A $50,000 Idea

Reimagining the downtown post office with a pedestrian bridge that spans the Bayou

Reimagining the downtown post office with a pedestrian bridge that spans the Bayou

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A bustling Bayou Commons at night Rendering courtesy UIL/Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition
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A mock-up of the pedestrian bridge that's an important feature of Bayou Commons. Rendering courtesy UIL/Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition
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Bayou Commons links the post office site with its surrounding neighborhoods to create a diverse new community fully integrateds into the urban fabric. Rendering courtesy UIL/Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition
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Public space, diversity and economic-viability were the central focus of Bayou Commons, created by a joint team from the University of Colorado and Harvard. Rendering courtesy UIL/Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition
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After visiting the site in March, the Colorado-Harvard team decided to add shade many of the pedestrian areas for those hot Houston summers. Rendering courtesy UIL/Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition
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An example of the team's many design considerations Rendering courtesy UIL/Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition
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Gerald D. Hines, for whom the competition is named, started the contest in 2003 to encourage cooperation between designers and real estate experts. On Friday, he sat in the audience to watch the final presentations. Purdue University
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A team of students from the University of Colorado and Harvard University took home a $50,000 top prize in the Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition sponsored by the Urban Land Institute.

On Friday, in the black box theater of the Houston Ballet Center for Dance, a panel of competition judges from across the country examined four final projects that reimagined a 16-acre site along Buffalo Bayou that currently maintains the mid-century downtown post office that the U.S. government has thought of selling. Real estate development legend Gerald D. Hines, who helped to create the contest 10 years ago, sat in the crowd to watch the proceedings and hear the final winner.

"The entire jury believed that if there was ever a poster child for multidisciplinary cooperation in this competition, it was the Colorad o-Harvard team,” Richard Heapes said.

After a morning of presentations from each team, the jury chose Colorado-Harvard's "Bayou Commons" project for its thoughtful use of public space and attempt to integrate the diverse fabric of surrounding neighborhoods.

Initially named “Downtown BaYOU,” the team rebranded and greatly expanded its original hypothetical scheme following a tour of the site in early March. At the center of the plan is an iconic pedestrian bridge that spans the bayou and connects the site to downtown by way of a network of amply-shaded outdoor space that mitigates Houston's notoriously hot and humid climate.

“The entire jury believed that if there was ever a poster child for multidisciplinary cooperation in this competition, it was the Colorado-Harvard team,” jury member Richard Heapes of Street Works, a development company, said in a statement. “My own company is built to match this model. . . I constantly struggle for this type of interaction and cooperation.

"Seeing this team do this in action was truly inspirational.”

Bayou Commons is designed to be fully market driven and phased to ensure that each chapter of development creates a desirable place to live, work and interact. The master plan celebrates the city's unique culture with eye-catching architectural designs, an art center and a mixture of housing types to encourage a wide swath of demographics.

“We are all thrilled to have won the competition and at the same time humbled by the experience,” said team leader Chad Murphy, who is pursuing a master of business administration in real estate at the University of Colorado.

“The three other teams were really strong," Murphy said. "Seeing Mr. Hines at the presentation, witnessing the diversity of the jury, and seeing what jury members brought to the table was an incredible experience.”

The three other teams left Houston with $10,000 a piece — not too shabby.

In addition to Murphy, other Colorado-Harvard members included Michael Albert, master in landscape architecture, Harvard University; Victor Perez Amado, master in architecture, Harvard University; Alex Atherton, master of business administration in real estate, University of Colorado; and Anna Cawrse, master of landscape architecture, Harvard University.