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Real World Solutions

Photo by Janet Rogers, Strategic Marketing and Communications

Community-based issues drive AUP+D coursework

“Redesign a small portion of Kansas City’s famed parks and boulevards system to address urban issues in a specific neighborhood.”

That’s one class assignment. Here’s another:

“Design a building that will stimulate STEM and entrepreneurial creativity for the users inside, while creating a welcoming portal to the UMKC campus from the outside – on an odd-shaped, hemmed-in lot at the corner of Volker and Brookside boulevards. Make sure to leave room for parking.”

These assignments – paraphrased into layman’s language – drove the bulk of the work in two courses this semester in the Architecture, Urban Planning and Design Department at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The focus on actual issues in actual neighborhoods in Kansas City is typical for the department.

“After graduation, these students will spend their professional careers addressing issues and creating livable spaces and places. Kansas City is our real-world working laboratory that gives them experiences that no hypothetical situation or computer simulation could equal,” said Prof. Joy Swallow, FAIA, department chair. “This approach also gets our students out into the community, meeting people, seeing how they live, and understanding the human impact and human scale of the work they do. They are able to generate ideas that can help improve neighborhoods, and improve people’s lives.”

The project submitted by Jennifer Hillyer, a third-year student in the Urban Planning and Design Studio taught by Prof. Michael Frisch, Ph.D., illustrates the point.

Hillyer decided to tackle the convoluted intersection where Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard, Van Brunt Boulevard, 31st Street, Hardesty Avenue and North Stadium Drive all converge.

One look at a map shows an intersection in dire need of redesign, but Hillyer dug deeper.
She visited the site and spent time there. She watched a man in a wheelchair struggle to navigate the steep grades and difficult street crossings. She noted how neighborhood residents use the McDonald’s at the intersection as a de facto community center for socializing and conversation. Her research indicated that obesity and related issues, such as diabetes, are high health risks in the community.

She developed a plan based on “active living,” designed to promote walking and other physical activity in the neighborhood. She addressed the knotted intersection with a new design based on an oval roundabout with a triple fountain at the center. A wider pedestrian loop outside the roundabout created less-steep grades and safer crossings. A mini-park immediately northwest of the loops included a bus stop, community garden, walking and exercise track and Wi-Fi connectivity. And she added an actual community center to facilitate neighborhood gatherings that wouldn’t involve cheeseburgers and fries.

Hillyer was one of seven students in Frisch’s class. Their urban planning design projects were evaluated for more than just a course grade. Also at stake was the J.C. Nichols Prize, an award for excellence in urban planning, judged by working professionals, with a $1,000 first prize and $500 second prize.

The Nichols Prize competition, open to junior-level UMKC students majoring in AUP+D, is named for Kansas Citian and urban planning pioneer J.C. Nichols. The prize is funded by an endowment from the Miller Nichols Charitable Foundation. The seven students participating in the competition were Benjamin Bachwirtz, Brady Brewster, Jamilah Cross, David Gress, Brandon Keller, Drew Pearson and Hillyer.

This year’s winner was David Gress, who designed Brougham Trace, an extension of Gillham Park south to Cleaver Blvd. The concept would add 156,000 square feet of parkland, connecting with the Trolley Track Trail and creating a walking/biking path extending from Armour Boulevard all the way to 85th Street. His plan also called for multi-family housing units to be added west of the park extension to increase population density and stimulate commercial activity in the neighborhood.

The second prize went to Hillyer, for her Active Living concept. Third prize went to Brady Brewster for Crown Center Common, a design that extended parkland over streets, moving traffic underground, to connect Children’s Mercy Hospital with Crown Center and linking Hospital Hill Park to Washington Square Park.

Second-year architecture students were assigned to create designs for UMKC’s newest building, the planned Free Enterprise Center, a $14.8 million product development hub to be used by entrepreneurs, local industry, and high school and college students as they pursue entrepreneurial and high-tech ventures.

Students in the Architectural Design Studio II class, led by professors John Eck, RA, and Ted Seligson, FAIA, developed concepts for the center as their final project for the semester. Ten students prepared drawings and 3-D models for the building and surrounding land. According to the project brief, “At the nexus of these two boulevards and in clear view of the historic Country Club Plaza District, the architecture of the building must react to and leverage the historic integrity of the existing site and surroundings. The opportunity presented by the visibility of the site allows the activity within the facility to be put on display, to be a showcase for UMKC, and to be a visible hub of entrepreneurial creativity.”

One of the more striking examples was a nine-story, 200-foot-tall vertical tower composed of three bays – a central concrete tower with outer towers covered with a mix of opaque and transparent glass. The tower would be surrounded by orchards, water features and lawns. Student architect Lance Brannock called it “a symbolic marker driven into the ground to anchor the corner of the campus.”

Students George Aguilar, Tyler Arndt, Chelsea Bainbridge, Tanner Lee, Harrison Pitchford, Nica Dela Rosa, Alyssa Sackman, Eric Schlueter and Christina Trent also produced designs for the building. Other student concepts included:

  • A four-story glass-enclosed oval topped with a roof garden, with rectangular projections north and south
  • A long, narrow rectangle, also with a “green” roof, built on the east edge of the site above underground parking to maximize views of a tree-filled greenspace from creative workspaces
  • A terraced rectangle rising in stages from south to north, with a façade of 12-foot-high circular concrete tubes, and a glass-enclosed four-story atrium
  • A dual-section building with one side a slate-covered rectangle, the other encased with folded stainless steel paneling with multiple peaks and angles and plenty of glass to allow natural light
  • A rectangular main trunk pierced by an elbow-joint-shaped projection extending from the second to the fourth floors, with the first floor opening to an open-air plaza extending to the Trolley Track Trail, and a two-story glass-walled amphitheater facing the Country Club Plaza

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