Little Rock Neighborhood Draws Winning Design from Architects

A creative concept is poised to leave the drawing board and help invigorate a neighborhood with new, cutting-edge homes.

The Downtown Little Rock Community Development Corp., which owns the would-be site for the Rock Street Pocket Housing Project, formed a committee on Feb. 5 that explore the proposal.

One of the Visioning Committee’s charges is to determine how to make the award-winning design a reality.

“The main thing is organizing the necessary partners to make the development happen,” said Scott Grummer, volunteer and acting executive director of the Downtown Little Rock CDC.

Professional accolades for the project generated additional buzz as the project received an Honor Award for Regional & Urban Design from the American Institute of Architects this year.

The Downtown Little Rock CDC commissioned the residential development design from the University of Arkansas Community Design Center in Fayetteville with aid of financial sponsorship from the city of Little Rock and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Preliminary development cost estimates range between $1.1 million to $1.3 million.

Putting together solid estimates will be a logical next step in the planning process, Grummer said.

The site plan for the vacant, 1-acre parcel along the east side of Rock Street between 17th and 19th streets is laid out to accommodate nine modern homes built around a common area and playground.

“The project returns housing to the neighborhood, but instead of one house at a time, it presents a signature project,” said Stephen Luoni, director of the Community Design Center and distinguished professor at the UA’s Fay Jones School of Architecture.

The design calls for the use of structural insulated panel walls, preassembled and shipped to site, as important building blocks. The SIPs provide insulation opportunities for heating/cooling and sound.

The floor plans are divided among three styles of houses. A pair of two-story models with 1,300-1,400 SF under roof is on the north end of the property.

To the south of these homes is a trio of three-story models with 1,000-1,250 SF. The placement of these “tower” houses is offset relative to the northern neighbors. On the south end of the property are four, two-story models with 1,100-1,300 SF under roof.

Between this quartet and the tower houses is a playground and common area, which functions as a shared lawn linking private and public space. The houses also sport an array of balconies, porch and decks.

“As far as interior space and exterior space, we’ve really tried to tie it all together,” Luoni said. “We think it would be a good template for middle- to upper middle-income buyers. Good design is portable from one income level to another.

“The pocket house model was important. It really stretches the living space. We thought this would be a really nice galvanizing project for the Pettaway neighborhood.”

The boundaries of the neighborhood are Interstate 630 on the north, Interstate 30 on the east, Roosevelt Road on the south and Broadway on the west. The area includes the Governor’s Mansion and part of the Quapaw Quarter.

The Pettaway Neighborhood Association dates back to July 1994 when it was formed as the East Broadway Association. The name was changed in 2003 in honor of a former resident, Rev. Charles D. Pettaway (1886-1968).

The Rock Street Pocket Housing site has awaited redevelopment for more than a decade since a tornado finished off several dilapidated houses on the property.

The topography of the land makes dealing with stormwater runoff an important development consideration. The design outlines a system of bioswales and rain gardens, gently sloped, open channels of greenery; permeable weirs, pervious paving and more to address treatment, filtration and infiltration issues.

Pooling the mixture of public, private and nonprofit players to advance the project and amass the needed funds is expected to begin in earnest in the coming months.

Rock Street Pocket Housing Project Team

University of Arkansas Community Design Center: Stephen Luoni, director; Jeffrey E. Huber, assistant director; Cory Amos and James Coldiron, project designers

UACDC Students: Brendan Boatright, William Bobo, Suzana Christmann, Jeremy Goucher, Ginger Hefner, Michael Lyons, Akihiro Moriya, Carson Nelsen and Cesar Augusto Larrain Vaca

Client: Downtown Little Rock Community Development Corp.

Sponsors: City of Little Rock and National Endowment for the Arts

American Insitute of Architects Judging Comments:

“This is a great integration of inventive architecture and sustainable urbanism into a traditional, low-income fabric. The project does a very interesting and successful job of comingling variations of public and private space.By creating variations in the housing typology, building placement on the site and landscape treatments, the development proposal has appeal to multiple household types, creates private and shared space, and it completes the urban context of the neighborhood.

“It is thorough, achievable, and detailed with a fresh design approach that is also supportive of the context. The individual house designs do a remarkably good job of negotiating fronts to both the street and the communal space.”