The Urban Catalyst Concept

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Virginia Tech


Urban catalysts are new redevelopment strategies comprised of a series of projects that drive and guide urban development. Redevelopment efforts in the past, such as urban renewal and large-scale redevelopment projects, have often jeopardized the vitality of downtowns. The difference between the urban catalyst and these redevelopment strategies is that catalytic redevelopment is a holistic approach, not a clean-slate approach, to revitalizing the urban fabric. Many cities have considered urban catalysts as a means for revitalization. Among the most noted catalytic projects are sports stadiums and arenas: however not all catalytic projects have to be designed at such a grand scale, nor do all cities possess a threshold of support to successfully sustain such developments.

This thesis design project examines the significance of the urban catalyst as a means of urban revitalization. The urban catalyst theory says design can be linked to place through the study of contextual factors in urban design. These factors include: morphological, social, functional, perceptual, visual, and temporal. For the urban catalyst to respond to its setting it also must possess a strong sense of place and authenticity.

Each component of my research supports my position that each city has unique attributes that can serve as basic models or seeds for urban redevelopment. These components are used as a basis for developing a design framework that is applied to two sites in Memphis, Tennessee.

This position is tested through the contextual analysis and design of two projects that are of major significance to Downtown Memphis, Tennessee. The first demonstrates the role that Court Square plays as a critical social and spatial element in the revitalization of the center city. The second is the revitalization of the South Side Neighborhood, an area full of history and character.



urban revitalization, sense of place, urban catalyst