A New Model for Urban Development

A New Model for Urban Development

This past Spring, our firm’s Community Studio collaborated on a new model for urban development as part of the Activate NC design competition. The potential project site is located at the corner of South Mint and Summit Avenue in Charlotte, NC and is a study in contemporary housing within the inner city. Speculative projects like this are vital to how our firm tests new ideas, seeking new ways of dwelling in our growing cities.

Our team started by asking a series of hypothetical what if’s… What if the typical massing and program was redistributed, the thresholds between public and private space were blurred, and the architecture was flexible and changing?

In seeking answers to these questions, the team conceived a project, called time:FRAME, based on flexible architecture that can accommodate both growth and recession over time. This evolving community would respond rapidly to changing real estate speculations and market economies — rather than being designed based around static market conditions and continuing the typical “boom or bust” mentality.

In contrast to typical vertical developments, the commercial and residential uses in time:FRAME are scattered horizontally on the site, creating a truly mixed-use development. An alleyway connects a repeating pattern of enclosed mixed-use spaces and urban outdoor spaces. Live/work units along South Mint Street provide ground level retail or studio space with residences above. Single-family dwellings are located on the opposite side of the alleyway at the interior of the site. Each unit frames public and private outdoor spaces such as art courts, public event plazas, private lawns, and community gardens.

The timber frames in the design recall the supports used in the shafts and tunnels of the Rudisil Gold Mine which once operated adjacent to the site, and supported the Charlotte Mint from which South Mint Street derives its name. Diverse common areas, such as front porches and side yards, can be co-opted by residents and tenants as needed. The framework also provides opportunities for additional commercial tenant space or residential units as market demands change.

The flexible spaces created by the framework encourage new combinations of social activities through overlaps of public and private outdoor spaces. In this manner, the potential of the site is measured in terms of community interaction rather than units per acres. Thus, time:FRAME is built on intensity rather than density.

ARE Update: Adam Flynn, AIA Designing for College Life in the 21st Century