Cox's army: UVA team has winning coast design

It's been a big year for UVA architecture professor and ex-Charlottesville mayor Maurice Cox. Last November, Cox was invited to serve on the Mayors' Institute on City Design for the Gulf Cities resource team, coaching dozens of Gulf Coast mayors on ways to rebuild their cities.

In February, he and colleague Robin Dripps took their graduate students down to New Orleans to see the devastation close up and speak with other architects and government officials, collecting information in preparation for an upcoming design competition.

In April, Cox got word that his alma mater, the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at Cooper Union, had selected him for their John Hejduk Award, an annual award given to alums who make an outstanding contribution to the theory, teaching and/or practice of architecture. Soon after Cox returned from the award shindig in New York City, one of his student design team placed in the professional category of the Mississippi design competition, one of only three teams to receive awards out of 275 submissions, and the only team made up of grad students. Three other student design teams were also recognized in the competition.

According to Cox, it was the trip his students made to the devastated regions that made the difference in the competiion. It gave them a much better idea of the realities on the ground, he says.

The former bicycle-riding mayor rented 24 bicycles when they arrived in New Orleans and had his students pedal over miles of the city. Students also helped gut a house.

That experience really made us put more heart into the competition, says Kathleen Mark, who along with teammate and fellow grad student Justin Laskin, came up with the award-winning design for a 140-unit multi-family housing community on the banks of the Mississippi.

We got a very personal look at the real tragedy that people went through, Mark says. Lorenzo Battistelli, Kristin Hennings, Alli Dryer, and James Pressly– all members of Cox's design team– were also recognized by the prize jury.

Indeed, in addition to meeting with officials involved in the rebuilding process, Cox arranged for the students to meet with people who had decided to return to New Orleans, gathering at a make-shift community center in a corner bar.

I think it was the awareness of the people they were actually working for that allowed them to come up with the winning designs, says Cox.

No word yet on whether the student designs will become a reality, but Cox says the site developer was on the prize jury. In the meantime, the winning designs will be on display at the Ogden Museum of Art in New Orleans and will later be exhibited at the American Institute of Architects convention in Los Angeles. They will also appear in the June issue of Architectural Record.


Waterhouse update

As we mentioned last week [Atwood's attempt: A Waterhouse 'village' downtown? May 18, 2006], plans are afoot to build a massive residential and retail complex, called Waterhouse, on the block between the Lewis & Clark building and Second Street NW (behind Club 216 on Water Street).

On May 17 architects from William Atwood's firm (Atwood himself was not present) held a public meeting and presented site plans for the project at the Neighborhood Development Office, helping to bring the project into sharper focus.

One of the surprises at the meeting was that phase 1 of the project involves the construction of a nine-story, 101-foot-tall building behind and above the building at 218 Water Street that houses Club 216 and other businesses. Although the architects say the building will be set back and terraced and won't necessarily look like a nine-story building, we're still talkin' high density. Plans also call for the demolition of the building beside it, where Eloise and Sidetracks are, and the demolition of a storage building along South Street.

As far as creating the village that Atwood alluded to in his Waterhouse charette," nothing has been contracted on either side of the Green Building, as 218 Water Street is being referred to. Curiously enough, Atwood had mentioned nothing about any nine-story buildings at the May 12 presentation he held at the Charlottesville Community Design Center.

The May 17 site plan presentation also yielded a few more facts and figures on the project. For example, there will be one new retail space, roughly 16 townhouses along South Street– some flat, others two and three stories high–and anywhere from 55 to 60 apartments in the main building. Construction on the project is expected to begin in December 2006 or early spring 2007 and will take 16 to 18 months to complete. The entrance to the building will also be on Water Street, a concern to several residents at the meeting, who said that Water Street already has enough traffic.

In addition, Francesco and Meridith Benincasa, owners of the adjacent building that houses their restaurant, La Cucina, were concerned about the effect of such a massive construction project, a concern that many existing businesses along the street no doubt share.

Like doctors displaying their best bedside manner, Atwood's architects said they hoped it wouldn't be too bad (Just relax, this might hurt a little). Francesco Benincasa also offered some insight into the infrastructure on the block (gas lines, electric, phone, sewer), which he characterized as confusing and haphazard.

All in all, the residents at the meeting seemed pleased with the presentation, although a bit taken aback by the scale of the proposal. As North Downtown Neighborhood Association president Colette Hall said, Of course, we can't stop you from building it, but we hope you do it the best you can.

Speaking of nine-story buildings on the Mall, as we mentioned last week, developer Keith Woodward has plans to put up a nine-story building of his own at Market, First, and Main streets with a million-dollar penthouse and underground parking. On Tuesday, May 23 (after press time, unfortunately), the Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review held a work session about the project. Although the public was welcomed to attend, no public comments were taken at the session. If you didn't attend, be sure to check out next week's column for the scoop.

Winning designs: Cox's graduate students Justin Laskin and Kathleen Mark take home the prize for this Gulf Coast rebuild design.


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