AMES, Iowa — Students in an interdisciplinary Iowa State University studio are rethinking ways to improve community resiliency and strengthen infrastructure in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the wake of devastating hurricanes and ongoing economic hardship.

Ten undergraduate and graduate students in the Urban Design Global Studio on Home and Infrastructure Resilience in San Juan, Puerto Rico are piloting a design competition for resilient housing and decentralized infrastructure in San Juan to respond to both chronic and random events. The summer studio is working with the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), which will hold the formal competition once the US government approves disaster funding.

Eight of the students traveled to San Juan June 16–21 with faculty members Ben Shirtcliff, assistant professor of landscape architecture and urban design, and Luis Rico-Gutierrez, professor of architecture and dean of the ISU College of Design, to learn more about the city’s infrastructural needs and ways the culture and society are rebounding from back-to-back hurricanes in 2017.

The class studied Old San Juan, explored the Caño Martin Peña and Rio Piedras neighborhoods — two of the hardest hit by Hurricanes Maria and Irma — and conducted interviews and analysis of existing conditions, challenges and opportunities for change.

The group also met with Francisco Rodriguez, UPR’s former dean of architecture, to learn more about the university’s unique architectural history and its connection to the adjacent Rio Piedras neighborhood, and with representatives of the Corporation for the Conservation of the San Juan Bay Estuary and ENLACE nonprofit organizations, who provided insight into efforts to improve social resilience in areas prone to flooding and most vulnerable to disasters like Maria and Irma.

Back in Ames, the studio is developing competition proposals (videos and guidelines) and full competition entries, including master plans, corridor/site plans and diagrams aimed at strengthening existing connections in these neighborhoods and proposing new relationships between social, ecological and built environments. One team is proposing to transform the Martin Peña canal from a hidden place for waste to a valued ecosystem infrastructure. Another team is criss-crossing linear corridors (barriers) to enhance community connectivity.

The projects challenge both the urban design competition process and the role of urban design in an era marked by climate change and limited resources, Shirtcliff said.

“Urban design competitions tend to be top-down and can create hostility between long-established communities recovering from a traumatic event and newcomers hoping to make a name for themselves. Because of the diverse backgrounds in the global studio, our students are uniquely poised to develop an ‘ideas approach’ to urban design,” he said. “As climate change preludes more frequent challenges, our goal is to empower everyone to participate in actively improving their communities.”

Public exhibition

The students will share their work in an exhibition July 11–20 at the Design on Main Gallery, 203 Main St. in downtown Ames. They will be available to discuss their work from 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Thursday, July 11, and from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. weekdays for the remainder of the exhibition.

Participating students

Nahla Al Naamani, Muscat, Oman, fifth-year architecture student

Paloma Chapman, originally from Lima, Peru, and now of Ankeny, architecture graduate student

Slesha Dahake, Nagpur, India, urban design graduate student

Victoria Goetz, Ankeny, urban design graduate student

Sandeep Kumar, Mina Ahmadi, Kuwait, fourth-year landscape architecture student

Himali Limbad, Ahmedabad, India, architecture and urban design graduate student

Raymond Nurse, Bridgetown, Barbados, architecture and urban design graduate student

Sung Park, Seoul, South Korea, fifth-year architecture student

Rachel Scudder, Rochester, New York, community and regional planning and urban design graduate student

Yutong Wang, Zibo, Shangdong, China, urban design graduate student


Ben Shirtcliff, Landscape Architecture and Urban Design, (504) 919-1850, bens@iastate.edu
Heather Sauer, Design Communications, (515) 294-9289, hsauer@iastate.edu