CMU Team Finalist in 2017 ULI Hines Student Urban Design Competition

This past week, the team from Carnegie Mellon University presented their work to the Hines Competition Jury in Chicago for the national ULI Gerald Hines Urban Design Competition. The CMU team, four graduate students from the School of Architecture and one from the Tepper School of Business, made it to the Final Four in the competition for the first time in school history.

In addition to the CMU team, the other finalists are teams from Université Laval (Quebec), the University of Maryland, and the University of Texas at Austin, the latter of which was awarded first place for their scheme “Rooted”.

Asked to design a master-plan proposal to redevelop the North Branch Industrial Corridor in Chicago, the CMU finalists created “IN-district,” a strategy that preserves and celebrates the historic context of the area by revitalizing it into a new center for culture, innovation and industry. Their proposal included presentation boards with drawings, site plans, tables and market-feasible financial proformas, and addressed details, such as parking, sustainability, job creation, changing demographics and overall development goals of the city. Although it’s based on a hypothetical situation, the competition reflects many real-life concerns of Chicago.

“Not only was I impressed with their scheme, their presentation, and the hard work that got them to the Final Four, but I was even more proud of how they coalesced as a team of equal partners with unique talents and skills,” said Don Carter, a School of Architecture faculty member and the David Lewis Director of Urban Design and Regional Engagement for the Remaking Cities Institute at CMU. “Finally, and perhaps most rewarding for me, was to witness the tremendous respect and admiration the team developed for one another in these past few months.”

Carter, along with Valentina Vavasis, an adjunct faculty member in the School of Architecture, and Matthew Mehalik, an adjunct faculty member in Heinz College, served as the team’s academic advisers. The team members are Lola Ben Alon, a doctoral student in Architecture/Engineering/Construction Management (AECM); Shannon Iacino, a master’s degree student in the Master of Science in Sustainable Design (MSSD) program; Varun Patel, a master’s degree student at Tepper School of Business; Shruti Srikar, a master’s degree student in AECM; and team leader Ernest Bellamy, a master’s degree student in the Master of Urban Design program (MUD).

A highlight of the day came when the students were given the opportunity to meet with Hines founder Gerald Hines, now 91 years old, over lunch. He took the time to speak with each student individually and autographed a book for each. Following the announcement of the winning team, the students joined members of the competing teams, as well as jurors and industry professionals in a networking reception. The evening’s celebrations culminated with a team dinner at the The Signature Room restaurant at the top of the Hancock Building in downtown Chicago.

The CMU team left a strong impression on the jurors, ULI staff and academic advisors from the other schools, who were impressed with the students’ polished presentation and unified vision for the project.

Bellamy, the team captain, enjoyed the teamwork that grew between the various disciplines. “Granted we are all budding experts in particular aspects of the requirements of this competition (urban design, financial proformas, sustainability, project development and construction), we lean on the talents of those who are strongest suited to deliver the final verdict on those aspects. I thought this came through very well overall in the unified vision of our design as we drew on the diverse strengths and talents of each member of the team. This competition was a great learning experience and opportunity to better understand our respective disciplines.”

Carter remarked, “This competition has taken everyone on the team so far both academically and professionally in our understanding of urban design and real estate development. As a result, the students’ career options and opportunities have greatly expanded. That of course is the goal of the ULI Hines Competition. CMU will be back next year ever stronger because of the success of the remarkable InDistrict team.”

The competition was created and funded by Gerald Hines, one of the world’s premier developers. It offers graduate students the opportunity to form their own multidisciplinary teams and engage in a challenging exercise in responsible land use. Carter, a former jury member for the competition, said the projects usually focus on large parcels slated for redevelopment that pose design, financial and social problems.