city planning

Reinventing Rice Village

Architects and planners will race the clock this weekend to win the annual Rice Design Alliance design competition.

By Elise Rambaud Marrion July 31, 2014

RDA Design Charrette Awards and Public Viewing
Aug 4 at 6
Jury Room, Anderson Hall
Rice University
6100 Main St.

For the past 14 years, the Rice Design Alliance has opened a suggestion box for local architects, designers, planners, and students to weigh in on various areas around the city that need a little TLC. 

Organized by RDA’s young professionals group, rdAGENTS, the annual juried design charrette challenges teams of five to produce renovation plans for a selected site. And they do it all with the stopwatch running, in an eight-hour-straight power planning session.

This year’s mission, should they choose to accept, is to improve the overall accessibility of Rice Village. Participating teams toured the site on July 26, but they won’t know their exact assignment until they convene at Rice University’s Hanszen College on August 2. 

A charrette is a gathering of people for an intense period of brainstorming and design. Faced with a challenge or goal, the participants pool their talents to produce plans and drawings, according to RDA.

 “We select a different site every year, and we saw Rice Village as an area of interest and need.” said Mary Beth Woiccak, RDA’s assistant director for programs. “Rice Village is considered one of the city’s most desirable areas, but as Houston continues to grow, the area has limitations in mobility, walkability and accessibility.”

Charrette participants on site visit

In addition to picking the brains of Houston’s design community, RDA also works closely with various City of Houston agencies. The results of the charrettes are shared with the managers of the chosen site; past competitions generated the ideas for Sesquicentennial Park and the pedestrian bridge in Memorial Park. 

Last year’s victors, Brave Architecture, won Best Overall Design for their vision for a new campus and street presence for the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. A team from Brave has participated in the charrette for the past five years, and they plan to compete again this year.  

“The RDA charrette gives us an opportunity to put ourselves in a design bubble and really focus on getting the best design possible in a short period of time,” said Peter Ho, an associate at Brave. “When you're racing against the clock, you start to challenge your conventional strategies and things become very interesting. We try to mix it up and send different groups each year as it helps work on team building and collaboration.”

For many of the participants, the charrette offers the chance to stretch their expertise beyond the scope of their daily jobs.

“Participating in these charrettes allowed us to face issues that are, in fact, prevalent throughout the city,” Ho said. “Although the solutions may be site-specific, the methods and strategies involved can be applied to a variety of projects." 

Awards will be announced at a reception on Monday, August 4 in Anderson Hall on the Rice University campus. The reception, where guests can browse through the charrette boards, is free and open to the public.


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