Mississippi Rebuilding

Dan Solomon, Stephanie Bothwell, John Torti, Ellen Dunham-Jones, Dhiru Thadani

The panel reads along as Carla DiStefano dissects an RFP, explaining where to stick to the text and where to be flexible.

Several prior jury chairs -- including reliable Charter Award winner John Torti, principal at Torti Gallas -- revealed the inner workings of the Charter Awards to an attentive audience. The quality of work is hardly lacking, although the juries did want to emphasize that advancement of the Charter principles mattered more than sheer novelty or competence.

Most panelists agreed that a strong visual presentation, along with a concise textual element, will capture the hurried jury's attention.

Torti recommended that a binder must grab attention within the first ten seconds ("when I get the Sunday paper, I turn to the funnies first"). Ways of capturing that attention include:
  • Clarity counts; use easily understood graphics that clearly explain what viewer is looking at, and link renderings to the plan. Graphics should convey the experience of the place.
  • Preparing a storyboard outline for the project.
  • Summarize the project's context, program, troubles, and strengths within the first page.
  • Tailoring the presentation to the tastes of the jury, whose composition is announced well in advance.
  • Designing binders separately, to avoid obviously look-alike binders.
  • Using distinctive elements -- for instance, uncommon rendering techniques like ink line drawings instead of watercolor.
  • Entering block/street/building or region/city/town scale projects, since the competition is greatest in the neighborhood scale.
  • Paying attention to details and editing carefully, since misspellings can easily cloud a juror's judgment.
  • Having designers who thoroughly understand the project and the principles, not the marketing team, prepare the entry.
  • Waiting until projects have been at least partially implemented before submitting.
The panel also discussed how the format of the awards might change to welcome work outside of new neighborhoods -- the bread and butter of New Urbanist work to date. Perhaps breaking out of the three categories into the 27 principles of the Charter, or separating built and unbuilt work, might invite work in new categories like landscape, lighting, and codes.

Torti contends that for his firm, awards are a way of drawing talent, not clients. Larry Beasley, a recent winner and past juror, notes that the Charter Awards are a way of advancing debates within the CNU, and instantly getting interesting ideas noticed by a cadre of well-connected New Urbanists.