community Design Center and its collaborators have received 2016 American Architecture Awards from The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.

The winning projects, the Texarkana Art Park and the Conway Urban Watershed Framework Plan: A Reconciliation Landscape, are the ninth and 10th Community Design Center projects to receive American Architecture Awards. The center is an outreach program of Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design.

“This recognition enhances the support necessary for our client communities to develop their urban cores in ways that may seem strange and unexpected to some. Yet, the visions are entirely pragmatic,” said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center. He is also the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies in the Fay Jones School.

The Community Design Center collaborated with Marlon Blackwell Architects, a Fayetteville-based firm, for the Texarkana Art Park in Texarkana, Texas. The block-level revitalization links the stately Perot Theatre, City Hall and Regional Arts Center through townscaping elements that create a new urban living room for a downtown on the cusp of regeneration.

The Texarkana Art Park will focus on four main areas: a farmers market, band shell, amphitheater and art walk. These four designs are expected to greatly enhance the social life of downtown Texarkana. Project planning was partly funded by a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

“In the Texarkana Art Park, we recombine familiar structures to make light parks, hanging gardens (made from repurposed irrigation pivot arms for crop production), an outdoor art walk, and a farmers market that moonlights as a bandstand,” Luoni said. “Their slight strangeness gives structure to an enterprising culinary and artistic community reclaiming the vitality once experienced in this historic downtown.”

The second winning project, the Conway Urban Watershed Framework Plan, mitigates severe water management problems in the sub-watershed incorporating Conway, Arkansas. The plan employs green infrastructure to deliver ecosystem services. The approach provides a novel set of transferable planning tools for urban watersheds that combine a Sponge City Gradient, a Water Treatment Technologies Spectrum, the 17 Ecosystem Services, and Six Adaptive Infrastructure Types.

This project is a collaboration between the Community Design Center and Marty Matlock, executive director of the U of A Office for Sustainability and professor of ecological engineering in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.

The three-year project was funded by a $498,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – administered by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission – and matching funds from the city of Conway, Faulkner County, the University of Central Arkansas and the Lake Conway Property Owners Association.

“The Conway Urban Watershed Plan proposes infrastructural systems that integrate ecological technologies – ‘soft engineering’ – with conventional hard infrastructure,” Luoni said. “In polluted urban water channels, we insert large-scale container gardens akin to ‘living machines’ or aquariums that filter and metabolize pollutants. For a neglected downtown neighborhood prone to constant flooding, the town square functions as a ‘rain terrain’ that absorbs and transpires water like a sponge, rather than pipe it elsewhere, which is too costly.

The American Architecture Awards are the nation’s highest public awards given by a non-commercial, non-trade affiliated, public arts, culture and educational institution. Chosen from a shortlist of 380 buildings and urban planning projects from across the United States, the 74 award-winners were new buildings, commercial and institutional developments, and urban planning projects.

The American Architecture Awards program is a centerpiece of The Chicago Athenaeum and the European Centre’s efforts to identify and promote best practices in all types of architectural development and to bring global recognition to the best new designs in the United States. It is it the only national and global problem program of its kind. This year’s jury consisted of architecture professionals in Denver, Colorado.

“This comprehensive and even-handed overview of new American architecture for 2016 allows you (as a viewer) to witness the enormous diversity in the American practice of architecture today,” said Christian Narkiewicz-Laine, museum president of The Chicago Athenaeum. “This year’s selection by the Denver jury was more interested in discussions concerning the problems of the environment, social context, technical and constructive solutions, the responsible use of energies, restoration and adaptive-reuse, and the sensitive use of materials and ecology. … Every one of the 74 winning buildings and urban designs illustrates why American architecture continues to be revolutionary and globally influential.”

This December, a special exhibition of all awarded projects called “New American Architecture” will open at Contemporary Space in Athens, Greece. The exhibition will then travel to Istanbul, Turkey, in January.

AuthorLinda Komlos