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Designing sustainable solutions

Designing sustainable solutions

Landscape architecture graduate student Renee Cain talks with developer Ryan Dodson, left, and architect Ken Loose about an Urban Design Center project.

Visualize a dilapidated, long-vacant building or a struggling business fronted by a time-worn façade.

With an eye toward green solutions, the Arlington Urban Design Center tackles such redevelopment challenges. The center is Texas' only city-university partnership that teams graduate students and faculty from the schools of Architecture and Urban and Public Affairs with city planning and development professionals. Since opening in June 2009 at Arlington City Hall, the center has completed about 30 planning projects.

Jim Parajon, director of Arlington's Community Development and Planning Department, says the center provides valuable experience to students preparing for careers as planners or architects.

The city benefits as well, adds Gincy Thoppil, the city's planning project manager. When a downtown building owner applied for assistance for an unappealing façade, architecture students Matthew Perez and Evans Sheets developed plans. Renee Cain, a graduate student in landscape architecture, created a sustainable landscape. The completed report included conceptual drawings and photo montages of design options.

"The center's work saved the owner at least 10 to 15 percent of the design cost," Thoppil says.

Neighborhoods can request revitalization plans and provide input, as one in southeast Arlington did recently. Parmanand Sinha, an urban and regional planning graduate student, analyzed the area with GIS computer applications.

Kendal Pope

Kendal Pope, urban and regional planning graduate student

"Together we look at the positive assets of the neighborhood and how they can be enhanced, as well as ways to minimize the negatives," says Kendal Pope, a licensed architect and urban and regional planning graduate student. "This process results in a neighborhood plan, a roadmap for community improvements."

Nonprofits benefit, too. The Tarrant County Housing Partnership wants to build affordable, sustainable housing on Abram Street. The Arlington Urban Design Center developed plans for attractive "green" townhouses with off-street parking, open space, and other amenities.

The students design landscape and streetscape projects to optimize public spaces. They developed plans for the Bob Duncan Recreation Center that will create a sustainable outdoor space for weddings and other events. City and regional planning student Srijana Shakya has teamed with Cain for projects such as the Entertainment District icon context design, the St. Claire Woods neighborhood entry feature, and the First United Methodist Church's streetscape.

Texas Architect's January/February issue featured the center's progress and architecture Assistant Professor Wanda Dye's teaching philosophies. Dye was the center's first faculty design consultant and has overseen more than 20 projects.

"The projects were approached pluralistically-from urban, environmental, and contemporary architectural design perspectives," she says. "It's about common sense, but also inventiveness and innovation."

The Institute of Urban Studies in the School of Urban and Public Affairs provides faculty oversight for the center.

- Sue Stevens