Cornell Students Win First Prize in Philadelphia Design Contest

News
January 18, 2013

A plan by a team of five Cornell graduate students calling for the removal of part of a Philadelphia highway to make way for a public riverfront arcade received first place in an international student design competition sponsored by the Philadelphia Center for Architecture.

This was the third time a Cornell team has won the top prize in the six-year-old Ed Bacon Student Design Competition, which is dedicated to the vision and legacy of Philadelphia's former city planning director, Edmund N. Bacon (B.Arch. ’32). The objective of this year's contest was to create a plan to integrate a major transportation hub, which includes an Amtrak corridor and Interstate 76, with the city's central core.

After debating whether removing a portion of I-76 was a realistic solution, the Cornell students proposed rerouting 900,000 square feet of the highway that runs along the western bank of the Schuylkill River around the city via Interstate 676. They suggested that materials from the removed highway be repurposed to construct a platform over the existing rail yards, which would then be developed with shops, housing, and parks.

“We thought by getting rid of the highway, we were making this statement that automobile transportation was not going to be feasible over the next 50 or 100 years in the way it was in the past,” said Logan Axelson (M.R.P. ’13), a team member who grew up in Philadelphia. “And we wanted to do it in a way that would give us access to these amenities like the waterfront.”

Other members of Cornell's team, which included students from the departments of City and Regional Planning and Landscape Architecture (in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences), were: Caleb Cheng (M.R.P. ’13), Katherine Li (M.L.A. ’13), Jesse Nicholson (M.L.A. ’13), and Travis North (M.L.A./M.R.P. ’13).

After the winners of the competition were announced, Cornell's plan, called SHIFT (Smart Hub Infrastructure for Tomorrow) was praised by two Philadelphia media organizations for its bold vision for proposing removal of part of the highway. “It seems that our team really landed on a concept that resonates with a few folks,” said H. Pike Oliver, the team's adviser and a senior lecturer in city and regional planning.

Even if the proposal doesn't become reality, Cheng said it has sparked a conversation about addressing the challenges associated with the transportation hub. “Whatever they decide to do in the end, I'm confident that this discussion will lead to something good,” he said.

By Sherrie Negrea