Exploring New Ideas Fusing Food and the Built Environment

Riddle me this: How might you develop a site near Denver’s super-hot RiNo (but not in it), and close to the soon-to-be-reinvented National Western Center (but not immediately adjacent), and not-exactly on the redeveloping Platte River nor the transformational Washington Street thoroughfare? Given that the five-acre parcel is across 51st Street from what will be a new industrial park, an extension of that in-demand program makes sense… except that you’re required to present an extensive residential program for your development proposal!

This was the challenge given in February to graduate students in real estate development at both the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business and the University of Denver Daniels College of Business as part of the annual NAIOP Real Estate Challenge. Each school forms development teams that create a clear development proposal for the given site, including market research, a program of uses, a detailed vision for financing and Pro Forma, and for the physical development. Each May, the strongest team from each school presents its development proposal to a jury of local real estate leaders who announces that year’s winner at a gala of several hundred real estate professionals.

This year, RNL served as the architectural resource for one of the DU teams. RNL professionals from both the Public Architecture Studio and UDLA met weekly with seven DU students to assist them in analyzing the site, clarifying their programmatic vision, testing various programmatic concepts, and eventually creating a distinctive vision for the architecture and public realm conveyed through renderings like the one here.

The ultimate vision for their neighborhood, named Roots at 51st, was built around a concept that blurred the lines between residential and industrial uses and between urban and agrarian development patterns.

Food production integrated at various scales distinguishes the community vision, which includes:

  • Raised planters for residents in lieu of parallel parking
  • Small community greenhouses at each floor of the multifamily residential buildings
  • Light-industrial buildings serving small-scale local food producers through amenities such as common industrial kitchens
  • A large-scale production greenhouse with a public face in the form of a destination farm-to-table restaurant

The Outcomes: Win, Win, Win

While the DU team was awarded runner-up and took home accolades and scholarships, the project allowed RNL to test new concepts for the sustainable city of the future. We are actively looking for opportunities to allow these new mixed-use typologies and innovative twists on multifamily residential to infuse themselves into our current and future work, adding value to both our clients and our cities.