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Evolving Urban Design

Embracing The Urban Challenge

Phoenix Urban Design
CAV | Next Tucson

Nearly 60% of Americans live in urban environments and that percentage is rapidly increasing. We are in the middle of an unprecedented age of mass urbanization. Shepley Bulfinch’s urban design architects have been heavily involved in societal shifts as it relates to urban living, work, education, lifestyle, and well-being. We believe the most sustainable way of living is through more dense residential areas in targeted urban districts.

Integrating with city sustainability & planning goals

We actively design urban environments with a focus on driving sustainable practices that contribute to the long-term viability in our cities. These environments promote opportunities for individuals to share spaces, minimize use of non-renewable resources, reduce carbon consumption, lower emissions, and promote healthy lifestyles. We continually find that cities – whether a small town or a large metropolitan area – are desperate to invest in healthy, socially equitable, and vibrant urban cores. In downtown Phoenix, our team has been an active partner in the city achieving these goals. During a fifteen year time period, we have designed nearly twenty projects in parallel to a broader urban transformation in the nations’ fifth largest city.

Through our Phoenix portfolio of work, our design teams work at various building scales with developers, user groups and community organizations that drive the city’s collective urban vision Each of our design projects — whether at the scale of district planning or multi-phase developments – requires our team to be facilitators, visionaries, collaborators, advocates, and skilled designers. We find that urban design success results from several factors such as robust public outreach, satisfying our clients’ programmatic/financial requirements, sculpting skylines and activating sidewalks. We also harness the magic of great dialogue and creative solutions through neighborhood organization participation, city planning relationships, and artist collaborations. 

Student Housing - Urban Design
CAV | RISE at State College

Evolve urban design, yet remember the basics

Urban development in the U.S. tends to happen in a piece-meal approach with moments of great intensity rather than seamless and gradual change. In rapidly changing districts, architects and urban designers translate city goals and neighborhood ambitions into dynamic urban interventions. The core of our design approach promotes walkability/public transport, accessibility to civic resources, quality housing, sustainability, and social equity. However, there is no universal formula that guarantees success. Contemporary urban development in America is a complicated, exciting, and challenging endeavor. Yet, as the urbanization trend continues to accelerate, the payoff (particularly from a designer’s perspective) of contributing to rapidly transforming neglected neighborhoods and tired downtown districts is well worth the effort.

In the last few years alone, our urban goals have shifted with current events like Covid-19 impacting how we live and work. It’s crucial now more than ever for our urban planning to evolve with the needs of our cities and people, continuously designing for essential elements including multipurpose units, active street interfaces, convenient transportation options and a sense of community. 

Our experience has shown that hybrid urban design solutions and in-between spaces can take us in unexpected directions, rather than design compromises that diminish overly precious initial concepts.  For example, in the historic Mifflin neighborhood (Madison, Wisconsin), we designed a new residential high rise wrapped with street-level townhomes, artist studios, and a ground-floor lobby that serves as a pop-up café/neighborhood hang-out. At a mixed-use residential project in State College, Pennsylvania, we transformed the Calder Way alley into a civic plaza connecting a network of neighboring small-businesses with speakeasy-like entries. In Eugene, Oregon, we transformed a LEED Gold multi-family housing project’s street corner into a neighborhood rain garden. The garden simultaneously harvested stormwater and served as a natively vegetated landscape transition from the University to residential neighborhood. 

CAV | Next Tucson
Arizona Urban Planning
CAV | Next Tucson

The successful design solutions we’ve discovered resulted from embracing a new city, participating in community discourse, and delivering financially successful projects for our clients. As the densification of our urban environments accelerates, we continue to respond with creative urban design solutions and, most importantly, a shared understanding that our cities are the core strategy for a sustainable future. The urban development dialogue will only intensify as we look to a world faced with climate change, affordable housing crisis, natural disasters, pandemics, societal inequalities, technological transformation, and the rise of artificial intelligence. We look forward to being a part of that dialogue and finding hybrid urban planning and design solutions that meet the complex needs of humans and our planet. 

About Shepley Bulfinch: Our urban design firm portfolio results from great engagement with neighborhood organizations, artists and city planners. For each project, we provide complex solutions uniquely specific to the client’s programmatic and financial goals. Interested in learning more about our approach? Head to our housing and mixed-use portfolio.

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