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Urban Studio Creates Master Plan for Innovation District

Urban Studio Innovation District Project

During the fifth-year Urban Studio this past spring, the students were immersed in urban design challenges and were required to use and practice their design skills to solve real issues in the City of Birmingham. Throughout their last semester, the students had the opportunity to stretch these skills in order to develop a vision, master plan, and specific programs for a new burgeoning district in Birmingham. The newly named Innovation District in downtown Birmingham is north of Railroad Park and 1st Avenue North to 6th Avenue North and west of 20th Street to Interstate 65. The Innovation District includes the Civil Rights District and has a rich history in the City. The students not only worked with Auburn staff but also with city officials, property owners, and other stakeholders in the area.

Working with Professors Alex Krumdieck and John Pittari, adjunct professor Ben Wieseman and Birmingham architect Kyle D’Agostino, the students were challenged to create a master plan of the district. The students used the book Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck for the basis of their class research and analysis of the district. Students spent time studying the streets, landscape, walkability, traffic flow, and existing buildings in the district.

After working together as a whole class to research and analyze the district, the students worked in four groups of three and each group created a master plan and vision for the district. The students discovered “problems” such as a lack of identity, diversity and density. Each group developed a proposal for the district that included different nodes such as a residential node, an entertainment node, and a research and development node.

The students were then brought back together as a class and challenged to formulate one vision and master plan, based on the individual and small group work they had done. The students worked together to decide what programs would best serve the master plan and the community. They also decided as a class where these projects would be located within the Innovation District. Some of the programs that were selected were a developer boot camp for computer coding, a residential development, a grocery store, a bowling alley, a cultural center, and a place for research and development.

Throughout the semester, the students received critiques from their professors and also local architects and stakeholders in the community. There were a number of times that local business owners or other stakeholders would come to the studio to see the work. Some of their work was used in a presentation by The Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use during their visit to Birmingham. Student work was also used in a presentation by the City of Birmingham to members of Congress and President Obama’s staff in the city’s pursuit to have the Civil Rights District become a National Park.

Professor Kevin Moore’s fourth-year students had worked in part of the same area of Birmingham previously and constructed a model of the district. Urban Studio students were charged with completing the model for the entire Innovation District and then adding in their projects. They made use of the new laser cutter and shop space at the Studio to develop their models.

The semester ended with an Open House sponsored by REV Birmingham. Over 100 people attended including local architects, community members and stakeholders from the district. Students Katherine Uhrin, Sharon Hughes, and Henry Boyle presented the master plan, and all student projects were pinned up for the attendees to see and ask questions of the students.