Little Rock project in masterplanning category

A collaborative project between the University of Arkansas Community Design Center and Marlon Blackwell Architect has been chosen for final consideration in the 2013 World Architecture Festival Awards, the world’s largest architecture design awards program serving the global community. 

More than 300 projects from almost 50 countries were short-listed across 29 individual award categories for the festival, to be held this week in Singapore.

The Creative Corridor: A Main Street Revitalization for Little Rock is one of eight short-listed projects in the Future Projects – Masterplanning category. This project represents the United States in this category.

The Creative Corridor project retrofits a four-block segment of historic Main Street in downtown Little Rock. The proposal features economic development driven more by the cultural arts than the street’s traditional retail base.

The project is intended to spur comprehensive revitalization of historic buildings and transform a segment of Main Street’s streetscape into a visual and performing arts district in Little Rock, which has a metropolitan area population of about 700,000. The city of Little Rock is the lead partner, and additional partners include nonprofit arts organizations, such as the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Ballet Arkansas and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Little Rock Downtown Partnership and Reed Realty Advisors.

“Little Rock’s Main Street was a classic American urban icon and the central destination for the nation’s largest streetcar system in cities of its size category in the early 20th century,” said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center and a Distinguished Professor of architecture in the Fay Jones School of Architecture. “Rather than mimic historic precedents to create continuity, our organizations devised a ‘townscaping’ approach that recombines architectural frontages, landscapes, public art and signage, and shared street geometries to ensure compatibility in the built environment.”

“Townscaping as a tactic inverts the hierarchy between buildings and their urban ornaments to create pedestrian-oriented urban rooms from a traffic corridor,” he added. “It makes a virtue from the unevenness between old and new, and posits an exemplary human-centered design approach applicable in urbanizing environments globally.”

For this project, the Community Design Center partnered with Blackwell’s Fayetteville-based firm. Blackwell is also a Distinguished Professor and head of the Fay Jones School’s architecture department.

The initial phase of the Creative Corridor project is slated for implementation in early 2014 with construction of the 500 and 300 blocks of Main Street. These blocks integrate low-impact development technologies for the ecological management of stormwater runoff, featuring a tree-lined allée and landscaped gateways with rain gardens. A $1.5 million capital grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission support this Phase 1 implementation. Since the beginning of the design process in 2011, more than $60 million in building renovations have occurred or are under contract, including the introduction of loft condominiums and apartments to Main Street.

Through integrated and inclusive planning, this design develops brand identity; connects the Creative Corridor as a cultural hub to the rest of downtown; and generates iconic, destination architectural design.

Project planning was partly funded by a $150,000 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and by the city of Little Rock.

Large and small firms will compete as equals when presenting their designs to international judging panels and festival delegates at the World Architecture Festival in Singapore from Oct. 2-4. Luoni will travel to Singapore to present this project. The winner of each category will advance and give a presentation Oct. 4 to the festival’s superjury for the two overall festival awards, World Building and Future Project of the Year.

The Community Design Center was founded in 1995 as part of the Fay Jones School of Architecture. The center advances creative development in Arkansas through education, research, and design solutions that enhance the physical environment. It has provided design and planning services to more than 45 communities and organizations across Arkansas, helping them to secure nearly $65 million in grant funding to enact suggested improvements. In addition to revitalizing historic downtowns, the center addresses new challenges in affordable housing, urban sprawl, environmental planning, and management of regional growth or decline. The center’s professional staff members are nationally recognized for their expertise in urban and public-interest design, and their work has received more than 90 design awards.

AuthorMatthew Petty