BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Two faculty members in the University at
Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning have won an
international design competition with their proposal that the
public be given free rein to take over derelict strip mall sites
like Buffalo's Central Park Plaza and design and build their own
urban communities in a manner that would be, they say, "not unlike
the settling of the American frontier."
This idea, and the plan to implement it, was developed by
Stephanie Davidson, clinical assistant professor of architecture,
and Georg Rafailidis, assistant professor of architecture, and it
has won for them the first prize in the juried international
architectural competition, "Strip Appeal."
The contest was launched by the University of Alberta's
City-Region Studies Centre in an effort to come up with unique ways
to redesign and reuse strip malls. It reflects a growing interest
in remaking commercial sites that, in many cities throughout North
America, including Buffalo, are derelict, abandoned or in serious
The competition asked for designers' "wildest ideas" about how
to use the malls. It drew more than 100 entries from 11 countries
and has been getting attention from developers as far away as
The winning Davidson-Rafailidis Buffalo-based submission,
"Free-Zoning," focuses on Buffalo's abandoned and derelict Central
Park Plaza. It calls for the city to lift all zoning restrictions
and give the property over to city dwellers to create their own
houses and/or workplaces using materials salvaged and sorted from
the site after a careful and deliberate demolition of the existing
They propose that people settle their plots with materials
quarried from the existing site, and be free to define how they
wanted to live. The effort, they say, "would, without a doubt,
result in profusion of building types."
The competition entries have been on display in Edmonton,
Alberta, since December and a short list of entries, including that
by Davidson and Rafailidis, will be touring the U.S. and Canada.
"Free-Zoning" will be published in a book on the competition and
also will be featured in Curb magazine, a regional publication of
the U of A City-Region Studies Centre. Some of the competition
entries, including "Free-Zoning," are described and pictured online
Strip malls originated in the 1920s but proliferated in the
1950s. They are mercantile establishments of varying sizes
comprised of a row of stores, business and restaurants along a road
or busy street, usually opening on a parking lot. Many face, or are
close to, major traffic arterials and tend to be self-contained
with few pedestrian connections to surrounding neighborhoods.
Although the strip malls continue to be built in new configurations
in rapidly growing cities like Charlotte, N.C., more than 11
percent of older malls across North America are abandoned, waste
sites that essentially have been left to go back to nature.