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UF’s Citylab-Orlando partners with UCF to benefit students, support city

October 26, 2009
With a Gator chomp from Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, the city welcomed the University of Florida to downtown Orlando as the program moves into the University of Central Florida Center for Emerging Media.

“Partnering with our two landmark universities, it couldn’t get much better than this, could it?” Dyer said on Oct. 26 during a ceremony and open house at the center celebrating the partnership between UF and UCF.

The UF research and teaching center, Citylab-Orlando, an initiative of the College of Design, Construction and Planning, joins other programs at the UCF Center for Emerging Media, including the UCF Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, a graduate video-gaming school, and other UCF programs.

UF President Bernie Machen, UCF Provost and Executive Vice President Terry Hickey, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Center for Emerging Media Director Ben Noel each spoke about the universities’ partnership and what it will mean to UF and UCF students as well as the city of Orlando.

“Orlando has always been one-of-a-kind,” Machen said during the ceremony. “There is a fusion of culture and commerce, and imagination and industry, emerging here. If you want to build a uniquely great city, you will need uniquely great architects.”

Citylab-Orlando advanced from concept to reality through a substantial collaborative effort between DCP Dean Christopher Silver, DCP Director of Development Lynne Capece, School of Architecture Director Martin Gold and Architecture Professor Michael Kuenstle on the UF side and Orlando architects, UCF administration and representatives from the city of Orlando. Although the design economy has been hit quite hard, the project received great in-kind support and long-term commitments to support the initiative, including a gift from landscape architecture alumnus Bill Coan.

Citylab-Orlando will benefit students in both Orlando and Gainesville. Orlando-based students ultimately will have an opportunity to earn a professional architecture degree through a partnership among UF, UCF and Valencia College. Silver and Gold worked closely with UCF Provost Terry Hickey and VC President Dr. Sandy Shugart on a curricular model for the Orlando market.

This led to the formulation of a 2+2+2 program involving VC (2 years), UCF (2 years) and UF (2 years), culminating in the Master of Architecture. Valencia’s program has been in place for quite some time and UF accepts some VC student into its upper division program already. However, there is not enough capacity at UF to meet the demand. UCF plans to accept its inaugural ‘upper division’ class in the Fall of 2010 and UF is planning to have its satellite graduate program established in the Citylab-Orlando facility in 2012.

In the meantime, Citylab-Orlando is benefitting Gainesville-based UF students immediately by engaging them in Orlando design projects, allowing them to gain much from exposure to the city’s metropolitan landscape.

“Citylab-Orlando provides our students a unique opportunity to engage in the work of building in a great city and to learn by doing,” Silver said.

Kuenstle and Gold have worked closely with Brooke Bonnet, Deputy Director of Economic Development for the City of Orlando on a grant to fund a graduate student project that will develop conceptual design alternatives for enhancements to the ‘Bridge District’ in downtown Orlando.

“The project seeks to optimize the integration of the new Amway Center with other uses and to explore urban design strategies that respond to the expansion of I-4,” Gold said. “As I-4 is expected to expand and include another travel lane in each direction, it will require a substantial reconstruction and will provide opportunity for the space below the overpass.”

According to Kuenstle, the Citylab-Orlando initiative has proven to be a great asset this year and the funded design research accomplished during the current semester received overwhelming support from the leadership at all levels of the university, city and design profession in the Orlando community.

“Citylab is no longer just an ‘idea’ that was floated for many years within the School of Architecture; it has now become a reality due to the tireless efforts and dedicated support of Director Martin Gold and Dean Christopher Silver,” Kuenstle said. “We now have a place to study and work within a unique urban environment where talented students and dedicated faculty can engage some of the difficult design and planning issues that are part of the everyday life of our current urban condition.”

Gold and Kuenstle both emphasized their excitement in the collaborations made possible by having a physical presence in Orlando for the UF center. UF has the opportunity to not only collaborate with the other programs at the UCF Center for Emerging Media, but also with local design professionals and with the city.

“The School of Architecture is pleased to have the opportunity to engage students in conceptual visioning and schematic alternatives that will help the City of Orlando formulate its downtown development strategy,” Gold said.