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Graduate students on the winning Cornell team, from left: Paul Heydweiller, Peter Romano, Rawinthira Narksusook, Jamie Yun Mitchell and Gary Esposito.

Student team wins urban design competition

Part of the Cornell team’s design for an urban revitalization project in Toronto.

A multidisciplinary team from Cornell has won the $50,000 first prize in the annual Urban Land Institute (ULI) Gerald D. Hines Student Competition. The competition jury selected their project from among 130 entries representing 60 universities in the United States and Canada.

With students from architecture, city and regional planning (CRP) and the Baker Program in Real Estate, the team included Gary Esposito and Jamie Yun Mitchell, both M.Arch. ’18; Paul Heydweiller and Rawinthira Narksusook, both M.P.S. ’18; and team leader Peter Romano, M.R.P./M.P.S. ’19.

The competition is an urban design and development project for teams of five students representing at least three disciplines, and is undertaken at Cornell as part of a 1.5-credit course. CRP assistant professor Suzanne Lanyi Charles was the team’s faculty adviser.

Esposito said the competition offered “a rare glimpse into the real world where architecture, real estate development, planning, urban design and landscape architecture all converge on one project.”

The 2018 competition was “designed to simulate an actual urban planning and development scenario, and reflect developments being considered as part of the City of Toronto’s vision for reviving the neighborhoods east of its historic downtown,” according to the competition website. Participants were asked to create a master plan to redevelop land adjacent to the Don River into a mixed-use community that would stimulate other development, including commercial, retail and residential space; and connect residential neighborhoods in the city’s northeast to commercial neighborhoods to the south.

Cornell’s project, “Montage,” is an environmentally sustainable cultural hub that integrates cinema, creative industries and Toronto’s park system to create a unique and lively 24/7 neighborhood.

According to the project description, “‘Montage’ facilitates the collaboration of surrounding communities and creative thinkers. It promotes communication and innovation with venues for theater and music and spaces for the public. Sunlight Park reclaims more than five acres of waterfront park space adjoining Corktown Common and provides panoramic views of downtown Toronto. … At the center of the development, the Nell Shipman Cinema Centre and Broadview Plaza seamlessly integrate the recreational, cultural and professional elements of the district.”

The team developed and submitted its plan in January. Notified in late February that their entry was one of four finalists selected, the team further developed the proposal over six weeks. Cornell had earned honorable mentions in previous competitions but had never made it to the finalist stage.

“The ULI Hines competition is particularly challenging because it requires not only a highly sophisticated physical design, but also because teams need to demonstrate the financial feasibility of their ideas,” Charles said. “Not only was this team’s design, financial analysis and graphic presentation excellent, but their oral presentation to the jurors in Toronto was impressive. They very effectively communicated their idea and responded to some really tough questions.”

Jury chairman Carl Weisbrod said Cornell’s proposal stood out because it was the most thorough and coherent of the presentations. “Each of the proposals had strengths and weaknesses, but the Cornell team really took a deep dive into the economics of the assignment – they prepared a market analysis, a cost analysis, an impressive financial plan and a site plan that was feasible and which worked,” he said.

“I am in awe of what the team accomplished,” Charles said. “I encourage all graduate students in architecture and planning to consider taking part in the competition next year.”

As one of the students participating, Mitchell said the experience was “exemplary to the mission of the university to work with people of all backgrounds and fields of study to create a better world.”

Rebecca Bowes is assistant director of communications for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

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Jeff Tyson