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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Architecture students draft plans for Tucson

UA architecture students are building upon their education by planning Tucson’s potential future.

Students from every discipline at the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture worked alongside professionals from prominent design firms to envision the new downtown Tucson in a fast-paced exchange of ideas and solutions last week.

The two-day event, called Xtreme LA (Landscape Architecture), challenged 16 students and 18 professionals to devise plans for Tucson’s Gateway to Downtown that would create enjoyable public places, promote multiple modes of transportation and bring unity to the area. Landscape Forms and the Landscape Architecture Foundation sponsored the project.

After breaking into two teams, the landscape architects engaged in a high-pressure brainstorming session, called a charrette. The teams tackled issues surrounding the Tucson Convention Center, the Cushing Street Bridge, the modern streetcar and the historic neighborhoods of the downtown area.

“We took existing infrastructure and gave it new meaning,” said Beth Johannessen, a landscape architecture graduate student.

According to Lauri M. Johnson, director of the School of Landscape Architecture and Planning, one of the central ideas behind the charrette was the connectivity of the downtown area. This meant designing a downtown that would allow for alternative modes of transportation and provide spaces that encourage social interaction. Another area of focus, Johnson said, was finding ways to make beautiful, comfortable spaces in the midst of Tucson’s harsh environment.

For the students, one goal was to come up with ideas that challenge Tucson to think unconventionally about the downtown design, said Brandon Herman, a dual master’s student at the School of Landscape Architecture and Planning.

“It’s nice to get community leaders thinking outside their bubble,” he said.

Herman said his team designed mobile shade structures called “solar sails” that can be moved and adjusted to provide shade in different situations.

The students worked with young professionals from firms such as the HOK Planning Group, Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and Office of James Burnett.

There were several benefits of integrating local students with outside professionals, said Lee Streitz, a landscape architecture graduate student in the School of Landscape Architecture and Planning. The architects from the professional firms contributed fresh perspectives, while the students provided historical and cultural knowledge of the area.

“I’m most proud of our team for respecting the context of Tucson,” he said.

Additionally, the students were able to make connections in firms they may want to work with in the future. Although Johnson said many of the students were worried that they may not have the skills to work side by side with experienced professionals, many of them proved that they deserved to be there.

“The best thing I realized is that we are capable as students,” Streitz said. “I realized how well prepared we are.”

Students gave a public final presentation to local officials.

Johannessen said participating in the project was not only an honor, but an opportunity to use landscape architecture to improve the lives of people working and living in Tucson.

“We can make a change in our communities,” she said.

It’s up to the city to approve the plans, Streitz said, noting that there have been more than 93 plans for the downtown area that have not come to fruition.

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