Boston Public Library today, and prior to renovation (inset)

Charter Awards focus on renovation, revitalization

Many winners this year show how history and old buildings lead to richer neighborhoods and communities.

In a year when the president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation gave a keynote address, the Congress for the New Urbanism lauded many development and planning projects that focused on preservation and revitalization of historic buildings and neighborhoods.

The Grand Prize Charter Award went to the community-oriented renovation of a brutalist landmark building, the 1972 wing of the Boston Public Library. The 180,000-square-foot redesign by William Rawn Associates, see photo above, transforms the inward-facing, imposing structure into an inviting urban building that engages the street and forms an outdoor room with community gathering spaces.

The CNU Charter Awards are given for excellence in architectural, landscape, urban, and regional design that promotes healthier people, places, and economies through the principles of the Charter of the New Urbanism.

The student grand prize went to Andrews University, School of Architecture & Interior Design for Ubuntu in Umbumbulu, Renewing hope from house to village, in eThekwini Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. What started as a plan to build one house for a needy family grew into an 80-acre whole-village plan that addressed housing, transportation, governance, cultural traditions, economic opportunities, public space, the influence of ecotourism, and the historic legacy of apartheid.

Most of the other Charter Award winners dealt with history in some way. Among the honorees was Van Meter Williams Pollack, LLP for their redevelopment of the landmark former St. Joseph’s convent in Oakland, California into affordable housing.

The unique character of St. Joseph’s provides a strong sense of place in Fruitvale, Oakland. Five historic buildings, dramatic trees, and the rumble of the nearby trains contribute to a cohesively designed site that includes new construction, landscaping, and rehabilitation. The redevelopment of the 3.3-acre block has vastly improved the safety and attractiveness of the streets it faces, with welcoming new entrances, new uses, and more people offering “eyes on the street” at all hours of the day.

St. Joseph's convent redevelopment in Oakland.

Union Studio Architecture & Community Design was recognized for Keeping History Above Water, Harnessing civil engineering for preservation against climate change in Newport, Rhode Island. Local sea levels at high tide have risen eight inches in the past 75 years, threatening neighborhoods like The Point, which has a combination of history, charm, and walkability that is unique and irreplaceable. Keeping History Above Water examines short-term, mid-term, and long-term solutions for low-lying neighborhoods that could be achieved through a combination of policy changes, design standards, sensitive architectural intervention, and innovative engineering.

Winners also addressed affordable housing, resilience in the face of climate change, placemaking for streets, equitable economic revitalization of disinvested communities, and other issues.

Also receiving Charter Awards were C Cubica Arquitectos for San Cristobal City Hall Renovation, Grand new plaza highlights history in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico; Kronberg Wall Architects for Parsons Alley, Building on the past, looking to the future in Duluth, Georgia; DPZ Partners for Blue Water Workforce & Affordable Housing, Innovative design for affordable housing in Tavernier Key, Florida; Stantec for a Guide to Placemaking for Mobility, Reclaiming streets for people in Boston, Massachusetts; Thadani Architects + Urbanists for Westside Atlanta, Revitalization rooted in place in Atlanta, Georgia; Dover, Kohl & Partners for Plan NoBe, Building on local assets for resilience in Miami Beach, Florida; and Moule & Polyzoides, Architects and Urbanists for Plaza La Reina, A timeless and artful building in Los Angeles, California.

Winning Merit Awards were The University of Notre Dame Graduate Urban Design Studio (student project) for Building Durable Wealth, Redeveloping in-city freeway corridors in Providence, Rhode Island; Metro Nashville Planning Department for Envision Broadway Demonstration Project, Playful, tactical interventions for walkability in Nashville, Tennessee; Design Workshop for Small Town Tactics, Test-driving a road diet in Avon, CO; University of Miami (student project) for Guadalupe Hirian: A New Town for Hondarribia, New town of timeless urbanism in Hondarribia, Spain; and Matthew Mazzotta for The Storefront Theater, Artist’s innovation makes Main Street a town square in Lyons, Nebraska.

The Charter Awards were presented on Friday evening, May 5, at CNU 25 in Seattle. The night before, May 4, Stephanie Meeks of the National Trust for Historic Preservation spoke to the Congress about the importance of historic preservation to urbanism, pointing out that both movements share a founding figure—writer and urban theoretician Jane Jacobs. "We are the arms of the same movement," Meeks says. The National Trust recently launched a major new web-based tool, the Atlas of ReUrbanism—named, she says, in honor of the work done by CNU.

The Charter Awards' theme of preservation combined with urbanism underscored Meeks's point.

Read the full 2017 CNU Charter Awards book.