U of A Community Design Center Recognized in National AIA Honors and Awards Program

Rendering courtesy of U of A Community Design Center

The U of A Community Design Center’s Re-Live Downtown Pine Bluff project has won a 2022 Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design from the American Institute of Architects. This is the center’s 14th AIA Honor Award in the Regional and Urban Design category.

The U of A Community Design Center is being recognized with two top awards in the American Institute of Architects’ 2022 Honors and Awards Program. The center is a recipient of the Collaborative Achievement Award, while the center’s Re-Live Downtown Pine Bluff project has won an Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design.

The AIA Honor Awards program is the top design awards program nationally for architecture, urban design and interior architecture. This year’s award-winning projects and other honorees will be celebrated at the annual AIA Conference on Architecture and Expo held June 22-25 in Chicago.

At this summer celebration, Marlon Blackwell also will formally receive the 2020 AIA Gold Medal, which was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Blackwell, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, is a Distinguished Professor and the E. Fay Jones Chair in Architecture in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the U of A, where he has taught since 1992.

Blackwell, founder of Marlon Blackwell Architects, is the second architect practicing and teaching in Arkansas to be awarded the Gold Medal since the program began in 1907. Fay Jones, FAIA, a longtime professor and founding dean of the Fay Jones School, received the AIA Gold Medal in 1990.

The AIA’s Collaborative Achievement Award recognizes and encourages distinguished achievements of design professionals, clients, organizations, architect teams, knowledge communities and others who have had a beneficial influence on or advanced the architectural profession. The U of A Community Design Center joins Joseph P. Riley, Jr., Hon. AIA, and the AIA New York Unified Task Force City and State as recipients of 2022 Collaborative Achievement Awards.

During his 10 four-year terms as mayor of Charleston, South Carolina, Riley transformed the city into a top cultural destination and positioned himself as one of the country’s most visionary and effective leaders. In 1986, he founded the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, which has helped transform communities through design by preparing mayors to be the chief urban designers of their cities. Trinity Simons, a Fay Jones School alumna, is executive director of the institute.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AIA New York Unified Task Force City and State was assembled in just 24 hours in response to an urgent call for assistance from design professionals. A group of AIA New York and AIA New York State architects worked through the night to identify buildings that could be used to expand bed capacity and alleviate the strain on New York’s overwhelmed hospitals.

The U of A Community Design Center was recognized for its more than 20-year track record of excellence in striving to make a significant impact on communities facing daunting challenges. The center was founded in 1995 as a research and outreach center of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. It is directed by Stephen Luoni, a Distinguished Professor and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies in the Fay Jones School.

“The national AIA recognition of the U of A Community Design Center’s accomplishments confirms the overall educational mission and public service ambition of the Fay Jones School: to strengthen Arkansas and the nation through design for the greater good,” said Dean Peter MacKeith. “Our long investments in the leadership and staffing of the UACDC have been of ultimate benefit to the citizens of the state, as much as to our students and the reputation of the school and the university. I congratulate Professor Luoni and all UACDC staff past and present, and will look forward to similar if not surpassing impact in the future.”

Under the leadership of Luoni, just its second director and principal designer since 2003, the center’s work has achieved national recognition and positioned it as one of the most highly respected authorities in urban design and development. Luoni has molded the center into one of a few design-based teaching centers in the country with a professional design staff — a missing infrastructure in the design professions. Students from all disciplines in the school collaborate with the center’s small, full-time professional staff on project development and public interest scholarship.

Despite its important work outside of Arkansas, the center’s primary mission is creative development in the state and for the state through a combination of design, research and education solutions. The center works within multidisciplinary frameworks to address the “triple bottom line,” simultaneously solving for social, economic and environmental challenges in the built environment for project sponsors.

In her nomination letter for the Collaborative Achievement Award, Marleen Kay Davis had praise for both Luoni and the center he’s directed for nearly 20 years. Davis, FAIA, is former dean of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College of Architecture and Design and is an ACSA Distinguished Professor.

“I have been consistently impressed by how he has leveraged every opportunity to use his role as a faculty member in a state university to make a major impact, nationally and regionally, with projects both large and small,” she said. “The work is an impressive, and invaluable, national resource for architectural educators and communities. As you learn about their work, you will be impressed with the range of imaginative design innovations, the high standards of design excellence and long-term impact.”

Through its design and planning services, the center has addressed design challenges in more than 50 communities and organizations, including those in Little Rock, Fayetteville, Greers Ferry, Texarkana, Conway, Maumelle, Vilonia, Mayflower, Hot Springs and Bentonville. The center’s urban design projects have won more than 180 design and planning awards, and the center’s work has helped clients and sponsors to secure more than $70 million for improvements.

“The long-term investment by the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design into the Community Design Center has given us the infrastructure and the human resources to sustain design leadership nationally on the big challenges of urban design, including resiliency, disaster recovery, affordable housing , agricultural urbanism, watershed urbanism and place-based economic development,” Luoni said. “Like the teaching hospital, the teaching design center bridges together academia and practice as it synthesizes the necessary knowledge, skills, values ​​and opportunities for action unavailable in a pure classroom setting. Though we are one of only three or four such centers in the nation , design centers are what universities owe to their publics, and I am proud to be part of this Arkansas idea.”

Re-Live Downtown Pine Bluff was one of four projects honored in the 2022 Regional and Urban Design Awards program, which recognizes the best in sustainable, inclusive urban design, regional planning and local development. The four-member jury considered how the projects accounted for the built environment, local culture and available resources — modeling architecture’s promise and true value to communities.

The Re-Live Downtown Pine Bluff plan aims to revitalize Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the country’s fastest shrinking city, through a housing-first approach to help reverse the impact of widespread demolition that has occurred throughout the last 40 years.

The project focuses on building neighborhoods, not discrete projects for housing, to help Pine Bluff achieve aspirational capital development goals. More than 400 units of “missing middle housing,” which includes communal micro-apartments, multigenerational housing and congregate housing that reflect the social needs of the city, will be built around neighborhood green nodes. The plan offers 28 walk-up housing prototypes of varying scopes that would be ready for potential owners.

The framework also outlines streets and signature projects that support the residentialization of Pine Bluff’s downtown core by supporting an experience economy.

The living streets platform converts oversized one-way corridors to avenues of non-traffic social services, such as public art, dining and recreation. Signature public works will include the redevelopment of the city’s theater district and the creation of the Delta Blues & Bayou ArtWalk, which will celebrate Black artists who routinely performed in Pine Bluff.

This is the first time Pine Bluff has a plan and revitalization effort built by and for Black constituencies. The city has committed $700,000 to acquire 5.25 acres of downtown property for phase I development and more than $3 million for blight removal.

“The high regard for the Re-Live Downtown speaks to the necessity for it to be implemented,” said Ryan Watley, CEO of Go Forward Pine Bluff, Inc. “Site control on the first neighborhood was cumbersome, but we got it done. Therefore, we are actively searching for partners to assist in constructing the initial subdivision.”

This is the 14th AIA Honor Award the U of A Community Design Center has received; all have been in the Regional and Urban Design category.

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