The joint team edged out teams from University of California-Berkeley, Columbia University, and the University of Michigan in the final round of the competition, held April 6 in Houston. The three finalist teams split $30,000 in prize funds. The competition was created in 2003 to encourage cooperation and teamwork–necessary talents in the planning, design and development of sustainable communities–among future land use professionals and allied professions, such as architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, historic preservation, engineering, real estate development, finance, psychology and law. World-renowned real estate developer Gerald D. Hines, chairman and owner of the Hines real estate organization, established the competition and has funded it in perpetuity with a $3 million endowment. He attended the final round and the announcement of the winner.
“We are all thrilled to have won the competition and at the same time humbled by the experience,” said Chad Murphy, a University of Colorado team member pursuing a master of business administration in real estate. “The three other teams were really strong. Seeing Mr. Hines at the presentation, witnessing the diversity of the jury, and seeing what jury members brought to the table was an incredible experience.”
More than 695 students comprising 139 teams from 64 universities in the U.S. and Canada participated in this year’s ideas competition, which addressed Houston’s desire to connect downtown redevelopment to incorporate connections to the city’s neighborhoods. Students were challenged with creating a practical and workable scheme for the best use of approximately 16.3 acres owned by the United States Postal Service (USPS). The competition focused on the USPS property since it is considered by many stakeholders to be a key site to reconnect the Theater District, the Historic District, and the greater downtown to the Buffalo Bayou. The downtown post office was one of several hundred USPS properties put up for sale nationwide in 2009 to offset the federal agency’s financial losses. Since that time, land planners and real estate experts have suggested numerous possibilities for the property, which have included converting the land into public open space, mixed-use development that includes residential housing, as well entertainment venues.
The competition was based on a hypothetical proposal in which a fictional entity, the Central Houston Foundation (CHF), acquired the option to purchase the site and establish redevelopment goals and connections to the surrounding areas. According to the scenario, the CHF committed a large endowment to both community development and the sustainable growth of Houston’s downtown in hopes of generating a revenue stream for its endowment, while giving shape to a new downtown district. In order to meet the owners’ demands, the student teams acted as a master developer by proposing a master land use plan for the development site as well as supplying financial projections needed to support the master development plan.
The winning proposal, “Bayou Commons,” was strategically designed to be downtown Houston’s first residential district celebrating cultural diversity and urban lifestyle. The master plan, originally named “Downtown Bayou,” was re-branded after the team considerably refined and expanded their initial proposal following University of Colorado/Harvard University team’s final four selection and site tour in early March.
The Bayou Commons design focused on attracting a mix of ethnic and socio-economic individuals through its enhanced Buffalo Bayou waterfront, variety of residential product, connection to adjacent districts and the University of Houston-Downtown campus, safe community environment, entrepreneurial office space, and new commuter rail station. The scheme’s distinctive features for the site include: an iconic pedestrian bridge spanning the bayou, unique architecture and amply-shaded sidewalks that create comfort and re-establishes downtown outdoor enjoyment in the hot and humid Houston climate, a new cultural center for exhibits and performances. The team designed Bayou Commons to be market-driven and phased to ensure each chapter of development creates a desirable place to live and interact. In addition, the master plan celebrates Houston’s culture while fulfilling the city’s desire of catalyzing residential development and future downtown revitalization.
In addition to team leader Murphy, other team members included: Michael Albert, master in landscape architecture, Harvard University; Victor Perez Amado, master in architecture, Harvard University; Alex Atherton, master of business administration in real estate, University of Colorado; and Anna Cawrse, master of landscape architecture, Harvard University. Anita Berrizbeitia, professor of landscape architecture and director of the master in landscape architecture degree programs at Harvard University served as faculty advisor and Kurt Culbertson, chairman, Design Workshop, Aspen, Colo. as professional advisor to the team.
“The entire jury believed that if there was ever a poster child for multidisciplinary cooperation in this competition, it was the Colorado-Harvard team,” said jury member Richard Heapes, principal, Street Works, White Plains, N.Y. “My own company is built to match this model and since I have a variety of different professionals working together, I constantly struggle for this type of interaction and cooperation. Seeing this team do this in action was truly inspirational.”
“The jury was inspired by the innovation displayed by all four teams,” said jury chairman Jim Chaffin, Chaffin Light Management, LLC, Okatie, S.C. “One of the things that Mr. Hines was insistent on with the creation of this competition was that it be a multidisciplinary process. And it was very clear that all four teams had a balanced membership representing the proposed plans that were relevant, feasible, and innovative, while having a balance of economic sensitivity, economic viability, and community livability.”
The development schemes from the other three teams in the final competition:
University of California - Berkeley: “The Grand” proposes a new neighborhood for over 2,000 new residents on the fringe of downtown. Capitalizing on its prime location, it would connect neighboring districts and create a new public space along the bayou’s edge. The proposal is framed around three main investments:
Columbia University: “The Post” proposed a new downtown neighborhood destination. At its center, the existing USPS office building would be converted into a cultural anchor for the neighborhood while providing connections to the Buffalo Bayou. A new public plaza that accommodates community events would guide commuters from a multi-modal transit hub to the adjacent Historic and Theater Districts. Within “The Post” a diverse range of entertainment spaces are provided for, including roof-top cinemas and eateries which provide views of downtown Houston. An income-inclusive residential development would provide housing to over 2,750 residents as well as walkable streets. “The Post” proposed a range of on-site amenities, such as a new post office, a vocational institution, a multi-sport field, a produce market within the renovated USPS distribution factory, and an enhanced pedestrian connection to the University of Houston, Downtown.
University of Michigan: “The Hill at Houston” envisioned a new livable downtown district with connections to the adjacent cultural and historic districts, the University of Houston Downtown, and the Buffalo Bayou through a reorganized street grid and the development of a multimodal transit station. A new ”Houston Highline” park would act as a pedestrian gateway that connects downtown to the Hill, linking Houston’s cultural and historic districts with a live- work-play community.
The creation of diverse housing stock and continuous integrated green space would connect to a variety of amenities while providing ecological habitat. Buildings would gradually decrease in height towards the bayou, giving the project a distinctive architectural identity that maximizes views of the bayou and downtown while providing residents with comfortable living through advanced passive energy systems. The competition is designed as an exercise; there is no intention that the students’ plans will be implemented as part of any development of the site. However, the schemes are expected to be realistic and practicable, incorporating the highest and best sustainable use, new economic development activities, evidence of market support for those activities, and financial justification for their design decisions.
The competition jury consisted of renowned experts in urban planning, design and development. In addition to Chaffin and Heapes, other jury members were: Gerdo Aquino, president/principal, SWA Group, Los Angeles, Calif.; Mimi Burns, principal, Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, Albuquerque, N.M; Anyeley Hallova, partner, Project^ Ecological Development, Portland, Ore.; Sandra Kulli, president, Kulli Marketing, Malibu, Calif.; Michael Lander, president and owner, The Lander Group, Inc., Minneapolis, Minn.; Alan Mountjoy, principal, Chan Krieger/NBBJ, Cambridge, Mass.; Greg Shannon, President, Sedona Pacific Corporation, San Diego, Calif.;and Tim Van Meter, partner, Van Meter, Williams Pollack, LLP, Denver, Colo.
For more information on the ULI Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition, visit: http://udcompetition.org
About the Urban Land Institute
The Urban Land Institute (www.uli.org) is a nonprofit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in sustaining and creating thriving communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the Institute has nearly 30,000 members representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines.