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

A collection of design work representing contemporary design culture and design thinking in Arkansas is part of the Venice Biennale, the 15th International Architecture Exhibition, which opens to the public Saturday.

The six-month event, which happens every two years, takes place from May 28 to Nov. 27 in the Giardini, the Arsenale and various other venues in Venice, Italy. Participants are invited to be part of this international event, and this year’s theme is “Reporting from the Front.” The exhibition includes 88 participants from 37 different countries, as well as 62 national participations and a selected choice of collateral events. This year’s exhibition is directed by Alejandro Aravena and organized by La Biennale di Venezia, chaired by Paolo Baratta. 

The University of Arkansas was selected to be represented in the collateral events through the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design and the school’s alignment with the University of Arkansas Community Design Center and Marlon Blackwell Architects, a design practice led by Blackwell and based in Fayetteville.

Blackwell, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, is also a Distinguished Professor and holds the E. Fay Jones Chair in Architecture for the Fay Jones School. Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center, is a Distinguished Professor and holds the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies.

Threaded throughout the projects the team included, there are demonstrations of the place-based education of the Fay Jones School and the University of Arkansas, in support of the authentic and contemporary culture of Arkansas. The title of the University of Arkansas submission, “Building:Community,” describes the reciprocity of practice and service in the complementary (and sometimes collaborative) work of Marlon Blackwell Architects and the Community Design Center.

“The opportunity to promote the state and the university at this world architectural venue, through the design work being done by our distinguished faculty in the Fay Jones School, is an opportunity to advance the U of A identity to a significant international audience. I was happy to lend my support to such an ambitious project,” said Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz. “This is an impressive effort, and after such intense and challenging preparations, I'm pleased that the installation is now a reality we can proudly promote and bring to the attention of our community and all those who will visit the Biennale.”

The University of Arkansas exhibition is set up in the Palazzo Bembo, one of the spaces for the collateral events. Visitors will be able to experience the exhibition – which showcases the state’s natural resources, significant culture, and prominent industries, along with the Fay Jones School’s contributions to the state through design work and design education. Visitors also can take away three different postcards about the state and the school.

Josh Matthews, a Fay Jones School alumnus, designed the exhibition room for the University of Arkansas team.

“The Fay Jones School was pleased to be invited to participate in this collateral exhibition of the 15th Venice Biennale, and is very grateful to the chancellor and provost for their immediate and continuing support that has made our ‘Building:Community’ exhibition possible,” said Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School. “We have worked to design and install an exhibition that is reflective of the school, but also of the university and the state of Arkansas. Our commitment to the community of the state, as well as to excellence in professional architecture and design education, is the primary driver of our work.”

Projects in the exhibition display include Vol Walker Hall and the Steven L. Anderson Design Center, St. Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church and Gentry Public Library, all designed by Blackwell’s firm. Projects from the Community Design Center include Slow Street: A New Town Center for Mayflower, Fayetteville 2030: Food City Scenario, and Conway Watershed Framework Plan.

One project — The Creative Corridor: A Main Street Revitalization for Little Rock — was a collaborative design between the Community Design Center and Marlon Blackwell Architects.

“We’re thrilled to present the school and university on this world architecture stage – alongside such American luminaries as Denise Scott Brown and Peter Eisenman, and among a diverse range of international practices – as one of a very few university-based demonstrations of contemporary architecture and design,” MacKeith said. “Our exhibit promotes the excellence of the school’s faculty – and that of the university generally. The displayed work promotes our commitment to civic engagement and community outreach, both central elements of our mission. The exhibition also highlights to an immense international audience the character of the state of Arkansas – its landscape, history and material culture.”

All of these projects featured in the Fay Jones School exhibition have won awards, including, most recently, the 2016 AIA/CAE Educational Facility Design Award of Excellence for the Vol Walker Hall renovation and Steven L. Anderson Design Center addition.

The Slow Street project won the 2015 World Architecture News’ Future Project Urban Design Award. The Conway Watershed Framework Plan won a 2016 Award of Merit in the Planning and Analysis category from the Central States chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Food City Scenario won a 2016 Honor Award, also in the Planning and Analysis category from the Central States chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. In addition, that project won a 2016 Institute Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design from the American Institute of Architects and a 2016 Collaborative Practice Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.

Creative Corridor received a 2014 Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects, a 2014 Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design from the American Institute of Architects and a 2013 American Architecture Award from The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.

St. Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church won a 2013 AIA National Honor Award and Faith and Form Honor Award. The Gentry Public Library won a 2009 National AIA/ALA Library Design Award.

“Our Biennale exhibition this year is the first in a series of planned events in national and international exhibition arenas for the school, building on the state, regional, national and international recognition given to our students, faculty and alumni over many decades,” MacKeith said. “We look ahead next to the Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2017, and, on the basis of our current Venice display, we have already been invited to return to the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. I look forward to working with faculty and students on these important events promoting the school, university and state to a larger audience.”

For more than a century, the Venice Biennale has been one of the most prestigious cultural events in the world. Today, it has an attendance of more than 370,000 visitors at the Art Exhibition. 

The history of the Venice Biennale dates back to 1895, when the first International Art Exhibition was organized. In the 1930s new festivals were born, focused on music, cinema and theater. (The Venice Film Festival in 1932 was the first film festival ever organized.) In 1980, the first International Architecture Exhibition took place, and an exhibition focused on dance made its debut at the Venice Biennale in 1999.

AuthorLinda Komlos

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.

AuthorLinda Komlos

by Bonnie Bauman

The team at the University of Arkansas Community Design Center (UACDC) has bagged yet another prestigious international award. This go-around the honor is the WAN Future Projects Urban Design for 2015 Award for the Center’s “Slow Street: A New Town Center for Mayflower, Arkansas” project.

The WAN (World Architecture News) awards are an international architectural awards program whereby 22 categories are represented throughout the year. To that end, every two months, areas as diverse as adaptive reuse, transport and performing spaces are judged by a panel of international experts.

The UACDC project that earned a WAN accolade is focused on the town of Mayflower’s recovery from a devistating tornado that struck in April 2014.

The plan outlines a new walkable town center, incorporating a city park and floodplain, among other features.

In addition, it calls for mixed-use neighborhoods that would accommodate all income groups, avoiding demographic sorting, through diverse housing types that provide a mix of lifestyle options previously unavailable.

“We think that ‘Slow Street’ is a vital urban model uniquely suited to small towns in Arkansas, and are grateful that an international design jury agrees,” said Stephen Luoni, director of the UACDC.

Under Luoni’s direction, the Center has garnered more than 100 awards for various projects and plans, many of which address urban sprawl and downtown revitalization. 

Of the recognition for the Mayflower project Luoni adds: “I envision an Arkansas of many great and thriving cities once again, whether with 1,000 residents or 200,000. The WAN Award shows that small towns can set the bar for future urban possibilities, and our collective challenge in Arkansas is to find the capacity to implement them.”

For its part, the Mayflower City Council unanimously adopted the award-winning plan. The city is currently working to implement Phase One of the plan around the city park. 

AuthorLinda Komlos

Fayetteville 2030: Food City Scenario, a concept that uses design to tackle the issue of food insecurity in Arkansas, has been recognized this year with two major national awards and a 16-page feature story in Landscape Architecture Magazine.

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center’s project won a 2016 Institute Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design from the American Institute of Architects and a 2016 Collaborative Practice Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.

For the magazine story, the writer, Lauren Mandel, spent several days in the area and interviewed local farmers, restaurant owners, community program operators, university researchers and others for a comprehensive view of the region’s evolving food system.

The Community Design Center led an interdisciplinary team at the University of Arkansas for Food City Scenario, which speculates on what Fayetteville might look like if the city’s growth integrated local urban food production sustainable enough to create self-sufficiency. Fayetteville’s population of 75,000 is expected to double over the next 20 years. In addition, although the region is the most prosperous in the state, it also has one of the nation’s highest child hunger rates.

Food City Scenario is an urban agricultural project that aims to weave agricultural urbanism back into the city environment, with the prospect of helping Fayetteville achieve greater food security and resiliency, said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center and a Distinguished Professor.

“Food production has been absent from American planning for over 80 years, despite that a traditional function of cities has always been the production and distribution of food,” Luoni said. “Food has joined issues like energy, mobility, ecology and housing as keystone topics that will guide our thinking on low-carbon futures — all now interdisciplinary concerns led by design thinking. In her bestseller, Hungry City, Carolyn Steel was so astute in the observation that food, when viewed laterally, ‘emerges as something with phenomenal power to transform not just landscapes, but political structures, public spaces, social relationships, and cities.’ The U of A’s project team demonstrates the necessity and rewards of lateral thinking, particularly as it has inflected a larger national discussion based on our experiences here.”

The project is a collaborative plan and policy platform involving:

  • Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design
  • Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering
  • Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability
  • School of Law and Master of Laws Program in Agricultural and Food Law
  • Department of Food Science
  • City of Fayetteville.

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

“You obviously have a team of very thoughtful design and planning professionals,” said Robert Herman, jury chair for the AIA Regional and Urban Design category. “Your ability to tap into other resources at the University of Arkansas affords a terrific and unique collaborative opportunity.”

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.

The Food City project was one of only two honored by the AIA for Regional and Urban Design; the other project was the Smithsonian Institution South Campus Master Plan, designed by BIG/Bjarke Ingels Group, a firm based in Copenhagen, Denmark. These and other AIA winning projects will be featured in the April issue of Architect magazine and exhibited at the AIA Convention in Philadelphia in May.

The AIA jury that selected the winning Regional and Urban Design projects said that Food City “addresses a big issue, one that could be replicated in many communities across the country.” They also called the proposal “a refreshing example of a remarkable plan with tremendous local support. … It codifies all the opportunities we have to provide these services to our cities.”

Herman said that Food City impressed jury members in the way that the plan addressed very complex issues related to the concept of agricultural urbanism.

“The way in which it aggregated traditional and contemporary technologies into a single place, and then applied those components in the real world of Fayetteville, provided a very interesting, design-oriented approach to the problem,” he said.

This is the center’s 12th national AIA Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design.

The Food City project was among four projects honored by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture Collaborative Practice Award. It will be featured at the annual ACSA meeting in Seattle in March and in the organization’s annual education awards publication.

The Food City project has previously received a 2015 Honor Award in the Analysis and Planning category from the American Society of Landscape Architects and a 2015 Great Places Award in the Planning Category from the Environmental Design Research Association, as well as a 2015 Green Good Design Award and a 2014 American Architecture Award, both from The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies and The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design. It also won an Honorable Mention in the 2014 Progressive Architecture Awards program and an Award of Merit in the category for Planning Tool or Process in the 2014 Charter Awards program from the Congress for the New Urbanism.

AuthorLinda Komlos