The American Institute of Architects announces the Education Honor Awards to recognize the achievement of individuals who serve the profession as outstanding teachers. The awards celebrate excellence in architecture education as demonstrated in classroom, studio, and/or community work, or in courses offered in various educational settings. All courses, initiatives, or programs completed within the last five years and that have not previously received an AIA Education Honor Award are eligible for consideration.
“The new urban typologies
Stephen D. Luoni, Assoc. AIA, UACDC Director, Professor
Aaron Gabriel, Former UACDC Director, Adjunct Asst. Professor
Chris Suneson, RLA
University of Arkansas Community Design Center (UACDC)
Cities Without Cities: New Town Center for Bella Vista, Arkansas, an elective 4th year undergraduate design studio offered by the University of Arkansas Community Design Center (UACDC), was centered around the goal of proposing a new, pedestrian-friendly, economy-stimulating town plan for Bella Vista, Arkansas through extensive analysis of settlement patterns and realistic place-making. Designed as an automobile-oriented resort retirement development in the 1960s, Bella Vista is now an incorporated city with two zip codes, sixty-five square miles, and sixteen thousand people, including many young families with children. The city’s population is likely to double by 2025. Like other bedroom communities zoned exclusively for low-density residential development, lacking retail/commercial land uses, Bella Vista’s tax base cannot adequately finance basic city services. Working with the city planning commission led by a landscape architect, and the UACDC (staffed by three non-faculty architects and planners in addition to a faculty practitioner), the design studio envisioned new forms of mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented urban development to serve this diffused and sprawling community landscape.
Being an educational studio, the primary goal of this project was to introduce planning and urban design to fourth-year students who had no background in urbanism. Additionally, this studio sought to develop student and faculty capacity with new models of planning analysis and design to be used in tandem with traditional tools of urban place-making. The studio involved three major parts: it began with publication of a book exploring precedent “place-making fabrics” in Arkansas (i.e., campus, squares, grids, edges, corridors, parks, and hillsides) that establish coherent urbanism within a ½-mile pedestrian shed. The second part was a two-week period where students developed activity-place maps of Bella Vista to discern underlying organizational qualities in the town that did not meet the logic of these place-making fabrics. These analytic activities set the stage for the final part of the studio, nine weeks where students created mixed-use planning proposals to help the city planning commission imagine new forms of town development, illegal under its current zoning code.
Part I—Creating Fabrics: Settlement Patterns in Arkansas
Students worked collaboratively with design center staff to generate a 164-page publication on the morphology of Arkansas town patterns and their role in creating ‘imageable’ environments. The study scope demarcated a one half-mile diameter pedestrian shed, considered to be the range in which people will choose to walk rather than drive if the environment was well-designed. Pattern language types included: 1) squares, 2) campuses, 3) grids, 4) edges, 5) corridors, 6) parks, 7) hillsides, and 8) automobile-oriented fabrics. The study considered scale, grain, geometry, and arrangement in town/place organization. Since these students were unfamiliar with the language of urban pattern, they established a thesaurus of known pattern types rendered at the same scale to discern performance in terms of walk-ability, connectivity, identity, diversity, and lifestyle. The publication and poster are available to the public.
Part II—Activity-Place Mapping of the Diffused Landscape: Measuring Non-Place
This stage in the studio process involved investigating Bella Vista’s present predicament through careful and strategic analysis of its makeup and the violations of ideal place-making patterns therein. Studio methodology was used to explore the evolution of town patterns from the “compact traditional city” to the diffused, automobile-oriented landscape. Activity-place mapping examined the programmatic realities that shaped Bella Vista into a diffused, suburban environment, and these student-made diagrams were used in contrast with the place-making fabrics (which the students had established as effective through their publication study) to lead to new planning insights to introduce to the town. Indeed it was these analytic products—one describing the measures that constitute memorable place-making and the other describing the development forces that shape “non-place”—that were used to engage the city planning commission in discussions about future development, since it illuminated the planning implications of Bella Vista’s present anti-urban codes, codes that have their origins in homeowner covenants from when Bella Vista was still a private development.
Part III—New Town Center Proposals
Students explored pattern languages conducive to mixed-use, pedestrian urbanism for this Ozark Plateau hill town.
To come up with an improved alternative to the town’s present layout of diffusion and sprawl, students had to address hill town urbanism and the unique morphologies. The studio developed a shared vocabulary of planning approaches: 1) switchback, 2) stitch, 3) braid, 4) anchor, and 5) edge. New proposals were introduced, taking into account quantifiable metrics (land use, phasing and growth dynamics, parking, density, and mixed land uses as they relate to hillside planning) as well as qualitative (sociability, sense of community, and identity). The objective was to understand the ecological and social capacity in town pattern languages, in addition to economic performance, a quality absolutely necessary for a town that’s present bedroom communities do not generate tax dollars adequate to cover basic city services. A great deal of studio discussion and design strategizing was structured around the hybridization of place-making settlement patterns, structured around the anthropology of identity, scale, and history.
Studio work had to be publication-quality and communicable to lay audiences, who will envision new possibilities for town centers that promote sustainable and memorable growth. Another goal was to position the school of architecture to become involved in shaping policy that governs municipal infrastructural development in Northwest Arkansas―the nation’s sixth fastest growing region. While this planning initiates a working relationship with Bella Vista, and outcomes are not reached overnight, progress has certainly been made.