Delving into the Bottoms

Every time I visit the West Bottoms I am surprised by another nook that I didn’t notice before or another juxtaposition that you can only see from standing in a particular location. It’s these discoveries that make the West Bottoms such an interesting place.
— Kevin Madera, KCDC Student

After weeks of general analysis of the West Bottoms, the students at the Kansas City Design Center are starting to hone in on prospective sites for their creative placekeeping project. The purpose of this project is to select three potential sites to be designated as public space with an emphasis on integrating public art, in all its forms. The whole design process will be augmented with frequent stakeholder and community feedback, as well as guidance from three consultant artists: Miranda Clark, Carmen Moreno, and Jim Woodfill. 

Regnier Chair and architect Gonçalo Byrne made his first visit to Kansas City in order to aid students in their analysis of the West Bottoms. We returned the favor by showing him some of the highlights of Kansas City, including brunch at Affäre, a brewery tour at Boulevard, and many visits to the West Bottoms. 

With Gonçalo and lead project artist Jim Woodfill's aid, the students developed a framework for which to base the rest of the project off of. This framework includes a system of Gateways, Corridors, and Nodes. Gateways are the entry points into the West Bottoms, which are few and far between due to the seclusion caused by the rivers to the north and west as well as the cliff to the east. The only entry points are through highway infrastructure and a few local road viaducts. Following these entry points are the main corridors that move you through the West Bottoms. These corridors vary in quality, but are the subject of streetscape improvement plans by Phronesis and KEM STUDIO. These corridors are planned to be multi-modal to accommodate cars, trucks, bikes, and pedestrians. Ideally, KCDC's public space will be easily accessible from one of these corridors. Corridors then lead to nodes, which are centers of activity in the West Bottoms. The pedestrian nodes of the Historic Core and the Stockyards District have many artist galleries, shops, restaurants, and bars. Contrasting - but equally prominent - is the industrial node in the northwest portion of the West Bottoms. This area is home to many distributors, garages, and factories. Gateways, Corridors, and Nodes make up a comprehensive system for KCDC's studies to build off of. 

The West Bottoms is simultaneously big and small. In order to make site analysis of the entire area more manageable, the students devised six site typologies. These typologies include alleys, missing teeth, courtyards, under overpasses, islands, and open areas. Each of these types have different spatial qualities and therefore different possibilities for becoming public spaces.

This map shows all the six site typologies within the West Bottoms. 

Recently, the studio gained two more consultant artists. Miranda Clark is a photographer and sculptor who focuses on architectural forms and negative spaces. Carmen Moreno is a sculptor and performance artist who focuses on urban environments and their relationship to native ecosystems. Together with Jim Woodfill, these artists will offer critique and new perspectives throughout the entire project. 

Next, we will evaluate and narrow down our prospective sites. Then we will seek stakeholder and community feedback on our process and site selections. If you have a passion for the West Bottoms, please join us for this very important public meeting in order to let your voice be heard. Our site selection meeting will occur at the back room of Rockstar Burgers at 5:30pm on Thursday, February 23rd. The address of Rockstar Burgers is 1611 Genessee St, Kansas City, MO 64102. 

Obrigado Gonçalo

December in Portugal was more akin to autumn in America. A hoodie was enough to keep us warm in between the cool shadows of buildings and the warm sunlight that peaks between. The streets and plazas were paved with an array of black and white cobblestone patterns. Colorfully tiled medium-height buildings enclosed these streets, containing a myriad of shops at the ground floor with residents just above. 

The purpose of our trip was twofold: to see the work of Portuguese Architect Gonçalo Byrne and to study public space in Portugal. The KCDC studio's home base was Lisbon, but we also explored the cities of Coimbra, Porto, and Cascais

Despite having to wear a boot for his still-recovering foot injury, Vladimir had no problem keeping up with the studio. He rode around Portugal's streets with the help of his red folding bike. The two were inseparable. 

Gonçalo Byrne is an architect, but he is always carefully conscious of the context of the urban environment as well as being attentive to the smallest details of every design. His projects range from preservation of centuries old buildings to new residences. We enjoyed listening to him speak of Portugal's history and character as well as the ideas behind each of his designs. 

On our first evening in Portugal Gonçalo explained the growth and history of the city of Lisbon, especially regarding the masterplanned portion of Lisbon that was created after a major earthquake. The importance of the masterplan includes the creation of grand public spaces and a rectilinear street grid. On our first full day in Lisbon, he showed the KCDC studio the São Jorge Castle and the World Expo center of 1998. 

The next day we visited Coimbra to see Gonçalo's Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro, a museum built on top and around the ruins of a Roman Cryptoporticus. We saw the Casa de Escrita and grabbed a refreshment at Casa das Caldeiras. On our fourth day abroad we explored Porto and saw the Casa da Musica by OMA and the Serralves Museum of Contemporary art by Alvaro Siza. 

Back in Lisbon, we walked along the waterfront and saw the EDP Headquarters by Aires Mateus and then it was a short train ride to Museu de Arte, Arquitetura e Tecnologia. We took the metro further to Cascais to see Gonçalo's Estoril Sol Residence, an apartment building and public park that replaced a blocky hotel. It consists of three angled buildings connected by a bridge. The apartments overlook the coast of the Atlantic as well as the gardens below. After, we visited the Casa das Histórias Paula Rego by Eduardo Souto de Moura and then walked over to the Santa Marta Lighthouse Museum by Aires Mateus. Running to beat the incoming rain, we arrived at our final stop in this town: Pousada de Cascais, a former barracks converted into a luxury hotel, restaurant, and spa. 

The next day was our last full day in Lisbon. We took the subway to what KCDC agrees was the most memorable of Gonçalo's work: Teatro Thalia. Originally built in 1825, the stone theatre suffered a fire and stood vacant for over 150 years until it was preserved and added on to become a multi-purpose space. The last building was the Banco de Portugal, which was a historic building that was renovated by Gonçalo to include a museum of money. 

Gonçalo Byrne is the 2016-2017 K-State's Victor L. Regnier Distinguished Visiting Chair. During his time as Regnier Chair, Gonçalo will be visiting the KCDC studio throughout the following semester to contribute his knowledge and critique to our upcoming West Bottoms Project. We are extremely thankful to the Regnier family for this opportunity to visit Gonçalo and study Portugal. Experiencing the successes and shortcomings of public spaces in Portugal will better prepare us for designing public art and public spaces in Kansas City's West Bottoms. Look forward to more on the West Bottoms as we jump into our next project on Creative Placekeeping. 

Calling all Artists!

We are seeking 2 artists for our upcoming West Bottoms Reborn project. Selected artists will collaborate with the team on research, planning, design and project execution and act as consultants to the KCDC design team. 

The deadline for submission is February 1st. For full description of position and submission requirements, please visit the Mid-America Arts Alliance website

Falling Into Place

It's difficult to fathom that the Scarritt Renaissance Vision Study project is drawing to a close, but the last few weeks have indicated that it's true: third professional review, a public meeting with Scarritt residents, and preparations for the next project have all signaled the impending conclusion to the project. 

Students have spent the past few weeks fleshing out and honing down designs for four different sites within the Scarritt Renaissance neighborhood. They range from small single-family infill projects to multi-story mixed-use complexes, all heavily considering the previous research and feedback from the neighborhood. Before presenting their designs to the neighborhood, the students did a practice run with design professionals -- some of them alumni of KCDC. 

Eric Janes of the KCDC Studio explains the major conceptual moves his team made in order to land at their current design for a rowhouse typology in Scarritt Renaissance. 

Critiques are helpful not only for the students who designed the project, but also for students who are not designing the project, as they can learn about successful moves and areas of improvement that may be indirectly relevant to their current or future designs. 

The feedback they get from professionals is very different than the feedback they'll get from residents. Professionals, who have an eye for design and process, tend to see the spaces and functionality of a design; Residents, who have insight on the inner workings of their neighborhood, tend to ask how the design will affect them or their neighborhood. Both aspects are incredibly important to creating a successful building, which is why KCDC held a public meeting at the North East Public Library to present their designs and ask Scarritt residents what their thoughts were on the project. 

The public meeting was a good chance for students to explain and receive feedback from residents on our various design proposals for the Scarritt Renaissance neighborhood.

While the students have been working tirelessly on the Scarritt Renaissance project, they've also been simultaneously starting the early phases of their next project, which will be focused on the West Bottoms. In order to learn more about this industrial and historic area, the students have been touring the grounds alongside local artist James Woodfill. Further, they listened in on a public meeting led by Phronesis and KEM Studios on their proposals for an improved streetscape and wayfinding system in the West Bottoms, focusing on green infrastructure and contextual design. 

KCDC students visited a public meeting on Phronesis and KEM Studio's proposed Streetscape Plan and Wayfinding Plan for the West Bottoms in preparation for their next studio project.

Back at KCDC, another guest lecturer spoke on a unique yet logical approach to urban infrastructure. Martin Felsen of UrbanLab presented Bowling, which is an ecological approach to design that utilizes the shape of a bowl to collect, clean, and channel water systems. The bowl can be at the scale of a small outdoor space or at a region-wide scale to address water flows. The concept has already been applied to projects and cities, such as Changde, China. 

Martin Felsen of UrbanLab held his lecture titled Bowling. 

Our open house event on December 8th at 5pm will open up our doors to the public to showcase the finished designs for the Scarritt Renaissance Vision Study. Come and join us for refreshments and good design talk!

Soon after, the students will embark on their much-anticipated trip to Portugal. In Lisbon they will tour with and learn from Gonçalo Byrne, an accomplished Portuguese architect and the 2016 KSU Regnier Chair. Following their return, you can anticipate seeing many beautiful photographs of their trip that'll just make you jealous :)


KCDC wins 2016 AIA KC Design Excellence Award!

We are thrilled to announce that we have received the 2016 AIA KC Design Excellence Concept Category Merit Award for last year's Downtown Kansas City Recycling System Vision Study! We are honored to receive this award for the second year in a row; it is certainly humbling to be acknowledged alongside the extremely talented and inspiring KC designers who also took awards home to their firms, and we would like to take this moment to congratulate them all for a job well done!

Check out our award submission and a video with jury comments here