Winners of Mason Street redesign contest ‘Off the Rails’ selected

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Scenes from the Oct. 7 “Off the Rails” event at Galvanize in Fort Collins.

When urban spaces undergo a redesign, usually professional design firms are brought in. In the case of the reimagined Mason Street corridor in Fort Collins, a collaborative group that included both the City of Fort Collins and Colorado State University chose to not hire a firm but hold an open design competition.

Designers from around the world entered the “Off the Rails” design competition, and the winner was selected at an event held on Oct. 7 at Galvanize in downtown Fort Collins.

offrails8The winning proposal, submitted by Byron George, Danielle Cull and Brandon Herman, is titled “The Switchyard” and prioritizes non-motorized users, then buses and finally private vehicles. The three are designers with Makers Architecture and Urban Design of Seattle.

Features of the plan include a linear park on each side of the street for pedestrians, a five-foot-wide bike path on each side of the street, and removal of the second lane and on-street parking along southbound Mason. Additional features are described at right.

About the Urban Lab

The contest was sponsored by The UniverCity Urban Lab — a partnership among Colorado State University’s Institute for the Built Environment, the City of Fort Collins, the Downtown Development Authority, professionals and citizens — that advocates for high-quality urban design and a livable city through community involvement and collaboration.

The Urban Lab challenged architects, artists, urban planners, designers, landscape architects, students and others to submit their ideas to enhance the area for all users, whether traveling by car, bus, bicycle or foot.

Submissions were narrowed to nine finalists, from which jurors evaluated and picked the top three designs. Four jurors, professionals from across the country and Fort Collins, evaluated the designs on both their aesthetics and functionality.

The jury was composed of Fort Collins Mayor and CSU mechanical engineering Associate Professor Wade Troxell, Spiral Experiences CEO Ed Goodman, Hood Design Studio principal Walter Hood and Studio Luz Architects principal Hansy Better Barraza.

Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell, left, and Hansy Better Barraza discuss the designs.
Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell, left, and Hansy Better Barraza discuss the designs.

“Enhancing the look, feel and functionality of the Mason Street corridor is a priority to give the gateway between campus and Old Town a sense of place,” said Troxell. “These design submissions incorporated different aspects of the Fort Collins culture, landscapes native to Colorado and the West, and the tangible connections between Colorado State University and downtown Fort Collins. Picking a winner was certainly a challenge for all of us.”

In the end, the top three designs were Active Tracks, which got third place, Urban Confluence, which got second place, and The Switchyard.

“This contest was not just about showcasing designs,” said Brian Dunbar, executive director of CSU’s Institute for the Built Environment. “These designers are committed to making Fort Collins, the Mason corridor in particular, a better place for our community.”

The winning design

From the winning “Switchyard” proposal:

“As trains approach, glowing LED lights on the sides of the rails become illumined, synchronizing with the train’s position as it moves through the site. These will be powered by solar panel installations, sitting atop the bus stop structures.

“Passing trains are transformed into a dynamic canvas whereupon digital projections of film ranging from nature to the experimental are mapped onto the moving cars. This turns the train into a platform for community expression, amplifying the arts, providing opportunities for individually curated exhibitions and film festivals.

“Site furniture rides atop the embedded rails, giving users ultimate flexibility in making the space their own. The furniture’s modularity allows it to be further configured to serve as platform space for buskers, actors and exhibiting artists.

“The overwhelming immensity of the train’s presence on-site is reduced by a sculptural screening element running along both sides of the track. Composed of rail and railroad ties, the sculpture allows for generous views to the other side of the street, while simultaneously providing a safety barrier between the train and other users. Lighting embedded within the rail ties and connected to the solar panel network is also choreographed with the trains passing through the site. A robust ecological infrastructure is also proposed for the Switchyard. Large swaths of native prairie plantings flow through the site, further grounding it to the regional context, providing urban habitat and allowing for stormwater mitigation.”

Community involvement

Part of what made the design contest distinctive is the level of community input throughout the process.

“We received community feedback at a number of events and through our website,” said Jane Choi, an associate professor of horticulture and landscape architecture who is also part of the Urban Lab. “These designs will be looked at by planners and the Downtown Development Authority as well as by community members and other stakeholders. Without a doubt, this event expanded our thinking relative to urban planning, both for professionals and students.”

For more information, visit The Institute for the Built Environment is in CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences. The Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture is in CSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.