UF design students propose redesign options for busy Orlando section
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A sports museum, park and retail shops near Orlando’s new sports complex are among the ideas proposed by University of Florida students to help bridge a city divided by an interstate highway.
As part of a community project, 50 graduate students in UF’s College of Design, Construction and Planning will unveil 50 proposals this summer for a multi-use building and public space in the Bridge District, a section of the city between Washington and Church streets, said Martin Gold, director of UF’s School of Architecture.
Other Florida projects UF students have prepared include housing designs to encourage people to move into less dense sections of downtown Jacksonville, a redevelopment of Chipley’s business district to accommodate hurricane evacuees and a transportation design for the Waldo Road Corridor near Gainesville that would protect the area’s natural resources.
With the federal Department of Transportation’s plans to widen Interstate 4 through downtown Orlando by adding high-occupancy vehicle lanes, the students’ design proposals aim to unite the city’s densely built east side with the less developed west side on the opposite side of the freeway, Gold said.
“Our work in urban design and planning is a way the university can give back to the community,” he said. “It will allow Orlando to make decisions about how they want to plan, develop and evolve their city in a transparent environment; visually exploring ideas with stakeholders in a way they just couldn’t afford to do in the private sector.”
With the planned closure of the Amway Arena and movement of Orlando Magic basketball games and other events to a new arena, the UF architecture students took the opportunity to propose designs for a multi-purpose building near the new Amway Center to integrate it with other sections of the city and prevent it from being an “island,” he said.
On the street level of the proposed multi-use building might be a sports museum or space for retailers displaced from the closing of the old arena, with a hotel located above, Gold said. “An important piece of the project is what is put on the ground underneath that would enhance people walking back and forth from one side of the interstate to the other,” he said.
Other plans call for converting some of the vacant parking space beneath the interstate to other uses, Gold said. A skate park has been proposed, but a basketball court or park with an overlooking restaurant might also work well, he said.
The student projects were part of the first-year graduate curriculum of the School of Architecture that included 50 students led by associate professor Michael Kuenstle, professor Bill Tilson, assistant professor Ruth Ron and adjunct professor Guy Peterson.
Typically, when communities hire private architects, they have rather specific ideas of the job they want done and pay firms to develop their ideas in some detail, Gold said.
With the UF students’ work, the city commission and public are able to review many different proposals in the form of drawings, architectural renderings and three-dimensional models, giving them the opportunity to see which aspects are appropriate about a particular scheme before making a decision, he said.
“People feel less threatened having more time to digest the ideas, and they know that since it’s a student project, bulldozing isn’t going to start tomorrow,” he said.
Students benefit from the experience of presenting their designs to civic leaders, who may have a different perspective than their professors about a project’s criteria, Gold said.
“We find there is much greater acceptance when an idea is presented by a student than by a professional, even when it is exactly the same idea,” he said. “Out of a willingness to help the student grow, people seem to be softer on the negative parts and really hone in on what they like about the project, which makes the conversations more positive.”
The project is an initiative of the UF research and teaching center Citylab-Orlando, which was developed by the College of Design, Construction and Planning. The program began operating out of the old convention center just south of the Amway Arena last fall in partnership with the University of Central Florida Center for Emerging Media.
Orlando is ideal for field work because it has many urban characteristics that Gainesville lacks, including a larger downtown, and as a postwar city that developed around the automobile it has a sprawling residential population typical of many American cities, Gold said. “When people go to architecture school, many of the issues they deal with are urban related, so Orlando serves an important role as a working laboratory for us,” he said.