Plan Philly: Student Design Competition Exhibits at the Philadelphia Center for Architecture

David Bender, coordinator at the Philadelphia Center of Architecture, showed a submission from the 2011 Ed Bacon Student Design Competition.

Imagine the I-95 corridor running into Center City becoming a power-generating station. Cars would run over sensors embedded into the deck of the highway and the pressure created would then generate electricity.

This creative gem, thought up by a group of Temple University students, is exactly the sort of outside-the-box thinking that all successful entrants in the annual Ed Bacon Student Design Competition have in common.

The competition, created in honor of Edmund Bacon, the legendary executive director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission from 1949 to 1970, asks college students to re-imagine a section in Philadelphia that poses difficult urban planning and design issues. Presented by the Philadelphia Center for Architecture, located at 1218 Arch St., the contest and its $5,000 grand prize attracts not only local students but international teams as well.

“This year we have entries from Russia, Iran, Australia, India, Spain, all over the place,” said David Bender, the Philadelphia Center of Architecture’s coordinator. “It’s interesting to get the perspectives from around the world, especially from people who can’t get on the ground in Philadelphia and actually experience the space themselves.” Never stepping foot in Philadelphia doesn’t appear to be too much of a handicap; last year’s grand prize winners were from Canada.

That grand prize winning effort, along with the four “Special Jury Prize” winning entries in categories like sustainability and walkability, is currently on display in the Philadelphia Center of Architecture. Submitted back in the fall of 2011, entries faced the challenge of how to best integrate I-95 into the fabric of Philadelphia.

Starting in October, a new batch of competitors will be sending in their creative and practical solutions for re-imagining the 30th Street Station transportation hub. The best ideas will be rewarded with prizes next spring, but all the entries will be kept by the Philadelphia Center of Architecture in its continued effort to create a repository of unique solutions for not only students, but urban planning professionals to take from.

“The ideas that actually wind up getting implemented, may not even be from the winning entry,” Bender said. “You never know where great ideas are going to come from and 50 years down the road where they are going to lead.”

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