The University of Arkansas Community Design Center has received a national award for an architectural design studio that rethinks public housing in Fayetteville. The center, an outreach program of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, worked with architecture students and the U of A Resiliency Center.

Architecture studio is a class in a professional architecture program in which students receive hands-on instruction in architectural design. Architecture students working in the design studio explored design strategies for revitalizing Willow Heights, a housing complex on the east edge of downtown Fayetteville.

The spring 2018 studio, “Saving Downtown Public Housing: Towards a Blended-Income Community,” won a 2018-19 Housing Design Education Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture/American Institute of Architects. The award recognizes the importance of good education in housing design. Winners were selected based on the positive impact on students, the university or the community.

Built as affordable housing in the mid-1970s, Willow Heights has been at the center of civic debate. The former leadership of the Fayetteville Housing Authority wanted to sell the property and relocate low-income residents to another housing complex farther away from downtown.

Other people wanted to revitalize the housing complex, thereby keeping residents within walking distance of downtown. The nonprofit Endeavor Foundation commissioned the Community Design Center to explore alternatives.

Student work completed in the design studio contributed to the “Livability Improvement Plan for Willow Heights,” a Community Design Center planning study adopted by the Fayetteville Housing Authority and the Fayetteville City Council in 2018.

The plan proposes development of a blended-income neighborhood through rehabilitation of existing units and construction of additional market-rate and subsidized units. The studio also addressed issues of stormwater management on the hillside site.

“Through the application of design thinking that addresses healthy neighborhood design, value capture – positioning the public sector to more profitably manage its assets – and social return on investment, the study identified redevelopment opportunities while keeping low-income residents in a centrally located neighborhood,” said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center.

Luoni is also a Distinguished Professor and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies at the university.

The planning study offers three scenarios ranging in cost and complexity. The simplest one builds new housing on the flat part of the site, while the other two options cut into the hillside, requiring different levels of terracing and engineering.

Students worked in three teams to develop the new housing, while Community Design Center staff designed the renovations. The Resiliency Center, an interdisciplinary sustainability initiative hosted by the Fay Jones School, addressed stormwater management for the site.

Students grappled with a number of challenges as they worked on the scenarios, Luoni said. Site challenges include narrow right-of-ways, mature hillside trees that need to be preserved, chronic flooding and limited emergency access.

Students met with the Fayetteville Housing Authority, the city fire marshal, Willow Heights residents and other consultants as they adapted their plans to meet these needs.

Another kind of challenge came in balancing innovation and modernization with the legacy nature of the housing complex.

“How does a designer create compatibility with both the buildings that are there and the streets that are there, while also providing something of the present time?” Luoni asked. “That’s always the big existential struggle of working with the rehabilitation of a project.

“Students had to wrestle with a set of intentions from 40 years ago that are in place. Whatever they proposed had to be compatible with the site, but also exceed its shortcomings,” he said.

Like most housing projects of the mid-20th century, Willow Heights was designed as an isolated entity, with little or no connection to surrounding streets and neighborhoods, Luoni said. The three scenarios invert that logic, bringing new housing to the edge of the site and connecting the development with the streets around it.

“Part of the strategy of the new site planning was about making connections back to the neighborhood and enlivening the street,” Luoni said. “Understanding that good neighborhood design is part of the solution to good housing.”

New housing types include one-bedroom flats and a series of two- and three-bedroom townhouses in small clusters and long rows. The existing housing, which is still structurally sound, was enhanced by the addition of covered walkways and garden patios and by highlighting the difference between front and back entrances.

The biggest challenge in multi-family housing is designing for pattern while providing some variety, Luoni said. “You’re taking a unit and reproducing it, in this case 40 or 50 times, but you don’t want it to look like a barracks. How do you standardize something, yet provide variety? That’s why housing is so hard.”

The design studio gave students valuable experience in both housing design and site rehabilitation, Luoni said. He estimated that some 80 percent of future design work will be in the rehabilitation and preservation of existing building sites and infrastructure.

The proactive blended-income model proposed by the planning study allows the city to profitably manage its assets while creating a healthy neighborhood through social return on investment, Luoni said.

“It’s an example for the region of what public housing can be,” said Luoni, who also serves on the regional housing steering committee convened by the Walton Family Foundation and the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission.

This is the Community Design Center’s seventh ACSA/AIA Housing Design Education Award in the program’s 12-year history.

The U of A studio was one of three collegiate programs or projects this year to win the award. Award-winners will be featured at the 107th annual meeting of the ACSA, planned for March 28-30 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

AuthorLinda Komlos

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center, working with several partners, has been awarded two 2018 Best of Design Awards from The Architect's Newspaper.

One winning project is the Greers Ferry Water Garden, a conceptual design created by the center in collaboration with Marlon Blackwell Architects and the Ecological Design Group. The project won the Unbuilt-Landscape design category.

The other winner is the Whitmore Community Food Complex: Building Community Around Food, a project of the Community Design Center with the U of A Resiliency Center. The project won the Unbuilt-Urban design category.

There were 800 submissions in 45 categories for this year's awards, which expanded to include projects from Mexico and Canada as well as the United States.

"We were competing with the best in North America and pleased that our work focused on placemaking and infrastructure continues to shape an overdue national conversation on public-interest design," said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center. The center is an outreach program of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, where Luoni is a Distinguished Professor and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies.

The winning projects share a scope of design that reaches beyond the project itself to impact the larger community, Luoni said.

"Both projects were commissioned by a complex set of local and statewide stakeholders that are using the design process to frame new public initiatives in unfamiliar territory to them — a public botanical gardens and community-based food hubs," he said. "Project solutions triangulate placemaking with public policy and new forms of utility that advance prosperity in their respective states."

The Greers Ferry Water Garden updates and completes a project originally conceived in the 1960s by Edward Durell Stone, a native of Arkansas and an internationally renowned mid-century architect. Stone designed a public water garden at Greers Ferry Dam in Heber Springs, drawing on ancient Roman and Persian hydraulics for inspiration. The garden was never built.

The Community Design Center and partners refreshed Stone's design with greater ecological considerations and a contemporary visitor-centered approach. They shifted Stone's reliance on classical models to include terrains that reflect the Arkansas Ozark landscape. Rather than merely bridging a 240-foot-deep ravine, they made the ravine part of the landscape, with a public art and pedestrian infrastructure that takes visitors into and through it.

Pairing the dam as hard infrastructure and the water garden as soft infrastructure offers a new environmental model for park design. Water captured from the dam's impoundment of the river is strategically recycled throughout the 269-acre water garden to grow new life and create higher-order niche ecologies. Such complex transformations are the key to building sustainable and resilient communities, Luoni said.

The project received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the state of Arkansas and the Entergy Foundation. The long-term goal is to build a botanical park of national significance in central Arkansas.

The Whitmore Community Food Complex project was commissioned by the state of Hawaii to address the problems of food production, processing and distribution on the island chain. Hawaii imports more than 90 percent of its food — a precarious situation for residents of the world's most remote occupied landmass. State leaders want to increase food security by creating new value-added agribusiness opportunities for local growers.

The project revolves around a community-based food hub on a former Dole plantation on Oahu. The food hub will connect local growers with wholesale consumers while also serving as a cultural destination, connecting visitors with the island's agricultural legacies.

The master plan calls for agricultural workforce housing, local business incubation, retail outlets and cultural tourism, along with the logistics needed to run the food hub. An operations viewing platform invites visitors to explore the technical aspects of food production, while a public concourse features a wetland garden, a demonstration taro garden and what could be the nation's most exemplary food forest based on permaculture farming principles.

A half-mile concourse and bridge connect the complex to the nearby town of Wahiawa across a 300-foot ravine. With a 15-foot difference in elevation from one side of the ravine to the other, designers created a spiraling ramp within a globe-shaped botanical pavilion. The plan also calls for a zip line across the ravine.

The project was funded by the Agribusiness Development Corporation of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. Engineering and infrastructure assessments are underway.

The Architect's Newspaper Best of Design Awards is a premiere North America awards program open to design professionals for interiors, buildings, landscape, urbanism and installations. Winners and honorable mention recipients are published in a special Design Annual mailed out this month and distributed at industry events and conferences throughout 2019. 

AuthorLinda Komlos

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center, working with the U of A Resiliency Center, has been awarded the 2018 Unique Contribution to Planning Award from the Arkansas Chapter of the American Planning Association.

The winning study, "Livability Improvement Plan for Willow Heights Housing," offers three scenarios for revitalizing a Fayetteville public housing complex, thereby keeping residents within walking distance of downtown.

The plan proposes development of a blended-income neighborhood through rehabilitation of existing units and construction of additional market-rate and subsidized units. This positions the city to profitably manage its assets while creating a healthy neighborhood through social return on investment, said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center.

"What all three scenarios are trying to do is rebuild the neighborhood logic through renovation of existing housing, which connects better with other housing units and with the site," Luoni said. "Hopefully, we can create a neighborhood where you don't sense compartmentalization between incomes, where everyone lives at the same level."

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

The U of A Resiliency Center, an interdisciplinary sustainability initiative hosted by the Fay Jones School, worked with the Community Design Center to address storm water management for the site. The hillside development, built in the 1970s, has been prone to increased flooding and erosion with recent extreme weather events.

"We recommended a series of channel and embayment systems, above ground and below ground, to reduce the flow of water leaving the site," said Marty Matlock, executive director of the Resiliency Center and a professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering in the College of Engineering at the university. "The site actually becomes an amenity to its downstream neighbors."

The Willow Heights plan was commissioned by the Endeavor Foundation, a local organization working to improve quality of life for Northwest Arkansas residents, as an alternative to the Fayetteville Housing Authority's plan to sell the Willow Heights complex to a private developer. That would have resulted in relocating the low-income residents to another complex farther from the downtown area.

Melissa Terry, a Fayetteville Housing Authority board member and a public policy degree candidate at the U of A, received the Citizen Planner Award from the Arkansas APA for her role in developing the Willow Heights Plan and her advocacy for affordable housing areawide through planning and policy support.

AuthorLinda Komlos

An exhibition of project models and drawings for a plan to improve livability at the Willow Heights housing complex will be on display through July 10 at the Fayetteville Public Library.

The "Livability Improvement Plan for Willow Heights Housing" in Fayetteville was commissioned by the Endeavor Foundation in December 2017.

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center, with assistance from the University of Arkansas Resiliency Center, prepared the scenario planning study. Both are outreach centers of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the university.

 The Willow Heights public housing complex is located in a historically diverse downtown neighborhood on the southwest slope of Mount Sequoyah. The Fayetteville Housing Authority owns and manages this complex within the federal public housing portfolio administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This study offers an unconsidered development option that supplements the Fayetteville Housing Authority's pending plan to sell the downtown Willow Heights complex and relocate its residents to the Morgan Manor complex south of downtown. 

The planning study proposes to transform the 5-acre downtown Willow Heights public housing complex into a blended-income neighborhood that flattens social distinctions between proposed market-rate units and refurbished low-income housing. Site proposals articulate a new housing landscape that supports healthy neighborhood functioning, including safe, modernized and appropriately scaled mixed-market housing.

Three planning scenarios were prepared, ranging in cost and level of difficulty to construct. Scenario planning is intended to facilitate more robust decision making among an expanded community of stakeholders in partnership with the Fayetteville Housing Authority, including the city of Fayetteville, housing residents, local and regional civic groups, and policy leaders with an interest in housing.

Most public housing agencies are cash-strapped and pressured to sell legacy downtown properties, which have unexpectedly accrued value from the comeback of downtowns nationwide, said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center. He is also a Distinguished Professor and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies in the Fay Jones School.

The sale of Willow Heights fits the FHA's current business model and potentially fills funding gaps. However, the decision to sell the downtown property has sparked a larger community conversation about social justice issues, including projected transportation cost burdens on relocated residents.

Among the low-income populations living in public housing, many are single-parent families who don't own cars. The location of Willow Heights suits this population because the complex is close to a local elementary school, the Fayetteville Public Library, the downtown farmer's market, a community center that supports families, and local government agencies. Notably, Willow Heights is adjacent to the Yvonne Richardson Community Center, an important child development center and community hub used by residents citywide.

The Willow Heights study signals new possibilities in combining affordable housing with market-rate housing that creates new revenue streams in support of the public housing component. The more progressive housing agencies nationally now see the city as an integrated housing market — a "ladder," Luoni said.

Some public housing agencies are not only delivering public housing assistance, but also other forms of affordable housing such as attainable workforce housing and market-rate housing. Solving for one area provides solutions for the others, he said.

"We are very pleased with our stakeholder collaborations toward developing new directions in housing and placemaking that solve for social and environmental challenges," Luoni said. "More than ever, we need holistic solutions that capture niche skillsets in both the public and private sectors, while involving a wider cross-section of public agency input. Though not easy, Willow Heights could be a model solution if the political process wills it."

Several Fay Jones School architecture students contributed to this scenario planning report, including Kyle Adams, Kyle Beard, Amy Larson, Michelle Mace, Evan McMinn and Thomas Wise-Ehlers. Specialized Real Estate Group provided cost estimating assistance for this project.

The full report is available on the UACDC's website.

The Fayetteville Public Library is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and from 1-5 p.m. Sunday. It will be closed for the July 4 holiday. 

AuthorLinda Komlos

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center, working with the U of A Resiliency Center, has been awarded a 2018 Green Good Design Award for Green Urban Planning/Landscape Architecture by the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies and the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum for Architecture and Design. 

The winning proposal, "Whitmore Community Food Hub Complex: Building Community around Food," would help bring locally produced food to Hawaii, where 93 percent of the food is imported. In addition to providing logistics for an underserved agricultural community, the Whitmore complex would serve additional community needs through micro-housing for the agricultural workforce, retail, business incubation and cultural tourism. 

"Our project team's relationship with the state of Hawaii is based on the use of design thinking to address systemic challenges related to food security," said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center. "It is enormously gratifying to be part of a multi-sectoral effort that values the role of placemaking in advancing community resilience and business incubation in local agriculture." 

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

The project was a collaborative effort between the Community Design Center and the U of A Resiliency Center, an interdisciplinary sustainability initiative hosted by the Fay Jones School.

Marty Matlock is the executive director of the U of A Resiliency Center and a professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering in the College of Engineering at the university.

"This project highlights the creative value of the Resiliency Center's interdisciplinary collaboration across food, water and community systems," Matlock said. "The Whitmore Community Food Hub design is a model not only for the neighbor islands in Hawaii, but for Pine Bluff and Springdale, Arkansas. We are reinventing food supply chains from the producer to the consumer, with a clear focus on economic, social and environmental sustainability."

This is the third time these collaborators have received a Green Good Design Award together. The project was sponsored by the Agribusiness Development Corporation of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

The proposed Food Hub would serve Oahu communities while advancing a "missing middle" agricultural infrastructure template for community-based food production among Hawaii's neighbor islands. 

Four principles guided the planning and design of the 34-acre Whitmore Food Hub Complex: logistics, placemaking, connectivity and anchoring. The complex provides a Food Hub that meets the stringent requirements of the forthcoming Food Safety Modernization Act. It integrates the logistical spaces of the Food Hub with surrounding neighborhoods through serial public spaces that sponsor multiple uses. It connects the Food Hub and Whitmore Village to downtown Wahiawa, and it uses mixed-use spaces and civic frontages to socialize the Food Hub's big boxes and tilt wall concrete construction.

The project will be exhibited this year at venues in Athens, Dublin and Chicago.

The Green Good Design Award aims to bring public appreciation and awareness to global design projects that emphasize sustainability and ecological restoration. 

AuthorLinda Komlos