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CU graduate students win international design competition

For the second consecutive year, a team from Cornell has won first place in the Ed Bacon Student Design Competition, with a master plan for an international exposition celebrating America's sestercentennial.

The winning team in the fifth annual competition was announced Dec. 7, and consists of landscape architecture and city and regional planning graduate students Eammon Coughlin, Kevin Dowd, Matthew Gonser, Clark Taylor and Lin Xue.

The competition is a sustainable urban design challenge, based in Philadelphia and open to university-level students from all disciplines. The theme this year was "Designing the Fair of the Future," an assignment to imagine a World's Fair-styled celebration in Philadelphia for the nation's 250th birthday in 2026. The selected site for the competition is an underutilized area of South Philadelphia, at the confluence of the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers.

Competitors were asked to consider various issues, including: rethinking the traditional World's Fair model; how the event would best represent Philadelphia's heritage and diversity; connectivity between the site and the city; creating temporary vs. permanent facilities; and how to update the city's infrastructure to accommodate a high volume of visitors.

The Cornell team's plan, Confluence Philadelphia 2026, was cited as "a venue that reflected not only a positive effect for the city in 2026, but also a lasting legacy."

Their broad master plan creates a framework for the so-called USA250 events in 15 years that would then "transition into a lasting condition at celebration's end." The plan addresses the successes and failures of three previous international expositions -- held in 1893 in Chicago, 1967 in Montreal and 2005 in Hanover, Germany.

"The opportunity to conceptually design a world's fair was very unique and, in the end, too good to pass up," Dowd said.

The team imagined the site -- located near stadiums, a major airport, recreation areas and historic sites -- as a model of sustainable reuse and a nexus for environmental change, energy production, and residential and commercial development and expansion. Confluence would also create green space and continue to grow and serve the city as an entertainment and industrial district.

"The complexity of the transportation networks, industrial and military activities, and stadia really informed our concept and design," Gonser said. "Beyond that, having to conceive of an event 16 years away posed some interesting development questions."

The team recommended designing all fair buildings for adaptive reuse and "sustainable and desirable long-term real estate development," and outlined a future eco-industrial park that would expand the manufacturing base and employment, with industrial tenants collectively managing resources for economic and environmental efficiency.

Their plan also outlined remediation strategies for transportation and sewer systems, restoring wetlands affected by a rise in sea level; and cleanup of current petroleum operations along the Schuylkill.

"The most challenging part of the competition was the scale -- both in time and space," Taylor said. "The contest organizers drew a line around an area of over 5,000 acres ... [incorporating] several decades worth of design, planning and development. That was hard to visualize and represent."

The Ed Bacon Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the vision and legacy of former Philadelphia city planning director Edmund N. Bacon, B.Arch. '32.

Ed Bacon Competition winners are chosen by a jury of architects, developers, planners and real estate professionals. The annual awards ceremony is hosted by the foundation and the Center for Architecture, which is displaying the winning entries at 1218 Arch St., Philadelphia.

Media Contact

John Carberry