Shaping Our City: Urban Design Students and Faculty Contribute to Nationally Acclaimed South Central Waterfront Project in Austin

November 22, 2017
Graduate students worked with faculty and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to provide impartial planning expertise for Austin’s waterfront areas along Lady Bird Lake
Austin South Shore Waterfront Redesign Proposal. Courtesy Texas Urban Futures Lab.

The City of Austin’s South Central Waterfront Vision Framework Plan won the American Planning Association’s “Sustainable Urban Design Plan or Development Project” award for 2017. The School of Architecture’s Texas Urban Futures Laboratory, aka “TUFlab,” led by Dean Almy, director of the Graduate Program in Urban Design, played an important role in the development of this nationally acclaimed urban planning initiative organized by the City of Austin’s Urban Design Division. TUFlab is a studio-based initiative that focuses on the service-learning potential of an advanced urban design studio and works toward the long-term interests of communities in the Texas Triangle (the areas between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio).

For Austin’s South Central Waterfront design plan, graduate students in Urban Design worked with UTSOA faculty and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in to submit an application for AIA to provide impartial planning expertise for Austin’s waterfront areas along Lady Bird Lake, which had been identified by the city as high-priority areas in need of comprehensive planning. In 2012, Austin received a competitive award from the AIA’s national office as part of their Sustainable Design Assessment Team program and hosted a team of experts who worked with over 200 citizens, city staff and officials, and other stakeholders for three days. Dean Almy served as a member of the advisory board for this initiative.

In 2012-13, after receiving and analyzing data financial, environmental, and social impact data from AIA and Envision Tomorrow Plus, a computer-based analytic tool, the TUFlab studio created a redevelopment scenario that established a new urban structure for the district comprised of small urban blocks, emphasizing connectivity between surrounding neighborhoods and Lady Bird Lake, walkability, and new family-oriented housing. A carefully calibrated network of green infrastructure was engineered to provide a network of open spaces with a district-wide low-impact development system of green streets.

In the summer of 2013, planner John Fregonese presented an analysis of the development scenarios for the area with Dean Almy, who explained the planning principles of TUFlab’s design scenario. These were presented in public forums both with the City of Austin and at the Texas Society of Architects Annual Conference in 2015. The joint work was published in a report on the Sustainable Places Initiative for the South Central Waterfront by the City of Austin.

For its role in the project, the TUFlab has been awarded a 2017 Partner Award for Excellence in Sustainability from the American Planning Association, Sustainable Communities Division.

The City of Austin envisions the South Central Waterfront District as not only a great new central city neighborhood for Austinites, but as an iconic gateway from South Austin into Downtown and the Texas Capitol corridor as well as an inspiring destination for the region. Learn more about the vision for a more sustainable Austin and urban waterfront district in this 2014 Texas Architect article authored by Dean Almy.

TUFlab participants and project contributors included:
Professor Dean J. Almy III, AIA, FFUD
Nelly Fuentes, Research Assistant, MSUD
Eliza Bober, MLA
Xin Qi Jeanie Fan, MArch I
Jacquelyn Fischer, BArch
Guangji Liu, MSUD
Christopher C. Murton, MLA
Todd Michael Niesner, BArch
Joshua Daniel Palmer, MSUD
Lauren Neda Partovi, MSCRP
Katherine Hall Phillips, MLA
Rachel Cathryn Tepper, MSCRP, MSUD
Megha Vinay Vaidya, BArch
Patricia Isabel Valbuena, MSUD
Jesus A. Valdez, BArch
Benjamin Garnett Walker, BArch
Kristin Alice Walsh, MArch I