Taking Buildings Down

Posted on 04 May, 2014



Taking buildings down aims to remedy three conditions of architecture through this new form of creative destruction (removal):

1.  there is no protocol for architects to work in the places they know best (and for which they could be the most useful):  their communities.

2.  architects lead from behind, asked on to create an aesthetic vision for a project once an economic opportunity has already been identified.

3.  architecture is service oriented and largely reactive; rarely is it proactive and entrepreneurial.

Taking buildings down applies design thinking to all phases of a building’s life and aims to reconcile the reality of a service profession with the popular image of the civic intellectual and master builder.



This competition is initiated by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD),

using Community Block Grant Development funds allocated by the Hurricane Sandy relief bill and

modeled on the successful Race to the Top program of the Department of Education.

HUD will allocate 1.5 billion dollars from its discretionary spending to a series of architect-led teams

that develop innovative design approaches for removing buildings in their communities.


The mission of HUD is to tackle the problems of our country’s urban landscape;

the pre-eminent challenge of the 21st century American city is undeniably that of climate change.

It is a unique problem with both its causes and effects implicating our urban land use policy.

Our cities must become more dense, more healthy, and more desirable places to live in order to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions which lead to climate change, while at the same time become more resilient to flooding, and flexible in the face of more frequent and more violent storms that result.

The technology is at our disposal to create the most sustainable buildings, districts, and neighborhoods that would allow us to tackle this problem holistically.

In mature urban environments, however, the potential of these new constructions is not the question, but rather, where will they go?

New urban space is required for new development that is not dependent on the innovative spirit of developers.


This competition challenges architects to play a lead role in shaping the future of the American city.  Current preservation regimes will be disrupted by first asking what should be removed rather than what should be saved.

New pockets, swaths, and territories of urban land will emerge, not from the tabula rasa visions of early modernity or the relentless push of highways through our cities but through scenarios unique to each place, led by a local vision, and reliant on the participation of the community.


What (building, utility, piece of infrastructure, etc) are we better off without?



Architects from across the United States are invited to form and lead teams to propose the removal of buildings, utilities, and infrastructure in their communities.  HUD is looking for broad based local involvement in these plans and require that teams include at least 5 member organizations from the following list, in addition to the lead architect:

Housing Authorities

Development Companies

Transit Authorities

Non-profit advocates (only one to count of the following:  housing, transit, cultural)

Public or Private K-12 Educational Institutions

Higher Educational Institutions

Local Government Services (Police, Fire, Waste Management, etc)

Local, State, or Federal Parks

Preservation/ Historical Groups

Community Boards


These organizations may find potential benefit in the newly available space, but agreements about the future use of the space are expressly prohibited.

The proposals are to strictly avoid any visualizations, massing studies, or spatial diagrams the future use of the space.

All groups choosing to participate must have been chartered more than (5) years prior to the registration of the competition.

Any groups claiming non-profit status must prove their registration with the IRS.




The competition is arranged in three phases:



Registration Opening- September 1, 2013

Registration Deadline-December 1, 2013

Phase One Submission Deadline-March 1, 2014

Phase One Notifications-March 15, 2014


Phase one is open to Architects only.  This is a brainstorming phase, and is intended to outline the conceptual framework for the given projects.  Architects are to identify areas of intended work and possible team members.


Phase One Submission Requirements-

Project Narrative-1000 word project description to include the spatial characteristics of the site before and after a potential intervention and the conceptual framework for the approach.

Project Plan- 11×17 site plan (scale chosen by competitor) clearly outlining area of buildings to be removed.

Potential Partners-Write a single paragraph about each of 10 potential project partners.  Explanations should include basic descriptions about the organization’s mission and history and why they might be interested in the project.



Phase One Notifications-March 15, 2014

Phase Two Submission Deadline-June 1, 2014

Phase Two Notifications-July 1, 2014


Phase two focuses on the development of the project teams.  Participants selected to participate in phase two will be notified promptly, and architects are to begin formal negotiations with collaborators.


Phase Two Submission Requirements-

Updated Project Narrative-3000 project description to include the social and cultural history of the area and what impact your project will have on the human conditions of the site.

Updated Project Plan- 11×17 site plan including spatial diagrams:  circulation, program, natural features, human ecology, etc.  .

Project Elevations-Representation of all buildings in project area, format at discretion of the team.

Building Descriptions-One page descriptions of each building located in the project area..  Include block, lot, and address, date of construction, construction type, number of stories, current use, and a paragraph describing the building’s physical and social history.

Partners-Letter of intent to participate from each of the member organizations



Phase Two Notifications-July 1, 2014

Phase Three Submission Deadline-September 1, 2014


Phase Three aims to outline a workable project.  After the conceptual approach has been addressed and the community participants are on board, this is the phase in which the logistical considerations are addressed.


Phase Three Submission Requirements-

Updated Project Narrative-10,000 word project description, to include a conceptual argument, an analysis of the project area, and the process of implementation.

Updated Project Plan- 11×17 black and white site plan (scale 1:100, 1:1000, 1:10,000 or 1:100,000) clearly outlining project area.

Project Elevations-Black and white photographs of all buildings in project area

Building Descriptions-One page descriptions of each building to be removed.  Include block, lot, and address, date of construction, construction type, number of stories, current use, and a paragraph describing the building’s physical and social history.

Partners-Letter of intent to participate from each of the member organizations

Drawing-Draw the void

Budget-Outline land acquisition costs, surveying, demolition, legal, and other professional fees associated with the project.  Include phasing if required.

Sequence DiagramsOutline legal and logistical process for acquiring and removing buildings in the project footprint.

11. Jury members: Indicate individual names or generic categories with brief descriptions.

12. Evaluation guidelines: Indicate the criteria used to evaluate the entries


Projects will be rated on their ambition and practicality.
There are not a set number of winners nor a set allocation each team will receive.



The jury will be organized in two parts.  Jury A will judge both Phase I and Phase III; Jury B will judge Phase II.


Jury A:

Annabelle Selldorf

Michael Kimmelman

Bjarke Ingels

Carol Willis

Charles Waldheim

Sean Donovan

Phylis Lambert


Jury B:

Will be composed of 10 leaders of community groups, selected from around the country.  They will teleconference on the entries for Phase II.



Participants will be notified immediately, via email, of the decision regarding their entries on each phase.  The final winners will be published on our website and included in our press releases, using the names requested prior to publication.



Registrants are to send an email to takingbuildingsdown@gmail.com by midnight on the date of final registration and will be issued a 5-digit project number and password for the ftp site.

Submissions will be anonymous; teams will label each document in their proposal with the project number.

Submissions are to be delivered via ftp site ftp@takingbuildingsdown.com by midnight on the deadline for submissions.   Access is via the 5-digit project number and password.

There are no geograhical or scale limitations to the competition entries.

Submissions are accepted from any regions of the United States and are not limited to the geographical areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

Awards are determined by merit, not by scope, complexity, or timeline.

Project funds are to be used for the purchase of selected property, demolition costs, and professional fees only.  No award money is to be used to construct a building or for construction design fees.

Eminent domain is not to be used in the acquisition of property for removal.

There is no preferable format for the creation of rules and guidelines for the use of funds.   The formation of authorities, corporations, or governing bodies is at the discretion of members.

Specific climate strategies are allowed but not required for the design brief.

Buildings may be removed in whole or in part.

One registered architect is to be included in each project team.

Other members of the design team may be from any professional background.

Employees, or family members of employees of HUD are not allowed to participate.

All entries are the property of the competition winners and may be published without further notification.

Questions about the competition can be addressed in email only to  takingbuildingsdown@gmail.com.  A link to a FAQ page will be sent to registrants once it has been deemed necessary.