From its inception in 2005, the Ed Bacon Student Design Contest has charged college and university students from across the globe to explore the full potential of urban landscapes with an array of annual site-specific themes. This year, to mark its five-year anniversary, participants will be creating a plan for Philadelphia’s USA250 celebration in 2026: Designing the Fair of the Future. (Pre-registration is required to participate in the contest. The registration deadline is October 15. Click here for more information.)
I caught up with Andrew Dalzell, Administrator for the Ed Bacon Foundation, to talk about the competition and this year’s exciting theme.
First off, please tell me a little about the competition, and the impetus/inspiration behind its inception five years ago.
Ed Bacon was a big supporter of youth and the next generation of designers. He himself was a teacher for many years, and we wanted a program that would nurture this next generation as a means of honoring his legacy. A secondary impetus was to bring the creative attention of some of the brightest students and designers to Philadelphia, and harness their collective brainpower and imagination to re-envision some of the city’s most challenging (and exciting) sites.
Why students? What do they offer in particular to the competition?
The students are the main focus of this competition. Bacon himself had a special passion for educating the next generation of city planners. Students offer creativity, imagination and vision in their purest states. Students are prone to the outside-the-box thinking that we want to encourage and have trained on Philadelphia.
Why was the USA250 Celebration chosen as this year’s Ed Bacon Student Design Competition theme, as it won’t take place for another 16 years?
Planning for the Centennial (1876) and the Sesquicentennial (1926) began roughly a decade in advance. Planning for the Bicentennial (1976) started in the mid-1950s, and Ed Bacon himself wrote about the prospect as early as 1959, in his article “Tomorrow: A Fair Can Pace It”. So, given historical precedent, we felt that the time was right to start thinking about the concept, and start the conversation.
How much of an impact does an international exposition like the USA250 Celebration of 2026 have on long-term urban planning and redevelopment for the host city?
The potential impact of an international expo like USA250 on Philadelphia is enormous. Again looking to history, you see remnants of all the past centennial celebrations around Philadelphia, especially the Centennial of 1876, which was by far the most successful. Bacon saw the Bicentennial as a means for implementing many of Philadelphia’s long-range planning goals. Like Olympics or the World Cup, large celebrations are stimuli for massive investments in infrastructure for the host city or country. But with this great potential comes great challenges – the success of Olympics is not merely judged by the fortnight of competition, but by the impact of the event on the host city over the long term. In many ways, this competition is not just about designing for 2026; it’s designing for 2027 and beyond.
Besides cash prizes for the top student designs, will the submissions be given further consideration? Specifically, will these proposals be considered when planning for the actual exposition begins?
Hopefully, yes. This competition is the beginning of the conversation about USA250. The entries will for the first time put into images ideas that now only exist in our collective imagination. When the conversation gets going amongst the movers and shakers who can make this celebration a reality, the entries from this competition will be the only images around envisioning what it might look like. These ideas will be in pole position to be considered.
The pre-registration deadline for the competition is October 15. Please go to www.edbacon.org/USA250/ for more information.