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: Joe Valerio (Fall 2004)


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North Point Competition model, Cambridge, Massachusetts (2003)

 

COMPETITIONS: As has been case with many architects, your career got a very big boost by virtue of winning a competition — Colton Palms Senior Apartments. Was that the very first competition you participated in?

 

VALERIO: No. It wasn’t the first, and it wasn’t the last. It was interesting in that we won, and also won a PA Design Award for it and an AIA Honor Award for the project when it was finished. It covered the gamut of awards that one could win with a project. And it got built almost exactly the way it was designed for the competition.

 

COMPETITIONS: Was the competition open or invited?

 

VALERIO: It was open, and there were about 140 entries from around the world. There were five finalists in the 2-stage competition, and we were selected at the end of the second stage.

 




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COMPETITIONS: Do you recall who ran that competition?

VALERIO: Michael Pittas, who did a very commendable job. The two key jurors were Rob Quigley and Don Lyndon. In hindsight, it was one of those things where all the stars were alligned and there was a very dynamic city manager (Frank Benest). This was his first job as city manager. He went on to become city manager in Brea, California, a wealthier suburb. Now he is city manager of Palo Alto. He recently said to me that one thing he was always trying to get communities to do was to invest in their downtowns. ‘Here in Palo Alto, nobody wants any more investment in downtown.’ Frank was very innovative, in that he used the competition process to get something to happen that probably could not have happened any other way. California in the early 90s had a law which said that, ‘if you set up a redevelopment district, you could capture the increase in real estate tax revenue in that district and use it to help finance the development.
   So it was a kind of bootstrap sort of approach called tiff financing, which is very popular all over the U.S., including in Chicago. You have to set aside 20% from that funding mechanism for
affordable housing. So everybody set up these greenbelt districts and this set-aside fund. But nobody wanted affordable housing, because affordable housing equated with subsidized housing. It didn’t matter that the people that really wanted to use the affordable housing were seniors from the community who didn’t want to leave, or policemen or firemen who couldn’t afford to live in communities they were serving. People were just against affordable housing.

 

Colton Palms Apartments (Competition winner 1988) Colton Palms, California
Photo: courtesy Valerio Dewalt Train
Colton Palms Apartments (Competition winner 1988) Colton Palms, California


So Frank came up with the idea, if he could create enough buzz about the project and really make it into this event, he could get the city to build affordable housing projects. It turned out that they had an abandoned grocery store in their old downtown area, which covered most of a city block. The city had taken control of the property. So he had the money and the set-aside. He had this piece of property which had to be redeveloped; but he couldn’t get the city to just do it. So he came up with this idea of doing a competition, hired Michael Pittas to organize it, and it worked. There was all this publicity and notoriety; this competition was like a city festival. It was a very public event where people showed up for the presentations. So not only was it an architectural event; but it had a real social underpinning that was really admirable. Without that mechanism, I doubt if Frank would have been successful.

 

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3Com office and production facility, Rolling Meadows, Illinois  Photos: courtesy Valerio Dewalt Train Associates


COMPETITIONS: In retrospect, would you have any clues as to why you won?

 

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