Rethink Bayonne, the residential design competition hosted by Rethink Urban Design, has crowned its winner after facing multiple complications due to COVID-19. In an interview with the Bayonne Community News, CEO of Rethink Urban Design Paul Garcia revealed how the design competition played out.
Rethink Urban Design announced the competition last fall after planning the event over the summer when COVID-19 cases were low. But the competition officially started in December, after a postponement due to a second surge of COVID-19 that would foreshadow the complications ahead.
Teams were formed after registration closed on Dec. 4, with a deadline in late February to submit their final designs for judging. Teams had to craft their designs based on the lot dimensions of Garcia’s 25 by 50 home on West 13th Street.
While there were elaborate plans for an in-person, multi-day event during the competition and leading up to crowning the winner, the thing shifted to virtual because of COVID-19. This caused the event to lose investors, according to Garcia. He said they didn’t see the potential of virtual events for a real asset such as a home.
The finale became a virtual two-day design festival, which was recorded and is available on YouTube. Over the course of six hours, over 30 people attended via Zoom.
Across all social networks, Garcia said over 200 people watched the event that featured a number of guest speakers who discussed housing issues affecting Bayonne. Among them was the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Director of Affordable Housing Research and Technology Regina Gray as well as partners related to finance.
You’re a winner, baby
The contest ended on Feb 21. Only two concepts were submitted despite there being more than two teams.
Garcia said this was “unfortunately much lower than the amount we thought we were going to have.”
“That was one of the biggest disappointments here really,” Garcia said. “Some people signed up to compete, but generally did not participate in the competition at all.”
The two teams met on their own, some opting for virtual interactions while others meeting in person.
The winning team was Arch 8, led by Hajdi Sinani, including Maryan Makar, Sal Delgado, Rob Barberio, Belinda Silverne, Saw Hla Nwe, Zeynep Kurt, and Isaac Kalema. The group primarily consists of professionals in the urban design field and alumni from the New York Institute of Technology, with one student.
Custom made for Bayonne
The winner was chosen because the design was specifically for Bayonne. Garcia applauded the thought that went into the design so that it fits the architecture of Bayonne. He said the other team’s design was more general.
“One of the things that was really compelling about the design is that they had a modular kind of structure,” Garcia said.
The winning design called for a multi-story, multi-family home with studio and one-bedroom units with green space on the roof. The design could be switched up; the layout of floors was independent from each other, meaning the floors could be interchanged seamlessly.
The winning design will be posted on a platform currently under development by Rethink Urban Design called Pueblo. However, Garcia, who is CEO of Pueblo, hasn’t been able to contact the winning team to upload the design. Once uploaded, the winning team can profit off their design as homeowners can purchase and use the design in Bayonne if their lots fit the dimensions.
COVID-19 was the main obstacle. And with the shift of the events to a virtual setting, participation of residents foundered.
“The population of Bayonne is aged,” Garcia said. “They’re not very tech savvy.”
It was hard to get the word out to residents who would benefit from the competition. People without digital acumen were not reached with online ads, Garcia said.
Another issue was that none of the virtual attendees were homeowners who could execute the design. But Garcia is optimistic that design contests will pick up steam in Bayonne, similar to how other municipalities such as Hoboken have embraced them.
Garcia said he’s working with New Jersey City University (NJCU) to make the competitions government-sponsored events.
According to Garcia, the government has an interest in doing things like this. Rethink Bayonne was poised to have city council involvement, but that did not pan out.
Garcia sees Rethink Urban Design becoming a government agency that helps people rebuild their communities through design competitions. He recently started mentoring a group from NJCU that will create a proposal to execute this plan.
Meanwhile, Garcia said that he and other leadership from Rethink Urban Design had to take a step back from the company due to finances. Not getting investor funding from the competition has put a temporary damper on things. But Garcia said the company’s efforts will start again with another design competition soon, this time with stronger backers so that the competition can make a real change.
“It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” Garcia said. “I felt that we brought a lot of people together that wouldn’t have been brought together.”
He touted Regina Gray’s support and added that Rethink Urban Design is looking into how it can become a research partner with HUD.
Garcia said Rethink Urban Design learned a lot about “the barriers that prevent people from getting into this type of competition.”
“The real issue is that people don’t have the time to come together to talk about this,” Garcia said. “There is a lot more work to be done so that we can actually bring forth the change that we wanted to make.”
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com.