Urban Design Center Helps Businesses, Gives UTA Graduate Students Real-World Experience
By Mark Fadden
Posted on October 11, 2016, October 11, 2016

UTA Graduate Students Real-World

Designer Robert Peters once said that "Design creates culture. Culture shapes values. Values determine the future."

The idea that design can and does impact a city's future was given credence inside Arlington's City Hall when a small space on the first floor was repurposed in 2009 as the Arlington Urban Design Center (AUDC).

"The AUDC was created as a partnership between the City of Arlington and the University of Texas at Arlington to provide real-world design experience for graduate students and to provide no-cost services to residents, neighborhoods, and business owners in Arlington," said Ann Foss, Ph. D., Principal Planner, Comprehensive Planning for the City of Arlington. "The vision of the AUDC includes reinventing the design approach to improve the City's built environment, reinvigorating key areas and neighborhoods within the City, and rebuilding existing businesses and neighborhoods to support a sustainable economic base."

Using funds provided jointly by the City of Arlington through the general fund and grants, by UTA and by private donations, and with staff members comprised of graduate school students from UTA's College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs (CAPPA) serving as interns, the AUDC has worked on more than 270 projects since its inception, with approximately 50 of those projects being completed in part or whole.

Projects have included renovating interior designs of existing buildings, using landscaping architecture concepts to develop and reinvigorate open spaces throughout the City, and creating plans to redevelop entire neighborhoods.

Not only do the interns gain much-needed real-world experience, Arlington entrepreneurs and business owners gain access to invaluable design services that saves them both time and money.

UTA Graduate Students Real-World

"Any business, especially a startup, incurs so many costs and is usually bootstrapping the company from their own pockets. So the AUDC eliminates costs associated with design firms that would otherwise deplete much needed cash flow," said Scott Parsinen, who called in the AUDC staff members to help design a courtyard and create interior design plans for PinnStation, a business incubator and co-work space in the Pinnacle Corporation building downtown. PinnStation provides a professional location to work and collaborate with others and is available for daily, weekly and monthly rental.

The AUDC provides conceptual design ideas that can be useful to businesses and organizations in the early stages of a project, before being formalized by licensed architects and engineers.

"This is definitely a huge value for business owners in Arlington and a huge value-add for any city's economic development group to lure new companies in with design help. Anyone wanting to have a first class space would be squandering a free resource if they didn't utilize the AUDC," Parsinen said.

Almost any business or neighborhood project will be considered by the AUDC staff, as long as it's in Arlington.

"Potential projects bubble up in different ways," said Foss. "They come in from private developers, neighborhood groups, business owners and city departments."

While projects vary in terms of size and type, the AUDC timeline remains fairly standard.

"For a typical project timeline, it would begin with the client contacting me with the project description. If it is a suitable project, we begin with a kick-off meeting for the clients, student interns, and any relevant City staff to discuss the project, the client's vision, and key deliverables," Foss said.

Student interns then conduct site visits to learn more about the site, and begin the creative design process. Typically clients review drafts along the way to provide feedback and guidance on the design. Final drafts are provided to the client, along with additional opportunities for review and revisions until the client is satisfied with the final product. Those final products may include site plans, rendered models, and perspectives of the new design, all packaged as a pdf file, Foss said.

Besides PinnStation, where staff members worked with business owners, other projects that the AUDC staff are particularly proud of are the Heart of Arlington Neighborhood Association (HANA) redevelopment plan, and the City's Corridor Beautification project.

"HANA asked the AUDC staff to conceptualize a new layout and mix of uses for their neighborhood. Small-scale retail, a pedestrian-friendly environment and several categories of living options were included for residents at all stages of life," said Foss. "For the Corridor Beautification project, we helped design drought tolerant landscape concepts that could be replicated throughout the City to help beautify major corridors."

Plans call to add more interns to the program, bringing the total from 6 to 10, so that the design center can take on bigger and more challenging projects.

"By providing experience for students working with City staff on real-world projects, while also providing no-cost design services to Arlington residents and businesses, the AUDC could definitely be described as a win-win," said Foss. "I am very proud of the opportunity to connect local residents and business owners with the creative enthusiasm of the student interns. With each project we complete, it is very rewarding to see the excitement and gratitude of our clients."

UTA Graduate Students Real-World

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