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

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