The Mason UniverCity District Urban Lab

By: Colin Day, Sustainable Building Associate

The Institute for the Built Environment is very proud to announce that grant funding has been secured from CSU’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability and UniverCity for the establishment of an Urban Laboratory on the CSU campus in Fort Collins. Temporary space has been secured at The Institute for the Built Environment on campus near the corner of Mason and Laurel streets, with the aim to eventually secure permanent space on or near the Mason Street corridor. The UniverCity Urban Lab steering committee is in the process of defining the UniverCity Urban Lab, with the aim of the establishment of a 501c3 non-profit organization to embody the values of community members and stakeholders that it draws upon for the generation of ideas and input.

Mason Street Corridor, Fort Collins

But what exactly is an Urban Lab?  An Urban Lab is an adaptive forum that includes a variety of stakeholder input, which can include community members, professionals, academics, policy-makers, designers, artists and developers.  Interested parties collaborate to brainstorm solutions and interventions for issues and opportunities that the urban community shares.  The platform ideally acts as a think-tank to propose ideas and visions and to propose, test, design and implement collaborative urban planning projects that answer to a variety of community desires and needs. It is, quite simply, a laboratory to test ideas that will be applied at an urban level.

The mission statement of the lab at this juncture is simple: “The Mason UniverCity District is a dynamic area ripe for redevelopment. The district and its multi-modal transportation focus models a robust and eco-friendly mix that supports residents, business, retail and entertainment. It is vibrant and draws people from throughout the community and University to come live, work and play. It is a connector inviting exploration of the eclectic District as well as adjoining neighborhoods and nearby destinations. It is another of Fort Collins’ jewels”.

The aim of The Lab is to guide the Mason Street Corridor toward vibrant and regenerative infill projects. This initiative dovetails with the proposed 2014 opening of the MAX bus mass rapid transit system. The studies and projects will focus on urban design at various scales, urban morphology, neighborhood planning and design, and health and the built environment, all with a particular focus on walkability, bike-ability and an ethos of urban biodiversity and ecology.

MAX Transit Station Rendering, Mason Street Corridor
City of Fort Collins

Of course, other relevant urban design and development topics are likely to arise with the eclectic mixture of the stakeholders, community members, professionals and educators that The Lab is bringing together and drawing from. With the continued support and evolution of The Lab, the development of catalytic projects along the Mason Street corridor will grow a more robust physical, virtual and philosophical connection between the CSU campus, Old Town Fort Collins, and the communities therein. The implementation of our goals will enhance pending development and transportation projects and, with luck, creativity and application, will positively affect the fabric of the Fort Collins community.

To see the work of a small selection of other Urban Labs, please follow the following links:

The Carnegie Mellon Remaking Cities Institute
The Dallas Urban Lab
The California College of the Arts Urban Lab
Arcosanti

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New CSU Research Study: The Impact of Charrettes on LEED Certification

Author:  Michael Knox, Graduate Student in the Department of Construction Management at CSU

Charrettes have gained in popularity in recent years as a tool to increase collaboration and communication among building stakeholders, and to efficiently focus the time and attention of design team members in order to achieve greater synergy and sustainability.  However, little research exists documenting outcomes of the charrette process and its role in the overall success of sustainable building projects. To learn more about this relationship, we conducted a research study surveying LEED-NC 2009 project contacts and asked what characteristics were present during the charrette process.

Charrettes

The study’s results showed that implementing charrettes in LEED projects increased the amount of points a project received by 7 on average compared to projects that did not use charrettes. 

In addition to this finding, three separate characteristics were found to negatively impact the the number of LEED points a building received. We consider these three characteristics constraining factors, since they limit what happens during a charrette. The characteristics which were found to negatively impact LEED achievement included:

  • using a charrette as a LEED strategy or checklist meeting,
  • having a defined structured agenda, and
  • having pre-defined project goals before the charrettes take place.

Results of the study suggest the charrette process has the potential to provide significant benefits, regardless of what characteristics are implemented.  But to fully realize these benefits, a charrette should not include factors that limit a group’s ability to produce creative ideas, goals and innovative solutions. Thus, charrettes are best conducted to encourage open-ended dialogue, brainstorming and creative solutions to problems as vetted thoroughly and rapidly among many people with interdisciplinary backgrounds.

This research project was conducted as part of the Masters thesis of Michael Knox, graduate student in the department of Construction Management at Colorado State University.  Michael’s thesis committee included, Caroline Clevenger, Ph.D., Brian Dunbar, and Katharine Leigh, Ph.D.  To learn more about this research project, please download the full research document here. You can also contact the author on LinkedIn.