A former industrial manufacturing site, adjacent to the North Branch of the Chicago River and not far from other Chicago staples such as Wicker Park, Lincoln Park, and Goose Island, served as the case study and inspiration for this year’s ULI Hines Student Competition, the urban design and development challenge for graduate students now in its 15th year. ULI Columbus is pleased to share a comprehensive review of the four multidisciplinary teams that participated earlier this Spring at The Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture provided by Ben Siembida, E. I., Assistant Project Manager, Civil and Environmental Consultants, Inc.
“To create better communities” is the simple yet multilayered goal of the annual ULI Hines Student Urban Design Competition as illustrated by Mike Cadwell, the Walter H. Kidd Professor and Director at The Ohio State University’s Knowlton School of Architecture. The competition, now in its 15th year, is an urban design and development challenge for graduate students that engages multidisciplinary teams to devise a comprehensive development program for a real-world, large-scale site.
Student participants enrolled in a preparatory course at Ohio State that, along with the heavy workload of case study research and design instruction, pairs students with mentors from the professional world who provide valuable guidance and insight. The course ultimately prepares those who enter the competition to better execute once the study site is revealed. Cadwell noted during his introduction that the level of quality of the local competition continues to increase year after year, and 2017 was certainly no exception.
This year, Ohio State produced four teams of five multidisciplinary graduate students in architecture, landscape architecture, city and regional planning, and economics. Friends, family, OSU faculty, and industry professionals gathered in the Mason Hall rotunda on campus to get a firsthand look at what each team had prepared over the course of the competition.
Matt Leasure, a landscape architect and urban planner at MKSK Studios, introduced the audience to the site, a once prominent Chicago district of industry and manufacturing in need of a new identity. The nearly 106-acre site sits adjacent to the North Branch of the Chicago River, not far from other Chicago staples such as Wicker Park, Lincoln Park, and Goose Island. Leasure identified a number of challenges with this year’s case study, such as maintaining connectivity between nearby Chicago neighborhoods, promoting healthy living along the Chicago River, redeveloping brownfields, and designing residential, commercial, and retail spaces, all while demonstrating financial feasibility and profitability to potential ivestors. Of those challenges, perhaps the most significant is that all of this researching, designing, planning, and number-crunching takes place in just a two-week period.
The “Junction North” team began the night’s presentations focusing on the connectivity potential of the site by proposing to relocate an onsite metro station to better facilitate local travel. To promote the interaction of users and the natural environment, Junction North emphasized the need for better public spaces by designing a canal through the site, passing it through a centralized park, and providing direct access to Goose Island via extension of pedestrian trails over the Chicago River. The team proposed to redevelop the site in phases, a common theme throughout the event, which would establish the retail space before moving in the ofice and apartment-based residential uses.
The “Hubtown” team took its turn next. The goal of solidifying Chicago’s entrepreneurial presence in today’s global market was evident throughout their presentation. At its core, Hubtown was presented as an incubator where creative minds, startups, or venture capitalists could utilize the proposed surroundings to develop an idea into reality. The proposed mixed use neighborhood consisted of a centralized “hub” or common space where people could gather and experience the planned green space, retail shops, and work center. Spreading from the hub, “spokes”, or alleys, of apartment housing, additional retail, and design studios extended to the far reaches of the site. To engage the Chicago River, several launch points were proposed along the riverbanks for those interested in kayaking or boat tours. Hubtown also put forth the idea of partnering with nearby DePaul University to help cultivate the creative spirit of the neighborhood.
Up next, “The [Repair]ian” took a creative approach to the site by highlighting its many sustainable, green living features. The [Repair]ian tapped into the potential of the Chicago River by softening its hard banks and improving accessibility, allowing the public to experience the ecological and stormwater management characteristics of the river. The architecture of the proposed riverfront buildings replicated the contouring of the adjacent waters. The team proposed a brownfield reconstruction by converting the once heavy industrial parcel to an experimental botanical nursery. An office dedicated to healthy food growing and distribution was a focal point and centrally located to The [Repair]ian’s site. Small parks, studio apartments, and retail spaces were sprinkled over the remainder of the site.
The design of “Art & Soul”, the fourth and final group to present, centered on the creation of an arts district and stressed affordable housing. The team identified several existing buildings and lots of historical or local importance and unveiled plans to preserve them. A focal point of the preservation efforts was a large warehouse facility that would be converted to what the team called the “Maker Space”, an informative, collaborative studio where the public could directly interact with the workings of local artists. A proposed film center was another cornerstone attraction for the site, which aimed at capitalizing on Chicago as a national setting for filming movies and television. Other public gathering spaces mixed with microbreweries, a boutique hotel, and affordable housing rounded out the site for Art & Soul.
While the panel of judges was left with the difficult task of selecting a winner, Nate Strum of GROW Licking County introduced the keynote speaker, Michael Coleman, former Columbus mayor. After joking about becoming a regular citizen again, Coleman reflected that actively planning the future of Columbus had been the most challenging and yet the most fun aspect of his mayoral responsibilities. Coleman recalled his initial lack of exposure to the worlds of architecture, urban planning, and engineering, and how he quickly came to realize the importance of each and the sum of their parts. What resulted during his years of travels, developing relationships and immersion in urban design are some of the iconic landmarks that central Ohio residents have come to love and appreciate. Coleman told stories of how he turned away proposals of simple, concrete spans and set his sights on something bolder; how he sought to protect the natural waterways of Columbus while creating a matchless public space; and how he persevered through hate mail and calls for impeachment to erect metal arches in an area he viewed to be a local treasure. Today, thanks in part to Coleman’s vision, the Main Street Bridge, Scioto Mile and Short North arches are at the forefront of Columbus’ image and character.
Examples of the ideas and visions that spurred the growth and vitality of Columbus in recent years under Coleman’s tenure were evident in each student group’s presentation. Creating green spaces, cleaning and protecting waterways, taking chances and refusing the ordinary all factored into the students’ designs in one form or another. And though many in attendance were impressed by the sheer creativity and resourcefulness that each team displayed, in the end, “The [Repair]ian” took first place in this year’s local competition and “Junction North” came in second. The winning team collected $2,500 and the chance to compete nationally.
As Chicago goes through the process of soliciting ideas and visions for the 106-acre site near Goose Island, one may look no further than Columbus, Ohio for inspiration. Similarly, Columbus’ Franklinton neighborhood may want to keep a close eye on how Chicago handles their redevelopment of an urban area bounded by railways and waterways. Mayor Coleman traveled the world to bring the best of it to Columbus. And, through the Hines Student Urban Design Competition, Columbus’ graduate students continue to channel their knowledge of city planning and urban redevelopment, offering their best visions and designs in what has become an annual must-attend event for the local ULI chapter.
Each year, the ULI Hines Competition benefits from the generous time, talent and insights of advisors to who not only help students navigate the complexities of the project, but provide real world expertise and advise that will prove invaluable to the as they transition from school to career. A special thanks goes to all of these mentors who dedicated much of their time to this year’s ULI Hines Competition:
Brian Barrett | Wagenbrenner Development
Bhakti Bania | | BBCO Design
Brian Bernstein | NBBJ
Jay DeVore | DEV
Aaron Domini | OHM Advisors
John Eymann | M+A Architects
Justin Goodwin | MKSK
Dan Gore | The Pizzuti Companies
Chris Herman | MKSK
Russ Hunter | Crawford Hoying
Justin Leyda | Steiner + Associates
Mark Lundine | City of Columbus
Sarah Mackert | JBAD
AJ Mangan | MSF Real Estate Capital
Justin Robbins | OHM Advisors
Kimberly Sharp | City of Westerville
Joanne Shelly | City of Dublin
Clarence Simmons | SIMCO
Kim Way | NBBJ
ULI Columbus Young Leader Group Member
Benjamin A. Siembida, E.I.
Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc.