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School of Architecture group receives entries to design urban rest stop beneath I-81

After crossing the dangerous Interstate 81, pedestrians often have to walk under the highway overpass on a dark, gloomy passageway.

But the passageway may soon become an inviting space for pedestrians with changes to its design and functionality.

UPSTATE, a part of Syracuse University’s School of Architecture, is hosting a contest to create an “urban rest stop” beneath the viaduct where I-81 meets the Connective Corridor, according to a document from the competition.  The temporary urban rest stop would display artwork, lighting and mobile facilities as a way for travelers and residents to engage with Syracuse’s culture.

Marc Norman, the director of the UPSTATE competition, said that the project will show that the highway “can be not just a barrier, but a connector.”

According to the competition brief, “The URS will use art to engage diverse communities in exploring the history, impact and potential of the highway by reimagining the rest stop — typically a utilitarian rural amenity — as an urban activator.”

After the first round was completed, the four finalists were announced.  The winner of the competition will be announced on April 3.  The winning design will be implemented in August near Forman Park, according to the brief.

Contestants were given a budget for the project and asked to submit a design that included certain elements from other organizations: the Photography and Literacy Project, the Urban Video Project, the Mobile Literacy Arts Bus and the South Side Initiative, according to the brief. The Photography and Literacy Project is a collaboration project that brings Syracuse students to city schools to work on video and photography projects.

The Urban Video Project operates electronic displays along the Connective Corridor, while the Mobile Literacy Arts Lab is a renovated bus that serves as a mobile classroom for arts education in Syracuse city schools.  The South Side Initiative leads partnership programs between the university and the community to revitalize Syracuse’s South Side.

All of these organizations focus on cultural education, so the contestants were asked to focus on similar goals, Norman said. Contestants were asked to make a design that could sustainably survive in an outdoor environment for five years and to focus on building a community.

“Proposers are tasked with creating designs to enliven the sites and display frameworks and projection surface supporting and foregrounding the artworks. Spaces should encourage viewing, lingering, interaction and conversation for visitors,” the competition brief stated.

Two different “design juries” judge the two different stages of the competition.

The judges will consider entries based on competition guidelines and how well the design will use the space allotted to achieve the goal, according to the brief.

Norman said he has several expectations for how the campaign will play out. He said bringing the community together and educating people about the arts and culture of Syracuse were a couple of the main focuses.  He said he hopes that this urban rest stop, which is different from the traditional highway rest stop, will be a model for other cities.

Said Norman: “The goal is to create an example of how you can enliven what people see as an area you want to avoid.”

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