A redevelopment scheme by a team of graduate students from the University of California Berkeley was honored as a finalist in the 2012 Urban Land Institute/ULI Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition. The UC Berkeley team’s entry, "The Grand" (download the PDF), proposed a new neighborhood on the fringe of downtown Houston, connecting neighboring districts and creating new public space.
The team from UC Berkeley included Deepak Sohane, Master of Urban Design; Brian Chambers, Master of Urban Design; Carlos Emilio Sandoval Olascoaga, Master of Architecture; Jim Farris, MBA; and Momin Mahammad, Master of Urban Design. Peter Bosselmann, Professor of Urban Design in Architecture, City & Regional Planning, and Landscape Architecture, acted as faculty advisor on the project.
The three finalist teams, including UC Berkeley, each took home $10,000. The winning team representing the University of Colorado and Harvard University received $50,000. Gerald D. Hines presented the awards at the end of the final round of competition on April 6 in Houston.
The ULI Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design competition has been held in cities all over the United States since 2003. A team from UC Berkeley won the competition in Los Angeles in 2007. This year, more than 695 students comprising 139 teams from 64 universities in the U.S. and Canada participated in the ideas event.
This year’s competition centered on Houston’s desire to spark economic development by incorporating elements of public open space, affordable housing, and transit with downtown redevelopment and connections to the city’s neighborhoods. Based on a hypothetical situation, the competition challenged students to create a practical and workable plan for the best use of approximately 16.3 acres owned by the United States Postal Service (USPS), one of numerous properties put up for sale in 2009 to offset the federal agency’s financial losses.
The USPS property is considered to be a key site to reconnect Houston’s Theater District, the Historic District, and the greater downtown to the Buffalo Bayou. 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 with residential housing, as well entertainment venues. With their proposals, competing student teams had the opportunity not only to suggest a uniquely new identity for the area but also to set the tone for future redevelopment.
Three main investments framed the UC Berkeley team’s proposal:
- A new park space set below the elevation of Franklin Street offering an array of activities at the water’s edge and also acting as a “performing landscape” to mitigate flooding and improve water quality.
- The extension of Washington Street through the site connecting neighborhoods in the west to downtown, resulting in a new commercial corridor facing the park.
- A multi-modal transit station that offers the greater downtown neighborhood easy access to any part of Houston or beyond by integrating Amtrak, metro park & ride, commuter rail, and light rail at this historic location.
“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 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, California; Mimi Burns, principal, Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, Albuquerque, New Mexico; Anyeley Hallova, partner, Project Ecological Development, Portland, Oregon; Sandra Kulli, president, Kulli Marketing, Malibu, California; Michael Lander, president and owner, The Lander Group, Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota; Alan Mountjoy, principal, Chan Krieger/NBBJ, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Greg Shannon, President, Sedona Pacific Corporation, San Diego, California; and Tim Van Meter, partner, Van Meter, Williams Pollack, LLP, Denver, Colorado.
The Urban Land Institute 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 creating thriving communities worldwide.