Two U of A Community Design Center Projects Win 2023 American Architecture Awards

This bird blind tower is one component of the Framework Plan for a Riverine Commons and Institute. The plan, developed by the U of A Community Design Center and its partners, has won a 2023 American Architecture Award and received two honorable mentions in the 2023 Plan Award.
Rendering courtesy U of A Community Design Center

This bird blind tower is one component of the Framework Plan for a Riverine Commons and Institute. The plan, developed by the U of A Community Design Center and its partners, has won a 2023 American Architecture Award and received two honorable mentions in the 2023 Plan Award.

Two Arkansas-based projects designed by the U of A Community Design Center have won 2023 American Architecture Awards.

"The ARK: Rural Botanical Garden for Arkansas" in Cherokee Village, Arkansas, and the "Framework Plan for a Riverine Commons and Institute" in Fayetteville each won a 2023 American Architecture Award.

The ARK features a new botanical garden and zipline, part of an eco-tourism initiative, and features woodland-only spaces with botanical rooms in clearings, blending history and community event needs.

The Framework Plan integrates landscape restoration, architecture and urban design to create a river education center, visitor center, fruit grove, food gardens, trails and heritage exhibitions. The Framework Plan has also won two Honorable Mentions in the 2023 Plan Awards.

The U of A Community Design Center, directed by Steve Luoni since 2003, is an outreach center of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. Luoni is also Distinguished Professor of Architecture and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies at the university.

"Over the next several years, every region in Arkansas will experience unprecedented economic development that will challenge capacity in their built environments — all planned in earlier eras," Luoni said. "We are focused on addressing these future needs and the kind of novel scenario thinking needed to pragmatically solve for interconnected community development issues. We are grateful that our work in urban design and planning for constituents statewide continues to attract outside recognition in the design disciplines."

These projects were selected from a shortlist of more than 450 submissions from around the nation. Both The ARK and the Framework Plan were sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. 


The ARK features a botanical garden and zipline for Cherokee Village, a rural mid-century planned community in the Ozarks. The project is the centerpiece of the new hospitality/eco-tourism landscapes under development. Planting assemblages of legacy woodland-wildflower prairie that once dotted the managed pre-Columbian landscape of the region are recalled in this now woodland-only ecosystem. Clearings at the scale of urban blocks house a series of botanical rooms carved into the dense forest cover. Inverted pyramidical rooms encourage visitors to travel along the steep terrain paralleling the nearby Mississippian Mound Builder earthworks that landmark flatter terrain.

Perceptions of the wood-screened structures are constantly shifting between monumentality and transparency following the visitor's movement. Interactions among screened rooms, organic plant assemblages, steep slopes and forest cover create a parallax that simultaneously upholds and denies the garden's monumental scale. This place-based asset provides informal and formal event space that is currently missing in this community.


The Framework Plan for a Riverine Commons and Institute focuses on redesigning the 98-acre wetland landscape at Dead Horse Mountain Road, co-owned and managed by the Watershed Conservation Resource Center and the City of Fayetteville. The plan combines the restoration of landscapes and floodplains with architecture and urban designs to house a river education center and offices, a visitor interpretive center, a fruit and nut grove, demonstration food gardens, walking trails, passive recreation facilities, trails and heritage exhibitions. The programming celebrates the riparian-oriented cultures of local Native American, African American and Euro-American subsistence settler populations through displays of reconstructed indigenous shelters and prototyped artifacts, including a polyculture fruit and nut grove with indigenous plant assemblages and growing strategies.

The team developed the plan for a riparian wetlands landscape that operates at the intersection of anthropology, ecology and design in developing a lasting and robust riverine knowledge base. The river institute raises awareness of the civilizing (or anthropogenic) processes harnessing riparian landscapes throughout different eras of local human occupation. The project team combined expertise in the ecological sciences, anthropology/archeology, architecture and landscape architecture/horticulture. This multi-disciplinary collaboration addresses the multiple challenges of design within human-dominant ecosystems.

The Framework Plan also received two honorable mentions in the 2023 Plan Award, one each in the Culture Future category and in the Landscape Future category of this international awards program that recognizes excellence in architecture, interior design and urban planning.

About The American Architecture Awards 2023: The American Heritage Awards, sponsored by the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies, are the nation's highest public awards given by a non-commercial, non-trade affiliated, public arts, culture and educational institution.

Now celebrating its 28th year, the American Architectural Awards are the nation's highest and most prestigious distinguished building awards program that honors new and cutting-edge design in the United States. This annual program promotes American architecture and design to public audiences in the United States and abroad. A full list of winning projects for 2023 will be available on the museum's website. All awarded buildings and urban planning projects selected this year are also included in a special issue of Global Design + Urbanism XXIII "New American Architecture" for 2023 published by Metropolitan Arts Press Ltd.


Tara Ferkel, communications specialist
Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design

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


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