Kigali, Lower East Side plans top Charter Awards

A student project to radically rethink housing projects on New York’s Lower East Side and a holistic approach to a Rwandan village took top honors at the 2013 CNU Charter Awards, announced at CNU 21 in Salt Lake City. The Charter Awards are the global award for excellence in urban design. Winners were selected by a top-notch team of new urbanists including Shelley Poticha, director of the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities at HUD; V. Fei Tsen, chairperson of Chinatown Community Development Center in San Francisco; and jury chair Doug Farr, founding principal of Farr Associates.

The jury praised the Rwanda project, designed by the University of Arkansas Community Design Center, for the way it approached a challenging terrain. “The landscape prohibited a simple block format,” explained architect and jury member Vanessa September, who is also a resident of Africa. “So they were very creative and innovative in the way they took that form and rolled it over the landscape of Kigali.” The frames of the buildings are designed to be modular, with modules that can be arranged and modified to fit the needs of the users. It also provides general tactics for hillside development applicable to the city as a whole.

Kigali rendering

The student grand prize winner is a design by University of California Berkeley student Momin Mahammad. The proposal seeks to take advantage of unused development rights on existing NYC Housing Authority properties. But rather than fully tearing down and redeveloping the existing buildings, Mahammad’s approach readapts dysfunctional mid-century modern public housing sites into the urban fabric, resulting in no displacement and an increase in the overall housing stock. In his analysis, Mahammad found that while almost 82 percent of the project area is currently covered with open space, just under 10 percent is functional. Mahammad’s proposal is to artfully re-extend the city’s grid through those spaces, leaving room for new buildings and additions that engage the street. “The strength of this project, to my mind, is that it really dug into the new urbanist kit of street types,” said juror Mike Lydon. “And they understood how to apply them in a way that made sense.”

Lower East Side plan

Other winners included Torti Gallas & Partners, Opticos Design, Sottile and Sottile, Goody Clancy, Mithun and DPZ. For a full list, you may download a copy of the 2013 Charter Awards book at

Note: This article appears in the June 2013 issue of Better! Cities & Towns.