Students' 'late entries' to 1913 design competition earn national honor

'Good Grids' studio directed by UB's Gregory Delaney wins inaugural Architect Magazine Studio Prize


Published October 7, 2016 This content is archived.

A University at Buffalo architecture studio conceived as a response to a century-old design competition on the urban grid has garnered national attention as a winner of Architect Magazine’s inaugural Studio Prize for excellence in studio curricula. 

Directed by Gregory Delaney, clinical assistant professor of architecture, the ‘Good Grids’ studio drew inspiration from a 1913 Chicago City Club ideas competition which sought to rethink – and re-energize – an urban grid that had grown formulaic in the name of efficient growth for turn-of-the-century America. 

‘Good Grids’ was one of six studio projects to receive the Architect Magazine award, selected from a pool of 152 entries made by faculty from over 80 architecture and design programs across the U.S. Organized to recognize excellence in the studio course as “the bedrock of architecture education,” the Studio Prize “provides a glimpse into the formation of ideas that will define architecture in the coming decades,” according to Architect Magazine

Delaney featured work from five of his students in the nomination - David Lin, Asuka Fujita, Nicholas Traverse, Rachel Chen, and Patrick Niedzwiecki. Each student will now share a $4,000 cash award from the Studio Prize sponsor, Sloan. 

The distinguished inaugural Studio Prize jury included Jeanne Gang, the founder of Chicago-based Studio Gang Architects and a MacArthur Fellow, Jimenez Lai, the founder of Bureau Spectacular in Los Angeles and a faculty member at UCLA, and Bernard Tschumi, professor of architecture and former dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University. 

Part studio, part traveling classroom, ‘Good Grids’ began with a five-week tour in summer 2015 to examine the diversity of the grid across 37 cities and 19 states – from Boston, to Columbus, Ohio, to Nashville, Tenn. Guided by this direct engagement with the grid and its many forms, students then developed their own entries to the 1913 competition. 

Some of the students’ plans contort Chicago’s grid to introduce curves and soft angles – adding an element of discovery or surprise in walking the grid. Another integrates the conventional elements of city and suburb – residential towers, perimeter blocks, cul-de-sacs, and megastructures – into concentric layers that dissolve the urban-suburban boundary. 

A century after the fact, ‘Good Grids’ couldn’t be more relevant, says Delaney, as current movements like ‘New Urbanism’ bring increased attention to urbanism and urban form. “We need to look again at the grid, and learn from its successes and its failures,” he adds. 

The ubiquity of the urban grid often belies its complexity, according to Delaney – particularly in America, where nearly every city and town was surveyed and planned before it was settled. 

“All too often…the grid is admired solely for its rationality,” says Delaney. “These ‘late entries’ to the competition promote a reinvestigation of gridded urban form—one that’s driven not only by efficiency and economy, but by artistic principles and spatial experience as a return to the generation of urban ideas over formulas.” 

For more information about the Studio Prize, visit

Honored Student Works

"Hidden Passage" by David Lin

While perfectly pragmatic and efficient, the repetitive Chicago gridiron fails to do one thing: surprise us. Hidden Passage offers a twisted variation on the logic of the grid. Rather than running continuous through-streets, each street is characterized by a convoluted set of 90-degree turns. At first, it seems to confuse and disorient, but just as quickly, one is drawn through the residential blocks by tree-lined streets to a spectacular discovery—a central spine of intense urban activity, dumb-belled by two civic greens. 

"Sewing Thread" by Asuka Fujita

Sewing Thread pulls back the grid to reveal a picturesque land-scape, conceptualizing a soft grid that is pliable and transform-able. The park offers a peaceful urban oasis—a vast public amenity for not only the residents in this quarter section, but for those in the surrounding neighborhoods. The large area of green also acts as a buffer to reduce noise from the busy streets at the block’s edges, invoking a pleasant calmness at the quarter section’s interior. To further express the dynamic condition of the grid, the build-heights of each block gradually increase from the southwest to the northeast, creating visual hierarchy and a welcoming entrance at the corner.

“Urban Fortress” by Nicholas Traverse

Urban Fortress presents varying domestic typologies—the residential tower, apartment slab, perimeter block, suburban cul-de-sac, and megastructure—wrapped into a concentric, gridded urban condition. Urban and suburban boundaries dissolve into rich borders of exchange. Multiple living machines coexist as a network to produce new experiences for its inhabitants…. Within the perimeter condition are a catalogue of housing types arranged in layers of stratum defined and pierced by the grid. The center is simultaneously dense (in terms of population density), and expansive (as open landscape). 

“Piax” by Rachel Chen

Piax (a synonym for pixels in the field of computer graphics), disguises the legibility and hierarchy of the typical urban plan. Streets are defined less as lines and edges, but rather as pixels of activity equal to individual houses, sheds, garages, gardens, commercial blocks, civic buildings, parks, and natural landscapes, across a uniformly jumbled, non-hierarchical field condition. While streets are masked by varying ground materials, they run through the scheme, occasionally opening up to form larger areas of hardscape for recreation and public gathering, all while connecting to the surrounding urban landscape and allowing for movement through the block. 

“re(PROUN)” by Patrick Niedzwiecki

In re(Proun), three pure geometries - circle, square and line – are juxtaposed against the relentless Chicago block. They offer extreme moments of difference and surprise, playing off the monotony of the gridiron. Each offer an opportunity for multifamily housing and mixed-use, all while defining unique urban experiences. The reflecting circle is an immense void within the fabric, marked by an enormous reflecting pool. The square grove is filled with a bosque of trees, offering shade and respite. The urban strip is an intensely urban cut through the grid as a dense pedestrian street of activity.