The 2021 AIA Awards for Regional and Urban Design strives to recognize top-tier projects in urban design, regional and city planning, and community development. The five-member jury of Mark Gardner, AIA, NOMA, Lesley Bain, FAIA, Katie Horak, John Smoley, and Dan Yudchitz, AIA evaluated each submission based on how well each project addresses environmental, social, and economic issues using sustainable strategies. 

Each project provides true value to its community by enhancing the quality of life and by promoting social equity. The recipients for the 2021 AIA Awards for Regional and Urban Design are:

1. Beyond Walls, Lynn, MA | Payette

Lynn is one of Massachusetts’ 26 Gateway Cities or urban centers that face great social and economic challenges. The project was made to increase connectivity through multiple interventions as a pro bono effort to the citizens of Lynn, MA. The design team at Payette partnered with Beyond Walls to develop five specific interventions that strengthen the connection between the citizens and their built environment while enhancing safety and walkability.

Five Projects recognized with 2021 AIA Regional & Urban Design. - Sheet1
Beyond Walls ©Warren Jagger

Five Projects recognized with 2021 AIA Regional & Urban Design. - Sheet2

The first intervention was to solve Lynn’s underpass lighting with dynamic, colorful, and programmable LED light installations. The lighting team is also developing a smartphone app that allows anyone in the vicinity to choose lighting scenes and personalizing displays. Beyond Walls also brought in artists worldwide to paint high visibility walls, and merged art, history, and technology by restoring vintage neon sign art. The added illumination from these pieces has increased walkability and Lynn’s economic vitality. 

During the times of the pandemic, the design team also came up with a ‘Wash and Fold’ initiative that ensures safety. Free-standing weather-resistant wash stations that can be installed in parks, construction sites, outdoor dining areas, etc were designed in a way where no electricity or plumbing is required. The ‘Fold’ system is an attractive barrier system that makes dining in the outdoors safe and accessible. Each unit provides for safety, privacy, and ample lighting.

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Beyond Walls ©

2. Essex Crossing, New York | SHoP Architects

A vibrant contribution to New York City’s Lower East Side is the Essex Crossing by SHoP Architects and Beyer Blinder Belle. The project occupying twenty acres of land is set at the intersection of Delancey and Essex. The master plan includes about two million square feet of commercial, retail, residential, and community space that strives to maintain its historically dynamic neighborhood. The space is designed to feel familiar and luxurious through the materials used for its construction.

The Lower East Side of New York City has undergone several inventions and developments since the early 1900s. The design team for the Essex Crossing prioritizes an affordable housing project at 242 Broome Street that is meant for those families, mainly of Puerto Rican descent, that was displaced in the 1950s and 60s due to ‘urban renewal’ interventions led by the urban planner, Robert Moses. 

Considering its historic context, the design team focussed on the materiality and massing of the architecture. A focus on community building was critical to the success of the project.  Along with the residential towers, the project also stitches together the Essex Market, The Grand Street Settlement Community Center, the GrandLo Cafe, the Chinese-American Planning Council, a bowling alley, and the new building for the International Center of Photography. 

Its focus on preserving culture and building communities has proved the project to be one of the city’s most influential developments and has been considered as the most promising mixed-use developments by New York Times’ architecture critic Michael Kimmelman.

Five Projects recognized with 2021 AIA Regional & Urban Design. - Sheet4
Essex Crossing ©SHoPArchitects
Five Projects recognized with 2021 AIA Regional & Urban Design. - Sheet5
Essex Crossing ©SHoPArchitects

3. Haxtun – Saving Main Street, Haxtun, CO | HDR

Like most rural American towns, Haxtun, in northeast Colorado depends on their local hospitals for medical care as well as employment. With a population of about 1000 people, 100 of them are employed by the Haxtun Hospital District, which makes it the community’s largest employer. With urban migration, decreasing patient volumes, and shifts to outpatient care, several rural hospitals are at risk of closures. 

Along with the hospital’s closing, Haxtun is under the risk of rising closures of local markets, limited access to fresh produce, poor walkability, and inadequate public spaces. HDR and their design team have envisioned a plan that would redistribute population density and calls for about twenty thousand square feet of adaptive reuse and fifty thousand square feet of new construction, all to achieve a more dense population gravity. 

Keeping the hospital as the main foundation, a pharmacy and cafe will be inserted into the building program. The addition of retail spaces for farmers’ markets and local artisans helps in building economic growth. Attached to the hospital building will be the administrative block, library, and an auditorium. Mixed-use destinations paired with health and wellness can re-energize the quality of life in communities such as Haxtun. 

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Haxtun ©Tom Trenolone
Five Projects recognized with 2021 AIA Regional & Urban Design. - Sheet7
Haxtun ©Tom Trenolone

4. Northeastern University Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex, Boston | Payette

Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, has established itself as a strong research university requiring new facilities to attract scholars worldwide. The Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex or the ISEC is focused on collaborative principles that bridge multiple disciplines. Built on a brownfield site, the ISEC and its pedestrian bridge are the first projects to be seen by the university’s master plan. 

The complex is located on Boston’s primary rail corridor that bridges two of the city’s diverse neighborhoods. The pedestrian bridge, known as PedX, provides a 500-foot accessible bridge over the MBTA and Amtrak tracks to the new building complex. Energy modeling tools were incorporated for optimum performance throughout the design phase to ensure reduced heating and cooling loads and effective shading interventions. 

Expected to be completed in 2022, the ISEC building complex will be part of a 600,000 square-foot master plan that encapsulates a cutting-edge hub for science and technology with Northeastern University.

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Northeastern University ©
Five Projects recognized with 2021 AIA Regional & Urban Design. - Sheet9
Northeastern University ©

5. Rebuilding a Local Food Economy: Oahu, Hawai’i, Oahu Island | University of Arkansas Community Design Center

Hawaii is one of the most inhabited remote landmasses in the world and imports over 93% of its food resources. The design team of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center proposes a plan to rebuild local food systems on Oahu, home to nearly a million residents and to create a platform for developing value-added short food supply chains. The master plan includes key components that include a regional product processing hub, a food maker space, and a post-harvest processing prototype. 

The program also focuses to incentivize younger operations and startups with reclaimed land and irrigation infrastructure along with ecotourism, neighborhood redevelopment, equitable distribution, etc. The primary aim is to boost local products and restore the island’s food ecosystem. The model also strives to demonstrate agricultural reclamation infrastructure that can be implemented in any town and increases awareness on how we can support local communities.

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Rebuilding a Local Food Economy ©
Rebuilding a Local Food Economy ©

Rashmi Nair is an architect, interior designer, and fashion illustrator who is an ardent lover of all things design. She strives to be sustainable in design and life and strongly believes in the ‘Less is More’ idealogy. She enjoys exploring museums, reading, making lists, and a hot cup of coffee