Inspiring Change features silver medalist Congo Street Initiative
Congo Street Initiative Image: buildingcommunityWORKSHOP

As an architect and advocate for better urban environments, I am excited about my new role as director of the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence at the Bruner Foundation (Cambridge, MA). The biennial award, founded in 1987 by architect and adaptive reuse pioneer Simeon Bruner, recognizes places distinguished by innovative design and their social, economic, and environmental contributions to the urban environment. To date, the RBA has recognized 67 projects and awarded $1.2 million to support urban initiatives. In the world of U.S. design competitions, the RBA is unique. We ask our applicants to submit detailed written analyses of their projects—from multiple perspectives—along with descriptive images. And entries must have been in operation long enough to demonstrate their impact on their communities. Our selection process includes intensive site visits to our finalists’ projects to help us fully understand how their places work.

Inspiration Kitchens, Chicago, IL. Courtesy Inspiration Kitchens

The RBA selection committee meets twice: first to select five finalists and again to select the Gold Medal winner. Assembled anew for each award cycle, the committee comprises six urban experts including a mayor, design and development professionals, and a past award winner. This year’s group includes mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City, planner Ann Coulter from Chattanooga, landscape architect Walter Hood from Hood Studio in Oakland, architect Cathy Simon from Perkins+Will in San Francisco, Metropolis Editor-in-Chief Susan S. Szenasy, and Jane Werner, executive director of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the 2007 Gold Medal winner. The committee reviewed 90 applications from 31 states and the District of Columbia to choose the 2013 five finalists. Collectively, the projects they chose represent a diversity of creative, collaborative approaches and scales in tackling significant urban challenges:

  • Congo Street Initiative – Dallas, TX – submitted by buildingcommunityWORKSHOP The sustainable rehabilitation of five houses and street infrastructure along with construction of a new home that provided transitional housing, in collaboration with resident families
  • Inspiration Kitchens – Chicago, IL – submitted by Inspiration Corporation An 80-seat restaurant providing free meals to working poor families and market-rate meals to the public as well as workforce training and placement
  • Louisville Waterfront Park – Louisville, KY – submitted by Louisville Waterfront Development Corporation An 82-acre urban park developed over more than two decades that reconnects the city with the Ohio River
  • The Steel YardProvidence, RI – submitted by Klopfer Martin Design Group The redevelopment of an abandoned, historic steel fabrication facility into a campus for arts education, workforce training, and small-scale manufacturing
  • Via Verde – Bronx, NY – submitted by Jonathan Rose Companies and Phipps Houses A 222-unit, LEED Gold certified, affordable housing development in the Bronx designed as a model for healthy and sustainable urban living
Louisville Waterfront Park, Louisville, KY Courtesy Louisville Waterfront Park

The selection of the finalists is only the beginning. Starting this month, Bruner Foundation staff will visit each of the five finalist projects, bringing along a series of questions from the selection committee and many of our own. We will walk the sites and interview their creators, operators and users. We will also observe and take photographs as a way of learning more about each project. Then, we will share our findings with the selection committee when it reconvenes in Oklahoma City in May to vote for the Gold Medal and four Silver Medal winners. The Gold Medalist will receive $50,000, and each Silver Medalist will receive $10,000; all funds benefit the winning projects.

The Steel Yard, Providence, RI. Courtesy The Steel Yard

Afterwards, we will publish detailed case studies of the winning projects as a resource for anyone interested in bettering American cities. Collectively, these case studies offer insight into 25 years of innovative urban strategies. We hope you’ll consider entering a project of your own for the 2015 RBA. Visit our website to learn more about community events where we share information and advance national dialogue about urban placemaking such as the Bruner-Loeb Forum, hosted in partnership with Harvard University’s Loeb Fellowship and local sponsors. You’ll find information on winning RBA projects and submission details on our website, as well. We hope you will join us for virtual visits of our finalists’ project sites over the next few months. We’ll post dispatches from each locale about what we’re seeing and hearing…first stop, the Congo Street Initiative in Dallas.

Via Verde, Bronx, NY. Copyright David Sundberg

Anne-Marie Lubenau, AIA, is director of the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence (RBA) for the Bruner Foundation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An architect and advocate for educating and engaging people in design of the built environment, she is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and was a 2012 Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.