The University of Arkansas Community Design Center’s design for the Trailhead Complex at the Maumelle Nature Center has won a 2015 American Architecture Award from The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.

Chosen from more than 1,000 submissions from architecture firms across the United States, the 60 award winners were new buildings, commercial and institutional developments, and urban planning projects designed or built since 2012.

This is the seventh Community Design Center project to receive an American Architecture Award. The center is an outreach program of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design.

The Trailhead Complex project was commissioned by Central Arkansas Water as part of its reforestation initiative of the former Winrock Grass Farm, as a water supply protection measure within the Lake Maumelle watershed outside of Little Rock. The design was completed in association with Geosyntec Consultants and the Watershed Conservation Resource Center.

“We are pleased by the national recognition of our work for Central Arkansas Water and look forward to the trailhead complex’s eventual construction,” said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center. “The complex will become the public face to larger riparian corridor improvements already underway in this reforestation initiative, providing a ‘sensory-laden’ architecture uniquely responsive to engagements with nature.”

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 design of the complex, which will cover 10,000 square feet and cost about $3 million once built, consists of five basic components — a low-impact development parking garden, visitors hall, outdoor classroom, meadow walkscape and lookout tower — each of them demonstrating features and exhibits that support environmental conservation.

The environmental education center is conceived as an exhibit landscape that curates visitors’ passage through unique ecological facilities, landscapes and architectural structures. It is intended to create memorable experiences that reenergize visitors’ regard for environmental systems. The design of the components amplifies the educational functions through “strangemaking” approaches that emphasize contrasts between the natural and the artificial. Strangemaking is used by artists and educators to encourage discovery by making something familiar come across as strange.

A visitors hall is tucked within the forested hillside of a meadow-forest area, re-creating the effect of a forest canopy and serving as a sheltered, multipurpose gateway between highland and lowland. The outdoor classroom is a modified amphitheater that navigates the 30-foot elevation drop to the meadow walkscape, a wildflower meadow that contains micro-lawns for lounging and picnicking, children’s play areas and public art displays.

The lookout tower marks the limits of the trailhead complex and is used as a landmark to guide visitors throughout the park. The parking garden is a low-impact, stormwater-treatment landscape bordered by walls made from river cane and grounded with pervious surfaces of granulated rock, porous pavers and rain gardens.

The Trailhead Complex also won a 2013 Unbuilt Architecture and Design Award from the Boston Society of Architects and a 2015 Honor Award from the Florida/Caribbean chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

The American Architecture Awards, now in its 21st year, 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 a global focus to light of the best new designs from the United States. It is the only national and global program of its kind.

“America’s most prominent architecture firms have all made the grade and show why the United States architectural talent and ambition is famed around the world. The American Architecture Awards are awarded to U.S. architects who have made the biggest contribution to the evolution of American architecture in a given year,” said Christian Narkiewicz-Laine, president of The Chicago Athenaeum.

The 60 award-winning projects will be premiered at the third Chicago Architecture Biennial this November. The exhibition, called The City and the World, combines the 2015 International Architecture Awards with the 2015 American Architecture Awards. After Chicago, the exhibition is scheduled to travel to Izmir, Turkey, at the Chamber of Turkish Architects-Izmur Branch, and then to The European Centre’s Contemporary Space Athens in Athens, Greece.

AuthorLinda Komlos

A regional session of the Mayors' Institute on City Design is being held Oct. 21-23 in Northwest Arkansas.

The 2015 South Regional Session of the Mayors' Institute is one of three regional sessions to be held in locations around the country this year. Through a competitive application process, the University of Arkansas Community Design Center was selected to host this regional session — the first time one has been held in Arkansas. The center is an outreach program of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design.

The basis of the Mayors' Institute is that each mayor is the chief urban designer of his or her city, with an ability to influence design and development there that may not be fully understood or realized.

Trinity Simons is director of the Mayors' Institute, based in Washington, D.C. She works with mayors from across the country, assisting them in addressing some of the country's most pressing urban planning and design issues. The office also hosts national-level sessions in locations across the country each year.

Since the Mayors' Institute was founded nearly 30 years ago, more than 1,000 mayors and 700 design and development professionals have participated in sessions across the country.

The program's structure at these regional sessions hasn't changed that much over the years, and equates to an "Urban Planning 101" workshop for mayors. A group of eight mayors comes together with eight design and development professionals. Each mayor brings a specific project and receives feedback from the professionals.

Prior to the session, the local team recruited the mayors, traveling to their cities to see the issues being faced, and selecting a problem to bring to the session. The mayors will then bring these case studies to the session.

 "They always say that they learn as much from each other and the other presentations as they do from their own," Simons said of the mayors who've participated in past sessions.

Four Arkansas mayors participating in this session include Joe Smith of North Little Rock, John Mark Turner of Siloam Springs, Gary Fletcher of Jacksonville and Doug Sprouse of Springdale. Other mayors attending are Elise Partin of Cayce, South Carolina; Christopher B. Jones of Harrisonburg, Virginia; Jannquell Peters of East Point, Georgia; and George Vallejo of North Miami Beach, Florida.

The honor of hosting these regional sessions is awarded to universities or nonprofits through a competitive application process, and the sessions tend to be held in smaller regional cities, rather than a major city.

"The UACDC has a fantastic national reputation," Simons said. "Also, the entire Northwest Arkansas region is growing at a fast pace, and there are countless examples of good design to show off.

Steve Luoni is director of the Community Design Center, selected as host for this week's South Regional Session, and is also a Distinguished Professor in the Fay Jones School.

"We are grateful for the opportunity to host the Mayor's Institute in Arkansas, as preparations for the session have given our center's staff and design students another type of experience in engaging problems of the city," Luoni said. "We met with each of the eight mayors to prepare a consolidated briefing book that will frame discussions among resource team members and the mayors. We are also very excited by the caliber of design and development expertise that we were able to attract to Northwest Arkansas for this session and look forward to their discussions with the mayors.

"I am particularly pleased that we were able to select four mayors from Arkansas," Luoni added, "since only 13 Arkansas mayors have participated in Institute sessions over its 30-year history."

The event will open with an evening tour and reception at Vol Walker Hall, and dinner with Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School. After that, the mayors and resource team members will spend two days meeting at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, doing the work of this project and giving brief presentations.

Simons said that what's happening in Bentonville is impressive, with some smart planning and design decisions having been made.

"We like to put the mayors in places with good urban design so that it inspires good urban design," Simons said.

Some key aspects are important for the success of these sessions, Simons said. They are private meetings, so conversations can remain frank. The resource team members sign agreements that they won't seek work with the cities for at least one year afterward.

The feedback they receive isn't just about architecture and design. They also discuss the myriad aspects related to running a city — the implementation and funding strategies, and how this relates to other issues in the city, such as the economy and jobs.

Mayors seek political office for so many different reasons and come from varied backgrounds and perspectives, Simons said. They are charged with effectively and efficiently operating a city, but they weren't necessarily trained to know how design could impact issues such as safety, employment, economic development and the environment. And any solution to these issues likely takes a multi-faceted approach — which could include some aspect of design.

"It's never just about this one thing," Simons said.

An example of success from one of these regional sessions was when Mayor Mark Stodola from Little Rock attended in 2007, soon after taking office. He brought a project focused on the Main Street area, near the Rivermarket, which was being revitalized because of the Clinton Presidential Center and other development. Main Street was languishing at that point. But, over the last eight years, he's used that experience to leverage grants and other development projects there. The Community Design Center and Marlon Blackwell Architects designed the Creative Corridor project, which has been recognized with numerous awards. The first phase of the project opened in September.

The resource team for this week's session includes John Anderson, principal, AK architecture + urban design in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Sam Assefa, senior urban designer, city of Boulder, Colorado; Julia Day, project manager, Gehl Architects, in New York, New York; Susannah Drake, principal, DLANDstudio, Brooklyn, New York; Norman Garrick, associate professor of civil engineering, University of Connecticut; E. Timothy Marshall, principal, ETM Associates, LLC, Highland Park, New Jersey; Marilys Nepomechie, professor of architecture, Florida International University; Tommy Pacello, special projects manager, U3Advisors, Philadelphia.

Arkansas mayors who have participated in Mayors' Institute sessions in past years since 1988 include: Mike Dumas of El Dorado; Fred Hanna, Jr., Dan Coody and Lioneld Jordan, all of Fayetteville; Helen Selig of Hot Springs; Hubert Brodell of Jonesboro; Lottie Shackelford, Jim Dailey and Mark Stodola, all of Little Rock; Patrick Henry Hays of North Little Rock; Carl Redus, Jr. of Pine Bluff; Danny Gray of Texarkana; and Keith Ingram of West Memphis.

The Mayors' Institute on City Design is a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the American Architectural Foundation and the United States Conference of Mayors with support from United Technologies. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the NEA, and the Mayors' Institute is recognized as one of the NEA's historically key partnerships in a story on the NEA's anniversary timeline. In addition, the Walton Family Foundation is the sponsor of the 2015 South Regional Session. 

AuthorLinda Komlos

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center’s project Fayetteville 2030: Food City Scenario has won a 2015 Honor Award in the Analysis and Planning category from the American Society of Landscape Architects. The project seeks to build food sustainability by promoting local urban agriculture.

Food City Scenario is featured in the October issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine and will be exhibited at the ASLA Annual Meeting and Expo in Chicago in November. This is the Community Design Center’s seventh ASLA Honor Award.

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.

The project is a collaborative plan and policy platform involving the 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, 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.

Food City radicalizes planning discourse by centralizing the role of nutrition in creating healthy communities,” Luoni said. “Keeping in mind that cities and agriculture are energy systems, we can readily devise novel resilient and self-sufficient city forms that exponentially multiply ecological and economic capital. We are most pleased that all of the major design professions and national foundations focused on resilience have now embraced the important discussion surrounding agricultural urbanism.”

The Food City Scenario project previously received 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, as well as 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

The network of studios that conducted the research will expand from three to six locations in 2016.

By Caroline Massie

University of Arkansas Community Design Center "Fayetteville 2030: Food City Scenario Plan" is one of the projects outlined in the report's case studies.

Today, the AIA's Architects Foundation unveiled details about the past and future of its National Resilience Initiative (NRI), a network of university-based design studios that provide architectural services to communities and share best practices for preparing for natural disasters. The report, titled “In Flux: Community Design for Change, Chance and Opportunity,” outlines the work of the NRI’s three inaugural studios: the New Jersey Institute of Technology's Center for Resilient Design in Newark, New Jersey; the University of Arkansas Community Design Center at the Fay Jones School of Architecture in Fayetteville, Arkansas; and Mississippi State University's Gulf Coast Community Design Studio, located in Biloxi, Mississippi. Three additional studios, located in the west, the mid-Atlantic, and the upper Midwest regions of the U.S., will be announced in March 2016.

The report includes case studies of projects completed by the three studios, including the construction of houses for victims of Hurricane Katrina, the study of microgrids, and the development of an urban food production system. It debuted at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, which made the NRI, in collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities, a Commitment to Action, a plan to tackle a global issue, in 2013. 

In addition to the expansion of the studio network, the NRI plans to access AIA's membership network for assistance in informing policy and building codes at national, state, and local levels to promote resilient design. It will also develop a curriculum for students and practicing architects to learn about resiliency.

Read the full report here.

Caroline Massie is an assistant editor of business, products, and technology at ARCHITECT. Follow her on Twitter at @caroline_massie.

AuthorLinda Komlos

A $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts will enable the University of Arkansas Community Design Center and Marlon Blackwell Architects to assist the city of Texarkana, Texas, to develop a downtown art park.

The NEA awarded the city of Texarkana an Our Town grant to support Market Grounds, a cultural public space project focused on food, the arts and the historic district. The grant is funding the design development and construction documents phases of this project.

“We are very pleased to be a part of the city’s effort to revitalize what is an incredible downtown,” said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center. “Though surrounded by prosperous suburban growth, Texarkana’s sleepy historic core contains outsized architectural treasures for a city of its size – a 1,400-seat, 1920s performance hall, a long-standing regional arts center, stately federal and municipal buildings, and highly livable downtown neighborhoods. The design team’s proposal draws on the city’s legacy in the visual and performing arts as well as a burgeoning local food scene to organize scattered investment in the downtown.”

In their preliminary designs for the project, designers with the Community Design Center and Blackwell’s firm propose to revitalize a downtown block in Texarkana by activating a space that connects city hall, the historic Regional Arts Center and the restored Perot Theatre. Currently a surface parking lot, this space will bring people together and prompt further investment in this downtown, which has lost much of its residential population over the last generation. The three civic buildings are elegant, pre-1920s neoclassical structures that do not face the site.

The design proposal consists of four key components: a farmers market, bandshell, amphitheater and art walk. The farmers market will serve a thriving local food economy and double as covered parking for theater employees and patrons in the evenings. The bandshell and amphitheater will reintroduce outdoor events to downtown and also house an art gallery and public restrooms underneath. The art walk will transform an existing alley into an illuminated and shaded walkway with freestanding display cases for artwork while also accommodating a splash pad. These four components extend the social life of the adjoining cultural venues of the city, which has a population of 37,400.

City officials are working in partnership with the Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council and the Housing Authority. These groups will conduct a community engagement process over the next five months based on the preliminary designs provided by the project team.

Steve Luoni is a Distinguished Professor of architecture and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas. The Community Design Center, which he leads, is an outreach program of the Fay Jones School.

Marlon Blackwell, whose firm is based in Fayetteville, is a Distinguished Professor and the E. Fay Jones Chair in Architecture for the school. This is the second Our Town grant awarded to a collaborative project between the Community Design Center and Blackwell’s firm, and it is the fourth Our Town grant the center has received in the program’s five-year history.

Through the Our Town grants program, the NEA provides funding for arts-based community development projects that contribute toward the livability of communities and help transform them into lively, beautiful and sustainable places with the arts at their core. There were 69 Our Town grants awarded this year totaling almost $5 million and supporting projects in 35 states plus Puerto Rico.

AuthorLinda Komlos