Fall Charrette 2014: Students Tackle Massive Redevelopment in San Francisco


AAU School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture Partners with Urbanlab from Chicago for Redevelopment of the Caltrain Railyards


The Academy of Art University Schools of Architecture and Landscape Architecture were honored to run their annual Fall Charrette in collaboration with Martin Felsen and Sarah Dunn, principals of Chicago urban design firm Urbanlab, from September 5th to September 8th, launching the new semester with great, positive momentum.

Urbanlab is a planning and design firm known for their groundbreaking research and development of visionary planning and design solutions to urban problems at every scale: from the architectural to the regional. Their focus on research methods and the processes of experimentation inspired AAU students to produce innovative and effective urban designs.

This year the subject of the Charrette was a proposed redevelopment of the CalTrain rail yard, located at 4th and King, just a few blocks from 601 Brannan, the home of the schools of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. The Charrette is a several-day intensive design exercise where onsite and online, graduate and undergraduate students from Architecture and Landscape Architecture work closely together on a new master plan and design for an ongoing San Francisco urban redevelopment project.  As San Francisco plans for new high-speed rail infrastructure and transit system expansion, the 4th and King rail yard are is the site of intense interest for re-development by the city of San Francisco. It represents the unique opportunity of redeveloping a large brownfield site into a thriving urban community close to San Francisco’s downtown area. AAU students participating in the Charrette had the opportunity to learn urban design principles based on immediate real-world design and planning issues.

The Charrette culminated in a Public Event attended by Architects, Landscape Architects, Planners and Engineers who listened to 7 student group presentations, providing feedback and initiating debate and discourse about the future of San Francisco. Representatives from the City of San Francisco Planning Department, architect, Maia Small and landscape architect, Lizzy Hirsch from the San Francisco Department of Public Works were part of the audience review panel. Susan Gygi, senior planner and engineer with the SF Planning Department and project leader for the CalTrain site concluded the night’s events with a brief description of the timeline and challenges for the real project(s) being studied and considered as part of the evolution of transportation, planning and growth in this sector.

The Fall 2014 Charrette exceeded our expectations, and proved to be a great cross disciplinary collaboration that exposed the students to real world planning issues, innovative solutions, and conceptual critical thinking.