AIA awards $100,000  Latrobe prize to Chicago infrastructure corridor

August 11, 2010

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) College of Fellows has awarded its 2009 Latrobe Prize of $100,000 for the proposal, “GROWING ENERY/WATER: Using the grid to get off the grid.” The study focuses on Chicago’s 31st Street as a prototypical and generic infrastructural corridor that the City of Chicago has determined needs substantial improvements.

College of Fellows Chancellor Don Hackl, FAIA, presented the award to principal investigators Martin Felsen, AIA, and Sarah Dunn, both of UrbanLab in Chicago, during the AIA Accent on Architecture Gala in early February 2009. The grant, named for architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, is awarded biennially by the AIA College of Fellows for research leading to significant advances in the architecture profession.

The “Grow ENERGY/WATER” research project will concentrate its efforts on one infrastructural corridor such as 31st Street in Chicago to showcase financially, ecologically, and culturally beneficial design. The team includes architects, clean-energy engineers, renewable energy contractors, an environmental engineer, an evolutionary ecologist, a landscape architect, an interdisciplinary group of students, and City of Chicago officials from the Department of Transportation and mayor’s office.

The 2009 Latrobe Prize Jury—Michelle D. Addington; Cecil Balmond; Dana Cuff, PhD; Edward J. Kodet Jr., FAIA; Thom Mayne, FAIA; and jury chair Stephen J. Kieran, FAIA—reviewed an unprecedented number of design research proposals addressing the theme of this year’s grant: “Change that Matters,” for research that goes beyond invention to innovation. While our schools and architecture practices continue to focus on the invention of new form, our capacity to innovate—to seek better ways to do the elemental things human beings have always done—falls short of pressing contemporary demands.

The Plan

To effect change that matters, the UrbanLab team proposes to build a metrically based predictive model to give policy and decision makers the validated information they require to transform the public-way infrastructural grid from a thin, grey surface into a thick, three-dimensional green-blue architectural matrix.

The research aims to change the ways we conceptualize and construct the public-way urban grid to ultimately (1) drastically reduce reliance on nonrenewable, nonlocal energy; (2) sustain water resources; and (3) contribute to overall health, financial sustainability, and quality of life.

The research will focus on the discovery and development of a parametrically based analytical tool to model the costs and benefits of planning and building conventional design/engineered urban infrastructure relative to the costs and benefits of planning and building comprehensive green-blue infrastructure.

The investigation also aims to create a metrically based predictive tool to give decision makers the data they need to invest in an entirely new form of infrastructure that is financially, ecologically, and culturally beneficial to all. Municipal decision makers currently lack validated tools necessary to take the first steps toward a design-based green reindustrialization of our local energy and natural resource grids.

Ultimately, this project seeks to build a model that can catalyze citywide carbon- and water-footprint reduction—thus enabling new (public-private) infrastructural concepts to beget new breeds of resourceful and engaging architecture.The proposed parametric model will use multilayered assumptions about our collective urban present and future to predict how the infrastructural public-way grid should change over time.

AIA College of Fellows Vice Chancellor Ed Kodet, FAIA, stated, “The College is extremely excited about Felsen’s and Dunn’s proposal and its potential to lead to new building types that incorporate existing natural resources. Additionally, the research further provides the foundation to enhance architecture through a better understanding of the urban grid and the energy and water that sustain our largest cities.”

         
 

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