Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Ed Bacon Competition

Every year, the Philadelphia Center for Architecture hosts the Ed Bacon Student Design Competition for university students from all over the world.  Edmund Bacon was an American architect and planner who spent much of his life working towards improving Philadelphia, he was also a Cornell alum. The project's goal is to encourage inter-disciplinary teams to work together to find solutions for a problem within 4 weeks from the day the contest begins, winning teams receive a cash prize.  Last year, Cornell's team took first place for their riverfront arcade project proposal:

This year Cornell fielded three teams who submitted proposals based on the prompt: "How will Driverless Cars Shape the Philadelphia of Tomorrow?"  We talked to team members Brian Byrd and Taru from one of the planning teams about what their experience last month was like:

How did you get your team together?

Originally, I expressed interest in the Competition and I decided to sign up a team at the last minute. I sent out some emails and facebook ads to get fellow CRP students on board. Also, I contacted Architecture, Landscape Architecture, the Business School, Engineering, etc. Fellow 1st year students Max Miller, Taru, Yan, and Gabriel all expressed interest. We formed our planner-heavy team and ultimately got three landscape students on board and an Information School student on board with the help of Akshali, another first year.

What was the most difficult aspect of the project?

Brian:  The most difficult thing about the project was working in such a large team. A majority of us had no prior experience with design competitions. The hardest part wasn't the actual computer design, but the formulation of one central theme with design parameters.

Taru: The project was about integrating automated cars in the city. I think each person in the team had to face and overcome their own set of challenges. I had no idea about the context - the city, its urban fabric, demographics and its aspirations for the future was  a complete unknown. We had to imagine a future version of the city and many of us did not quite understand its present.  Few of us struggled with the idea of the technology and its implications. Reaching a consensus always took time as there were so many of us for different backgrounds and different priorities. Aligning the various skill sets, allocating appropriate tasks and coordinating the outputs so that they create a cohesive final project was also a challenge.

So how did you decide on what your project would be?

Brian: We spent 3 or four days brainstorming the different site locations and driverless technology. Ultimately we voted as a group to focus on the City Center because we felt it presented the most options for design modifications and is the densest/most dynamic part of the city

How long did it take?

Brian: We spent approximately 3 weeks on the project, but worked intensely the last week. Lots of late nights in Kennedy hall.

What was the best take-away from the project?

Brian: We got an opportunity to form a close-knit team, work with each other on an intense deadline and form bonds that can only be forged under pressure. We learnt to respect each-others skills and explore ideas about our urban futures.