Mayor brings architects
tools to the table
by Jenny Gerow
study Charlottesville-based planning and architecture issues
in professor Maurice Coxs class.
By about 80 percent of mayoral issues are architectural
the hospital needs to expand
schools are failing due to
Im concerned for cities that dont
have architects in the room. Maurice Cox
Maurice Cox returned to the United States after several years
in Italy, he quickly noticed a marked difference between the two
cultures in the architects civic role.
Italy, architects are respected they are part of everyday
conversation. But [in the United States], architects opinions
are not really heard, said Cox, assistant professor of architecture
at U.Va. and co-principal of BCBG Architects.
Italian architects are regularly consulted on planning and design
issues in their localities, American local governments rarely
call on their citizen architects for advice, even those with a
national reputation for design excellence.
decided the best way to gain the ears of the politicians and civic
leaders who ultimately make most of the design choices for public
spaces was to join them.
have to re-establish the value of [architects] voices, and
we can only do that if we are where the decisions are being made.
He has spent six years on the Charlottesville City Council, initially
just listening. Later, after gaining the trust and
respect of his fellow council members, he began leading planning
initiatives designed to tackle issues of transportation, university
relations, public housing and development regulation.
he said with smile, I can use terms like mixed-use
and other councilors know what I mean. As a result of his
efforts, in July he was elected mayor of Charlottesville for a
would say about 80 percent of mayoral issues are architectural
the hospital needs to expand and is not sure where to go,
schools are failing due to housing patterns, middle-income neighborhoods
are in isolated pockets. Im concerned for cities that dont
have architects in the room.
has brought his students along for the ride, finding ways to blend
his civic responsibility to educate the public with his teaching
responsibilities at U.Va. In 2000, he organized a seminar for
students around the lack of middle-income housing in the Kellytown
neighborhood of Charlottesville. Students led community meetings
to determine the needs of the neighborhood, conducted research
and proposed a housing plan that is currently under construction.
another civic-minded course, architecture and planning students
worked together to evaluate zoning issues threatening the residential
character of the lower-income Fifeville neighborhood. From their
studio in a former auto dealership downtown, students produced
drawings and models for community members and invited them to
ended up proposing a transition-zone ordinance that reinforces
urban design qualities, like building parking lots behind rather
than in front of buildings, in mixed-use residential neighborhoods
bordering on commercial areas.
new zoning ordinance is the first to be approved in Charlottesville
in 30 years.
students work has since inspired a study that has identified
14 other commercial areas in the city that are expected to have
fall, all third-year undergraduate architecture students at U.Va.
are studying and proposing urban housing options in Charlottesville.
They also are looking at light rail transit for future transportation
needs, a special project of Coxs.
in the studio will be involved with the mayors first annual
City Council Institute on Urban Design, a symposium that will
invite nationally recognized designers to make suggestions for
collaboration of architecture faculty, students, citizens and
local government has led to a beneficial exchange. Several faculty
members of the School of Architecture have been politically active
on the local level for decades, lending their expertise to planning
commissions, school boards and water management authorities, all
of which find their way into studios at some level.
integrated approach marks a departure from many architecture programs
by pulling students out of the theoretical and into the practical
and present needs of their own surroundings. Unlike in many programs,
students are asked to interact with and make presentations to
members of the larger community. And they get the satisfaction
of seeing their studio projects built and their research applied
to changes in planning ordinances.
are really teaching leadership, Cox said. We want
to show the students the client model and show them how to redefine