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Breeden Grant Supports City Scenarios

City Scenarios

In Fall 2014, fourth year architecture tested a new approach to teaching comprehensive design by coordinating studios with history courses dedicated to urban architecture.  Directed by professors Kevin Moore and Carla Keyvanian, design and history were linked to outline the complexity of historical, cultural and socioeconomic factors currently affecting urban environments.  Supported by the Daniel F. Breeden Endowed Grant Program, experts on New Orleans, St. Louis and New York visited the school to explain these cities as responses to changes in Water, Demographics, Food and Energy. The experts—John Klingman, Colin Gordon and Colin Cathcart—also participated in workshops with students to approach sustainability as an architectural problem combining social and technical concerns. Vibrant cities were discussed as integrated networks of people and resources rather than accumulations of self-contained buildings.

Students worked on the same 0.5 mile x 0.5 mile urban district in Birmingham, AL, but each studio addressed a different urban issue. Each district plan focused on a potential future scenario anticipating a scarcity, overabundance or imbalance of resources related to Water, Demographics, Food or Energy. The scenarios ultimately informed the design of assisted living projects that are responsive to a range of urban issues. Read more about the final projects:

City Scenario: WATER (instructor: Kevin Moore)

John Klingman, Favrot Professor in Architecture at Tulane University, presented his teaching and research on water engagement in the New Orleans including Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan and the Dutch Dialogues, both spearheaded by Waggonner and Ball Architects. His lecture, “New Orleans: Water, Infrastructure, Architecture!,” challenged students to embrace water not as a threat but as a resource that has structured public space for centuries. For more about John Klingman, see:

The study area, a rapidly changing district between Railroad Park and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), is one of the lowest lying areas in downtown Birmingham. Borrowing from the water retention features of Railroad Park and John Klingman’s research, students transformed streets into a visible system of water infiltration. A range of mixed-use buildings added density, but students also proposed courtyards and alleys as an extension of the infiltration infrastructure.

City Scenario: DEMOGRAPHICS (instructor: Matt Hall)

Dr. Colin Gordon, Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Iowa, explained the depopulation of St. Louis as a combination of private real estate restrictions, federal housing policies and local planning and zoning. Dr. Gordon has combined physical mapping using Geographic Information Systems with archival research into the social, economic and racial history of the city. His lecture, “Ferguson, St. Louis and the Fate of the American City,” came at a particularly timely moment, when the racial conflicts in the vicinity of St. Louis are at the center of national attention. His lecture was supported by the Auburn University Special Lectures Fund. For more about Colin Gordon, see:

Similar to the maps presented by Colin Gordon, students tracked the demographic shifts of Birmingham over time. By analyzing the history of the abandonment of downtown, students identified potential impediments to revitalizing the district in an inclusive way. UAB and Children’s Hospital are currently attracting a diverse demographic, and students combined new opportunities for industry with public transportation. By proposing a range mixed-use infill, the students also proved the strategic advantage of the large blocks of this rapidly changing warehouse district.

City Scenario: FOOD (instructor: Il Kim)

Colin Cathcart, Associate Professor at Fordham University and principal of Kiss + Cathcart, Architects, presented urban architecture that is highly productive rather than merely sustainable. Examples of key projects that produce food or energy include: Sunworks Center rooftop environmental education greenhouse at PS 333; Solar 2 Green Energy, Arts and Education Center; and Stuyvesant Cove Environmental Learning Center. For more about Kiss + Carthcart, Architects, see:

Students reimagined Birmingham as a center for food and research linked to the medical district. Based on the vertical zoning of cities like New York, the studio extended the density of the hospitals into the district to propose offices, housing and public space. Borrowing productive systems developed by Kiss + Cathcart such as Vertically Integrated Greenhouses, students layered diverse activities into an optimistic urban plan.

City Scenario: ENERGY (instructor: Christian Dagg)

Based on the pioneering work of Kiss + Cathcart on Building Integrated Photovoltaics, students analyzed building form in relation to available solar energy and anticipated energy demands. The analysis resulted in proposals that were lower in density or increased southern exposure by introducing a rotated system of pedestrian paths connecting the district to Railroad Park. An important conclusion was that assisted living requires significantly more energy than typical housing. In this case, pairing assisted living with offices and retail increases the cost-effectiveness of on-site energy production.