The University of Arkansas Community Design Center’s project Slow Street: A New Town Center for Mayflower has won the 2015 World Architecture News’ Future Project Urban Design Award.

This project, which combined the center’s tools with resiliency planning, was chosen as the winner from six shortlisted projects that expressed a diverse range of scale and intervention. A second project by the center, Texarkana Art Park and Perot Theatre Revitalization, was one of the remaining shortlisted projects for this award. Other shortlisted projects were located in Washington, D.C., Turkey, France and the United Kingdom.

The awards panel was composed of three London-based architects: Oliver Kampshoff, principal at Hassell Studio; Bryan Avery, principal at Avery Associates Architects; and Jason Balls, director of EPR Architects.

The center’s winning project is based in the central Arkansas town of Mayflower, which was struck by an EF4 tornado in April 2014. The tornado, which also struck nearby Vilonia, was the nation’s deadliest in 2014, killing 16 people and destroying more than 400 homes.

The center’s design for Mayflower is focused on redeveloping the area with a new type of walkable town center with mixed residential, recreational, commercial and municipal functions, which would also incorporate an isolated city park and floodplain. They partnered on the project with the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District and the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Two planning challenges were the transportation corridors (including a railroad) and the area’s thin, triangular form — where a common city grid would not work. The resulting design was created around a “slow street,” which stretches the qualities and landscapes common to a town square along the street’s 4,500-foot length. The area measures 800 feet at its widest part, and no building is more than a block away from the “slow street.”

It is both main street and town square, combined into a new hybrid concept about place. The street is the primary armature for the town layout. Green spaces are incorporated into the street, creating a collection of urban rooms oriented toward delivering non-traffic social functions. The street and its green areas also perform as the city’s park system.

Mixed-use neighborhoods accommodate all income groups and demographics, through diverse housing types that provide a mix of lifestyle options previously unavailable in the town. This project accommodates a range of housing density (from six to 25 units per acre) in a town where the average density is three units per acre. The housing mix for the 350 units supports aging in place and the return of middle and low-income families to town centers.

“While not all of our projects involve students, this was one where fifth-year design students collaborating with the center’s staff operated with great clarity under urgent conditions to deliver a town plan in just a few months,” said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center.

Slow Street is emblematic of a novel urban prototype uniquely suited to small and mid-sized town applications. We collectively studied a particular theory of aggregation manifested in western frontier towns. Good urbanism is a matter of relationships and not a factor of population size, nor necessarily of high densities. I am thrilled that our school, university and state can set the bar for urban futures internationally, and so, it is incumbent upon us in Arkansas to work a little harder to implement such city plans. I also look forward to seeing our participating graduates realize this new thinking on housing and urbanism soon in their own professional work.”

Luoni is also a Distinguished Professor of architecture and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies in the Fay Jones School.

The awards panel members were impressed not only with the Mayflower project, but also with the high standard of presentation put forward and the sensitivity of the drawings. Balls noted that the project possessed a “very strong thematic,” with Avery adding, “There’s a humanity here that’s a joy to see.”

The plan was adopted unanimously by Mayflower’s city council, following a year of work between the tornado recovery planning team and the community. Mayflower is currently working on parcel aggregation to implement Phase 1 around the city park.

“This project has long-term vision. It’s a bold move, compared with what’s there,” Kampshoff said.

The WAN Future Project Urban Design Award 2015 is a celebration of “design only” projects, seeking to champion concepts that have pushed their specific typology forward and proven a holistic and effective approach.

The panel of international experts considered how well the 30 long-listed projects being considered work within both the client’s requirements and the surrounding environment. They also judged entries on a number of factors, including quality of presentation, originality, innovation, form and special quality, sustainability and context.

Judges also were impressed with the presentation of the center’s shortlisted project, the Texarkana Art Park and Perot Theatre Revitalization, which was done in collaboration with Marlon Blackwell Architects, based in Fayetteville. Currently in the works, this project was sponsored in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The plan calls for the urban regeneration of a key downtown block, creating an activity node that connects City Hall, the Regional Arts Centre, and the 1,400-seat Perot Theatre — all pre-1920s buildings that do not front the park.

The design proposal consists of four key components: a farmers market, band shell and amphitheater, art walk, and gateways. These components extend the social life of adjoining cultural venues. Here, infrastructural space and components — usually thought of as supplemental to the city — are artistically reconsidered in reshaping the city.

“It’s a well-considered project; it’s been done sensibly,” Balls said.

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AuthorLinda Komlos