Design Publications Recognize Two U of A Community Design Center Projects

Top, a section of a garden apartment design in the "Wood City" project. Bottom, a green street in the "Markham Square Housing District" project that incorporates bioswales, which help treat stormwater runoff.
Renderings courtesy of the U of A Community Design Center

Top, a section of a garden apartment design in the "Wood City" project. Bottom, a green street in the "Markham Square Housing District" project that incorporates bioswales, which help treat stormwater runoff.

Two University of Arkansas Community Design Center projects that rethink housing and other building types have garnered recent accolades from The Plan and Fast Company magazines.

"Wood City: Timberizing the Standard Real Estate Product Types" received an Honorable Mention in the Cities category in Fast Company's 2021 Innovation by Design Awards. It also won the Special Projects Future category in The Plan Award 2021, an international design awards program in architecture and urbanism sponsored by The Plan magazine. "Markham Square Housing District" won the Housing Future category in The Plan Award program.

"Wood City" was designed by the U of A Community Design Center, working in collaboration with the U of A Resiliency Center, and was sponsored by the Weyerhaeuser Giving Fund. Some of the work was done during a fall 2020 studio at the Community Design Center, led by the center's director, Stephen Luoni.

The Community Design Center is an outreach center of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the university. Luoni is also a Distinguished Professor and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies.

"The Wood City studio is a great example of how design and creativity can help transform what is possible in our built environment," said Ara Erickson, vice president of corporate sustainability at Weyerhaeuser. "I am looking forward to the day when we can all look up and see cell towers built from wood and buy our groceries surrounded by the beauty and warmth of wood."

"The national recognition of the UACDC's 'Wood City' project underscores the value of the Fay Jones School's design-centered public service mission," said Peter MacKeith, dean of the school. "Our design work specifically on behalf of Arkansas' forests, timber and wood products industries is of demonstrable state and national value, and we are pleased to partner with Weyerhaeuser in this ongoing initiative."

"Wood City" takes 19 standard real estate products — which make up about 75 percent of the built environment — and looks at a new way of designing and building them to steer development toward a low-carbon future. These are building sectors that largely shape American cities but are ignored by high-culture design — including fast-food restaurants, big-box grocers, single-family homes, self-storage facilities, hotels and neighborhood shopping centers. 

The project proposes making these common building typologies from wood — the only building construction system that sequesters carbon and can be engineered to be "energy positive." The project turns to mass timber engineering — glulam and cross-laminated timber (CLT) technologies — as an alternative to more traditional materials of concrete, steel and light-framed wood construction. Because they store carbon, mass timber buildings become a form of climate protection.

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) is one type of mass timber. A CLT panel is made using odd-numbered layers of stacked lumber, with the wood grain running in alternating directions. Those layers are then bonded with structural adhesives and pressed to form a solid, straight, rectangular panel that can serve as both structure and the finished surface in low-rise buildings.

Another type of mass timber is glulam (glue-laminated), whose pieces are bonded together with the wood grain of the layers running parallel rather than perpendicular, as CLT panels do.

In addition to addressing climate issues, mass timber products are fast and easy to install and generate almost no waste on the construction site.

Using cross-laminated timber (CLT) prefabrication and glulam technology, "Wood City" develops sustainable pattern languages for these structure types that are the building blocks of low-density metropolitan sprawl in the United States. While patterns are aligned with new development trends redefining each product category, each pattern can link up using grammar-like rules to create new possibilities for placemaking.

The "Wood City" project was designed by Stephen Luoni, Assoc. AIA, and Claude M. Terral III, AIA, Tarun Kumar Potluri, Kacper Lastowiecki and Joshua Levy. Fay Jones School students in the "Wood City" studio include Jacob Caylon, Alford Keturah Bethel, Mary Grace Corrao, Matthew A. Scott and Wenjie Zhu.

The other Plan Award winner, "Markham Square Housing District," was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts under its Art Works program and the City of Conway. This project took the site of a former scrap metal yard four blocks north of Conway's main commercial street and re-imagined it as a new square surrounded by a mixed-use residential district. The vision for this new square features "wilded," or natural, landscapes that will help manage stormwater runoff and control flooding. It also proposes multifamily housing with distinct frontages — including two-story screened porches, balconies, terraces, patios and courtyards — that line the edge of "green" streets incorporating stormwater treatment landscapes.

The proposal connects street and square as a continuous civic space, with a design that combines pedestrian-friendly "slow streets" with the square's plazas that showcase public art. The goal is to create an iconic downtown gathering place while introducing downtown housing options for which there is demand but no supply. Markham Square could become a choice downtown neighborhood for an underserved market desiring downtown residential living in Central Arkansas.

"What conceptually links both projects is the focus on the everyday environment and design's role in solving for ecological, social and economic bottom lines simultaneously," Luoni said. "Our oral presentations to The Plan jury confirmed that, within the profession globally, there is a real concern over these matters of livability and resilience. In the case of Wood City, we show the benefits of timberizing the supply chain of suburban buildings as many of these building sectors are undergoing their own transformations in the real estate value chain. In Conway, we propose that challenges in affordable housing and gaps in urban infrastructure that lead to flooding can be addressed at the meso-scale of neighborhood design integrating city, landscape and house. The message linking both projects is that pragmatic solutions to daunting challenges can also deliver beautiful high-quality environments."

Winning projects for The Plan Award 2021 will be featured in The Plan's special year-end publication in December and can be found on The Plan's website.

The 10th anniversary of Fast Company's Innovation by Design Awards, which can be found in the magazine's October 2021 issue, recognize people, teams and companies that transform businesses, organizations and society through design. Winners, finalists and honorable mentions in the awards program are also featured on Fast Company's website.

One of the most sought-after design awards in the industry, Innovation by Design is the only competition to honor creative work at the intersection of design, business and innovation, recognizing the people, companies and trends that have steadily advanced design to the forefront of the business conversation.

The "Wood City" project was previously awarded a 2021 Green Good Design Award for Green Research/Technology by the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies and the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum for Architecture and Design. 


Michelle Parks, director of communications
Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design


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