The marriage of two architectural objectives--sustainability and community space--was the focus of the Green Community 2008-2009 International Student Design Competition.

According to Ivan Harbour, lead juror and senior director at of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, the winning projects address the fundamental components necessary to create a vibrant, mixed-use, inclusive community. “Particularly they addressed densification, where the car is relegated to a supporting role and where consequently, neighbors can rediscover what they have in common,” he says.

The Urban Reef is a system inspired by its natural aquatic counterpart, which creates a diverse and sustainable social and economic environment. It produces food and energy and processes waste, always feeding back into itself and the city.
The Urban Reef is a system inspired by its natural aquatic counterpart, which creates a diverse and sustainable social and economic environment. It produces food and energy and processes waste, always feeding back into itself and the city.

“Urban Reef,” the project awarded first place, exemplifies the notion of sustainability influencing and strengthening community identity. On four presentation boards, California College of Arts students Dylan Barlow, Kyle Belcher, and Geoffrey Gregory transformed San Francisco’s Pier 70—a 65-acre industrial maritime site for more than 200 years—into an area that encourages public gathering and gives way to the clean energy and food production.  “We liked the idea of changing brownfields to greenfields,” Belcher says.

The winning project has a strong focus on urban farming, noting Northern California’s temperate climate, the existing demand for local organic food, and San Francisco’s environmentally conscious public. The project illustrates a self-sufficient community through a combination of small commercial and residential farming plots.

“This is a place where farming for residents is a dynamic leisure activity,” says Belcher. “The coffee shop is no longer enough. People are growing food that is engaging them with the environment and their neighbors.”

At the awards ceremony July 28 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., Harbour noted that “consolidating cities,” like many of the entries aimed to do, is the “only solution for the future.”

“We are on the cusp—we must build communities that look after themselves, that are self-sustainable,” he said. “We can’t separate architecture from the social aspects of the community—our work as architects should be focused on what we can contribute to the city.”

This proved the be the students’ biggest challenge when developing “Urban Reef.”

“It was really difficult addressing a scale of that size,” said Barlow. “As architecture majors we’re coming from designing buildings, and when dealing with 65 acres we were walking a line. We had to figure out when we should we develop an architecture component and when we should develop a system component.”

The Green Community Competition challenged teams to rethink their  communities and explore sustainable planning strategies such as brownfield/grayfield redevelopment, transit-oriented communities, natural resource management, and land conservation. Students were encouraged to form to multi-disciplinary teams, including architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning majors, but it was not required.

There were 260 projects submitted, representing 1,322 student participants and approximately 200 faculty from 76 universities and 15 countries.

The competition was organized by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, the National Building Museum, and Architectural Record. It was sponsored by the American Institute of Architects, Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects, Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, and McGraw-Hill Construction.

The Urban Reef students, who met with San Francisco development engineers, architects, a city planner, San Francisco Port officials, and local residents and artists to finish their project, hope that it will influence the planned redevelopment of the San Francisco port.

“This project stood out as it began to put flesh to its concepts,” says Harbour. “One could immediately imagine the sort of place it could be and that it would be very desirable indeed.”