Design Collaborative’s three architectural interns, Andrew Jackson, Jackson Haynes, and Grace Lehmann (4th year architecture students at Ball State University) collaborated over a five month period on a design competition called Urban Den-cities. The focus of their competition was to develop a zero commute, mixed use residential neighborhood massing concept that is resilient to pandemic impacts and built for a population that lives, works and plays in the same place. The interns were presented with 3 site options located in New York City, New York,  Cairo, Egypt, and Shenzhen, China; they ultimately selected New York City. Deliverables for their project included virtual massing models, site plans, site sections, and renderings.


Over the past few months, as part of daily intern routines, our design team researched and explored various schematic concepts to create Connect. Connect is a master planning concept for Hudson Yards in the Chelsea District of New York City, New York. It is our envisionment of what we believe the 21st century cityscape will continue to evolve into in a post COVID-19 pandemic world. While many would be inclined to think that such a model would promote isolation or social distancing, our team tried to create schematics that focused on adaptable environments, spatial awareness, and better circulation options in dense urban landscapes. 
Before creating any deliverables, our team had to establish a framework around the project brief. This evolved into three goals: 1. Develop residential, commercial, and healthcare building models that protect the primary users of the space. 2. Design alternative methods of circulation throughout the neighborhood/district. 3. Create an environment that promotes immediate adaptability and change to the outside world.  
Walkability became a key component of our design. As a team, we wanted to reimagine our city not as divided for discrete zones for living, working, and entertainment but as a blend where almost all needs can be met within 15 minutes  of a resident’s home. Our design eliminates the need for transportation to find essential needs. Pedestrians are the main focus in our post-pandemic neighborhood, with cyclists second priority and vehicular traffic third.
Keeping with the importance of pedestrian-centered spaces, our team was dedicated to the research and inclusion of garden streets, creating a shared space for pedestrians and cyclists. The goal was to restrict traffic and reduce on-street parking in order to free up space for vegetation and green space. Biophilic design is the inclusion of vegetation within the built environment, ultimately improving mental health. With pandemic crises flooding our world, good mental health remains critical. 
Following the same vein of pedestrian-centered, vegetation filled urban spaces, designing for physical distancing was at the forefront of this design. As a team, we embraced the best practices, energy, and warmth of pedestrian-oriented cities that ultimately created spaces that are inclusive, healthy, and equitable. We still wanted citizens to gather, just gather safely, thus focusing on the concept of “physical distancing” rather than “social distancing.” A key element we included was the conversion of parking lanes into public space for community, shopping, and other various services. This created access to essential amenities such as grocers, restaurants, and exercise. Centering our design is the massive park that is all encompassing. With various trails and room for allotted personal space, this central node allows for the city to come together safely as our world continues into the unknown. 
To establish more circulation onsite, our team devised a skybridge concept for Hudson Yards. The purpose of the skywalk bridge design was to address density on the site. It is meant to create a network between buildings on-site for pedestrians and cyclists. By increasing circulation, the team felt we could maximize walkable space without forcing pedestrians to travel to the street level. We felt if we could lessen disease spread by creating pathways that residents would be inclined to use more versus site visitors. Sources of inspiration for the design of the skybridge concept came from skywalk networks across the United States (ex. Minneapolis), but also some design precedents such as Steven Holl’s Linked Hybrid Building Complex and New York City’s Highline, which wraps around our site and integrates into the design. 
Overall, this project proved to be a challenge for our team. We, as architectural interns, had to think about a site much larger than what we are typically accustomed to designing. This design competition was concerned more with master planning concepts rather than what we are used to with the schematic design of a building. Ultimately, team members had to be selective about conveyed ideas through illustrations of specific views/renders and diagramming methods. In retrospect, this competition was useful in that we learned more for the grander scale of environmental design and relationships between site, user engagement, and circulation.


Andrew Jackson Grace Lehmann Jackson Haynes