Student Design for Combined Bookstore-Residence Wins Helix Prize

Linh Phan drafted plan to fit mixed-use urban environment

Linh Phan, a student in the Architecture, Urban Planning + Design program, is the winner of the 2020 Helix Prize.

Every fall, Helix Architecture + Design sponsors the Helix Prize, a competition and scholarship for UMKC second-year Architectural Studies students. Professor John Eck teaches the studio, and faculty and members of the architectural professional community judge the competition.

This year, the competition challenge was to design a (fictional) live-work bookstore in the Columbus Park neighborhood of Kansas City, Missouri. This small bookstore would be located at the southeast corner of 5th and Harrison, and would have an attached residence for the store owner.

Eck explained the concept behind the assignment.

“Most of us grew up with the notion that ‘work’ happened in one place, ‘home’ happened in another, and a car ride happened in between,” he said. “This is a fairly recent phenomenon; however, one that could only happen with the advent of affordable automobiles in the 1940s and ‘50s. This spurred the growth of the suburbs and the ever‐increasing distances between places of work and places of residence. Prior to this time, most people living in cities relied on public transportation or simply walking; commuting distances were negligible compared to today.”

“The people with the shortest commute were those who owned small private businesses, especially retail,” Eck said. “Restaurateurs and shop owners often lived over or adjacent to their places of business, allowing them a short trip down the stairs or across the alley to open up each morning. But thanks to the expansion of the suburbs, this economical and efficient way of living and working essentially disappeared in most American cities by the 1970s. In the past decade, however, the appeal of this way of life has experienced a resurgence, bolstered by concerns about pollution and time wasted by daily commutes.”

The competition judges named Phan and student Wyatt Beard as finalists.

Judges cited Phan’s entry as “a very clear courtyard-type plan … transformed to suit its site and the unique problem of a retail space directly adjacent to a residence. There is a suitable separation between the two; the line is there, but it is a blurred line. The quality of light, both through the courtyard and the fritted windows, would make the bookstore feel open, welcoming and warm.” The overall simplicity of the scheme, they felt, would create a contemplative “quiet” in the bookstore, while still very clearly being a retail establishment.

The Department of Architecture, Urban Planning + Design is part of the UMKC College of Arts and Sciences.

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Published: Dec 17, 2020

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