Addressing Affordable Housing in Bentonville

The North West Arkansas Housing Competitions

 


Site 2 Winner: ©Kevin Daly Architects

 

Focusing on the lack of affordable housing in the region for residents and newcomers at all levels of income, the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas launched the Housing Northwest Arkansas initiative. Intended to be much more than a theoretical exercise, it began with an advanced design studio and a regional symposium and culminated with a design competition for five sites in neighboring Bentonville. The entire program was supported by a $250,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation, whereby $100,000 of the grant was earmarked for prizes and compensation for the 25 firms that participated in the competition.

 

The competition was invited, with invitations sent out to 100 firms that had shown some level of proficiency in the housing sector. Of the 25 selected to compete, five each were assigned to the different sites, with a winner at each of the sites receiving a $10,000 award. According to the organizers, the selection for each site was based on the following system: “Competitors were divided into 5 groups so that each group included a similar geographic representation. For example, we had 5 international firms, so each was assigned to a separate group. Each of the 5 groups had a similar representation of competitors from the east coast, west coast, and interior states, and one international competitor. Then each group was randomly assigned to a site.”

 

With the exception of one site, all of the sites were contiguous when expansion was included. The linear Third Street site was bisected by a through street, indicating an entirely different approach to the design challenge from the other four sites.

 

Since the zoning codes for all downtown Bentonville were pretty restrictive, the guidelines, including height, ware relaxed considerably. As always in such competitions, cost was to be a factor, and off-site production of pre-cast panels, etc. was always a safe bet. Creativity was expected, and monotony frowned upon.

 

The challenge of organizing a competition of this magnitude, which included 25 teams for five different sites, fell to the Chicago-based consulting firm of Jones/Kroloff. With wide-ranging experience in the administration of competitions on municipal, private and the government levels, the firm was a logical choice to carry out the operation of this unusual task.

 

The competition jury included several household names:
• Anne Fougeron FAIA, San Francisco, (Jury Chair)
• Jeanne Gang FAIA, Studio Gang, Chicago

• Marlon Blackwell FAIA, Fayetteville
• Brenda Anderson, Northwest Arkansas Downtown Revitalization Fund
• The Honorable Shaun Donovan, Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

 

The design competition winners were:
• Digsau, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
• Kevin Daly Architects, Los Angeles
• 5468796 Architecture, Winnipeg, Canada
• Merge Architects Inc., Boston.

 

Works Progress Architecture of Portland, Oregon, received an overall commendation from the jury. PAU Studio of New York City received a jury commendation for their urban design approach to their particular site, while Bucholz McEvoy Architects of Dublin, Ireland, received a jury commendation for architecture and originality, in particular for their unit planning.

 

Site 1 Winner
Digsau, Philadelphia


Images ©Digsau

 

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Recent Archive Updates

Interview: James Mary O’Connor FAIA (Winter 2017)

After receiving his Diploma in Architecture from the Dublin Institute of Technology and BS in Architecture from Trinity College in Dublin, James received his Masters in Architecture from the University of California, Los Angeles while a Fulbright Scholar in the U.S. Shortly after his time as a student in Charles Moore’s Master Class at UCLA, he joined the Moore firm in Los Angeles, now Moore Ruble Yudell. Beginning in the late 1980s, he was involved in the firm’s many projects in Germany, many of which dealt with masterplanning and the construction of large housing, primarily in Berlin. Subsequently, he was involved in the Potatisåkern Master Plan & Housing, as well as the Bo01 Housing Exhibition, both in Malmö, Sweden.
James was MRY’s point person in its subsequent involvement with the firm’s many projects in the People’s Republic of China, beginning with their winning competition proposal for the Century Center project in Beijing. Although unbuilt, it didn’t escape the notice of the Chinese, who invited the firm to participate in a competition for the Tianjin Xin-He large neighborhood masterplan—which they won. This was followed by the 2004 Chun Sen Bi An Housing Masterplan competition in the city of Chongqing, located in central China—completed in 2010. This high profile project resulted in a number of affordable and high-end housing projects throughout China. The firm’s most remarkable sustainability project was the COFCO Agricultural Eco-Valley Master Plan project outside Beijing, envisioned to become the first net zero-carbon project of its kind in the world.
In the meantime, the firm’s focus in China has evolved from its concentration on housing to institutional projects, such as the Shanghai University of Technology‘s research buildings. In the meantime MRY has been noted as a leader in the design of campus projects in the U.S. and abroad, as well as numerous government projects—courthouses and embassies.

 

 

Interview: James Mary O’Connor FAIA (Winter 2017)


Playing the China Card: The MRY Example

 

 


Chun Sen Bi An Housing, Chongqing (competition 2004; completion 2010)

 

COMPETITIONS: Moore Ruble Yudell (MRY) has had a reputation as an international player since the 1980s. How did you manage to become involved in China?

 

James O’Connor: We were first invited to take part in a (developer) competition in Beijing in 2002, the Beijing Century Center. We won, but the project was never built. The client was not that serious, and we never got paid. After that, we said that we would never enter another competition in China. But, what turned out to be a real clientele kept after us to participate in one of their projects. After turning them down several times, we finally relented. That was a competition for the Tianjin Xin-he New Town Master Plan and Housing in Tianjin—which we did win.

 

 


Chun Sen Bi An perspectives (above)


Chun Sen Bi An Housing Master Plan

 

COMPETITIONS: Once you have become established in China, it would seem that you almost can pick and choose between competitions and projects.

 

O’Connor: Right before the time of the Olympics, there were few foreign firms working there so we were interviewing clients as opposed to clients interviewing us. And every time we would go out, we would be involved with another project, or another competition. It all started in kind of a shaky way; but that’s kind of how it evolved.

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