The University of Arkansas Community Design Center, working with the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, has been awarded a 2017 Green Good Design Award for Urban Planning/Landscape Architecture by the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies and The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum for Architecture and Design.

Known as the “Conway Urban Watershed Framework Plan: A Reconciliation Landscape,” the project addresses the impact of urbanization on the 42-square-mile urban sub-watershed that incorporates much of Conway. Problems include increased flooding, water quality contamination and property damage.

“The city has its own flows and networks – and the watershed has its flow dynamics and networks. When you put the two in the same space, it causes a lot of problems, because one hasn’t internalized the dynamics of the other,” said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center and a Distinguished Professor in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. He is also the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies.

The center is an outreach program of the Fay Jones School.

“If we want to have resilient communities, and mitigate the effect of all sorts of forces, from climate change to societal stressors,” Luoni said, “we’re going to have to figure out how to work within human-dominated ecosystems, and develop strategies where urban infrastructure delivers ecosystem services, in addition to the urban services infrastructure has always delivered.”

The project was a collaborative effort 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 plan combines traditional constructed hydrology, such as storage tanks and rain bladders, with “soft” engineering, such as bioswales, infiltration zones, rain gardens, water-loving trees and other low-impact development technologies.

“This is soil conservation brought into the urban system,” Matlock said. “It’s this notion that the softscape can be designed to do more than just grow grass, and the hardscape can be designed to do more than just shunt water. That the two of those together could be integrated to create more effective water treatment and more effective water storage in the urban system – to create a more resilient urban ecosystem.”

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.

Adopted by the city as a guide for future development, the plan provides adaptive infrastructure that a variety of stakeholders can use, including urban planners, architects, designers, builders, property owners, country agents and city council members.

The framework plan will be published as a book by ORO Editions this summer. Conceived as a design guide for how to build a green city, the book will feature transferable technology other communities can use.

The project will be exhibited at venues in Athens, Dublin and Chicago during 2017.

The Green Good Design Award aims to bring public appreciation and awareness to design that emphasizes sustainability and ecological restoration. The framework plan previously won a 2016 American Architecture Award from the same two presenting organizations.

AuthorLinda Komlos