PLAN 74: Article
Sa+P Team Wins Major Urban Design Competition

Interdisciplinary Proposal Awarded Top Prize of $50K

A redevelopment plan drafted by an interdisciplinary team from the School of Architecture + Planning has been chosen as the winning scheme in the seventh annual Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition of the Urban Land Institute.

The SA+P team competed against 91 teams from 42 universities – including North America’s top schools in urban design, architecture and landscape architecture – a field that was then narrowed to four finalists. The jury chose the MIT entry over plans submitted by other finalist teams from Columbia, Kansas State and the University of Miami.

The result was announced following presentations by the finalists during a public forum at the University of Denver. Sharing the top prize of $50K, the SA+P team included MCP candidates Blair Humphreys, Jesse Hunting and Sarah Snider, MArch candidate Duncan McIlvaine, and Eric Komppa of the University of Wisconsin, an MBA student specializing in real estate. Their advisor was Tunney Lee.

The Student Urban Design Competition is a major annual contest open to graduate students pursuing real estate-related studies at a North American university. Each year, interdisciplinary teams of five graduate students each are challenged to craft practical, workable solutions for the development of an actual urban site in North America.

For the 2009 competition, students were asked to develop schemes for the Denver Design District (DDD), a valuable midtown parcel just south of downtown. While the DDD boasts an impressive tenant roster – and is the largest to-the-trade design center in an eight-state region – its built environment resembles a typical suburban power center.

The competition charged the teams with redeveloping the entire 75-acre site to create a landmark, transformative mixed-use community without losing the current, valuable roster of tenants. An added sustainability challenge -- new to the competition this year -- challenged students to consider the massive demographic, climate and financial changes that will likely alter the built environment in coming decades and how their plans would position the DDD in 2050 and beyond.

The winning entry, Panorama Station, focused on creating a destination in the Denver region – a place where people would enjoy living, working or visiting for the afternoon – by taking advantage of the site’s greatest assets while improving the lifestyle for future residents and existing neighbors.

It provides public spaces that maximize the view of the mountains to the west and supports a car-free lifestyle by giving residents access to all daily amenities and services within a 15-minute travel time. In response to the arid climate, it also integrates water-conserving landscapes by choosing native plants and introducing rainwater retention infrastructure.

The proposal creates a strong sense of place by establishing a vital retail center along Dakota Street, anchored by a light rail station and a new streetcar line, and creatively integrates big box retail into the medium-density environment, anticipating flexible future uses for the large retail spaces – as localized distribution centers, for instance.

All of this is accomplished with progressive financing techniques and bolstered through public-private partnerships. Conducted concurrently with the design process, the financial analysis identified risks, proved financial feasibility and demonstrated the balance between social responsibility and environmental sustainability. The development phasing was designed in such a way that each stage stands alone as a viable and successful set of products.

According to Dennis Frenchman, Head of SA+P’s interdisciplinary City Design and Development Program, the scheme is ‘stunningly beautiful, sustainable, humane, intellectually rigorous and incredibly innovative -- all in the MIT tradition of city design’.

The Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition is part of an ongoing effort on the part of the Urban Land Institute to raise interest among young people in creating better communities, improving development patterns, and increasing awareness of the need for multidisciplinary solutions to development and design challenges. An ideas competition – there is no guarantee or expectation that any submitted schemes will be applied to the site – the contest is designed to encourage cooperation and teamwork, necessary talents in the planning, design and development of sustainable communities.