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Sprinting Toward Resilience: DLR Group Wins AIA Phoenix Metro Competition

Dan Clevenger

When a planner, high performance designer, architect, and two designers are energized around an important topic, a lot happens in an hour. In November, five DLR Group teammates did just that, taking top honors at AIA Phoenix Metro’s Imagination Cube Reimagined Design + Making Competition. The competition challenged teams from Phoenix-area design firms with a provocative question about resilience and provided a limited material palette. Then, a fast-paced live design event unfolded, with just one hour to conceptualize and build responses before a jury panel selected winners.

The Charge: Rewind 200 years. What do your ancestors advise / indicate / prophesize that you need in your community to sustain and enrich your family and or community’s health and wellbeing? How do we develop resilience? It could manifest in your yard, neighborhood park, town square, city center, recreational or wilderness area.

The Materials: Six 8.5×11 sheets of colored paper, One sheet of chipboard, one sheet of foamcore (on which the response had to be displayed), scissors, glue, pens and pencils.

Our design team brought a unique approach to the competition, mirroring the multi-disciplinary and multi-generational nature of our firm. The team zoomed out further than other groups did…a lot further. Rather than focus on a specific building or aspect of the built environment, they started with a 10-minute systems-thinking sprint, defining what they coined The Rosetta Stone. “The Rosetta Stone is the three aspects of resiliency needed in any future: necessity, cultural, and institutional,” explains High Performance Designer Meha Sharma, LEED AP, RESET AP, WELL AP. Once the team had this in place, they spent 20 minutes rapidly iterating around how to physically manifest the three aspects with the limited materials available. As ideas gestated, one thought kept percolating upward: resilience is a composite…none of the Rosetta Stone aspects as a singular object would truly guide a resilient culture.

With just 30 minutes left, a leap from 2D sketches to 3D assemblage was made. The sheet of chipboard was sliced into 33 squares with slits. Each aspect of the Rosetta Stone was assigned unique colors. An interlocking cascade of chipboard squares and colored paper overlays started to emerge. Architect Aaron Forbes, AIA, realized, “as we kept building and layering, it started to make itself, just like a resilient culture becomes self-actualized.”

Just like in any real-world design project, the jury threw a curve ball with five minutes remaining. The design teams would not have the opportunity to present their work. Whatever was on the board when the timer went off was all the jury would consider. The team quickly added the Rosetta Stone narrative and color codes to the board and stepped away just as “pencils down!” was called. It worked: the jurors unlocked the meaning of the colored assemblage by using the Rosetta Stone key.

In the words of the jury chair, Joe Johnson, founder of Agritopia, “The planar structure illustrated the complexity of the design challenge, highlighting that there wasn’t a single solution to the challenge, but multiple.”

The esteemed jury also included Kris Floor, FASLA; Eddie Jones, FAIA; Rob Miller, AIA, former director of the University of Arizona College of Architecture Planning and Landscape Architecture; and, Elena Rocchi, Director of the School of Architecture at Arizona State University. Our first prize was five stunning resin cubes from renowned Arizona artist Mayme Kratz. – and the pride of working together to think BIG on an important issue. “It was amazing to take the fundamental building blocks of design thinking – which we normally apply over months and even years – and make design happen in just one hour,” says Planner Isheanesu Tendayi.

The full DLR Group competition team included Designer Andrea Brophy; Designer Amalia De Sardi; Architect Aaron Forbes, AIA, NCARB; High Performance Designer Meha Sharma, WELL AP, LEED AP BD+C; and Planner Isheanesu Tendayi.

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Connect with me to start a conversation ➔ Dan Clevenger, Global Cultural+Performing Arts Leader

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