Providence Innovation District Opens

August 27, 2019

Recently, we celebrated the ribbon cutting for Point225 in Providence, Rhode Island. In attendance were the Governor of RI, Mayor of Providence, the President of Brown University, the I-195 Commission, the design team, and many more.

Point225, the first building implemented as part of the Providence Innovation District, is a project that carries extra significance for Ayers Saint Gross. As designers of both the building and the Providence Innovation District Master Plan, we are thrilled to see the vision come to life. The rerouting of I-95/I-195 in Providence created new developable land and removed a longtime barrier between the historic Jewelry District, home of Brown University’s medical school, and the city center. Reclaiming a brownfield, the plan envisions a million-square-foot mixed-use community containing housing, a new hotel, retail, labs, research space, and a variety of tech start-up spaces.

The building houses Brown University’s School of Professional Studies, Cambridge Innovation Center, and Johnson & Johnson, among others. These tenant anchors bring together academics, start-ups, and executives that provide mentorship and funding – a compelling mix that fosters innovation and acts as a catalyst for research and development. The signature building is a gateway that welcomes visitors, residents, and employees into the district with street-level retail and a lively streetscape. The architecture is dynamic, with movement on the facades that echo the vibrancy and excitement of the innovation happening within the district. At the core, a central green contains a one-story district hall that is open to the public and provides flexible meeting and dining space.

We are excited to design a platform that supports innovators and urban infrastructure—the entrepreneurs, the institutions, and the culture that make Providence such an iconic college town. In a city with prestigious universities, a strong arts community, and a friendly start-up environment, Providence is proving to be an ideal case study for innovation district success.

It is always striking at these events how many people and organizations it takes to make a building like this possible and the commitment it takes to make it a success. The project was an incredible team effort with a great process. The planning and implementation of this project has required the consistent coordination among Ayers Saint Gross as the designers, developer partners, higher education partners, tenants, and the city. This level of collaboration was crucial, and the celebration was well-deserved.

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2016

December 16, 2016

It’s been an eventful year for Ayers Saint Gross. As we turn the calendar page, here’s a look at our most popular blog posts of 2016. We’re proud of what we accomplished with our clients, and are excited about what’s to come in 2017.

1. Luanne Greene is Ayers Saint Gross’ New President. Having distinguished herself as head of our Planning studio and as an acknowledged industry leader, Luanne rose to become the President of Ayers Saint Gross. She is the first woman to lead the firm in its 100-year history.

2. Anne Hicks Harney Elevated to AIA College of Fellows. Our Sustainability Director is now one of four FAIAs at Ayers Saint Gross, alongside Glenn Birx, Luanne Greene, and Adam Gross. Anne was also named a LEED Fellow this year.

3. Placemaking for People: How Stormwater Management Can Be a Design Asset. The unglamorous necessity of stormwater management can be a starting point for truly great design in landscape architecture.

4. Place Matters: Cortex Innovation Community Wins SCUP Award. Recognition from the Society of College and University Planning was a huge honor. Innovation Districts like Cortex provide a new paradigm for research, business, and job creation.

5. National Aquarium Waterfront Campus Plan Wins AIA Maryland Award. The National Aquarium is a world-renowned conservation organization, and we are excited to be a part of the revitalization of its campus.

6. 2016 Comparing Campuses Innovation Districts. We did a deep dive on Innovation Districts in our 18th annual Comparing Campuses poster. (We also have an online archive of all the Comparing Campuses posters.)

7. A Brief History of the Ayers Saint Gross ACUHO-I Housing Book. We’ve been creating these tiny but informative books since 2005 for the annual ACUHO-I conference. We’ll see you in Providence in June with the 2017 edition.

8. Telling a Story with Data. Lisa Keith, head of our space analytics studio, wowed the KA Connect Conference with her data visualization expertise.

9. Ayers Saint Gross Reaches $1B in LEED Construction. With the LEED Silver certification of Georgetown University’s Ryan and Isaac Halls, our firm crossed the billion-dollar mark in LEED certified construction. To celebrate, we created an infographic that illustrates exactly what $1,000,000,000 in LEED construction looks like.

10. Going Green, Staying Green: How to Create and Enduring, Sustainable Landscape. Align your sustainability goals with available resources, and consider the life cycle costs of your choices.

2016 Comparing Innovation Districts Poster

July 6, 2016

In 1998, the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) held its annual conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Ayers Saint Gross released our first Comparing Campuses poster.

This month, the SCUP Conference is again in Vancouver and we’re releasing our 18th Comparing Campuses poster. It’s fitting that we’ll be in the same city where this project launched, as this year’s edition is a return to the familiar figure-ground diagrams featured on the original poster, albeit with a twist. This year we decided to bring take our attention away from the cores of institutional campuses and focus instead on Innovation Districts.

Innovation Districts, and the economic ecosystems they create, are a platform for universities, research institutions, cities, and the private sector to maximize connections and increase proximity between people, ideas, and investors. In contrast to the isolated suburban research parks of the last century, today’s innovation districts are diverse, mixed-use communities that establish a critical mass of economic, research, and social activity in a dense, walkable area typically adjacent to an anchor institution or downtown.

Our process started with collecting base information and master plans for eleven existing or emerging Innovation Districts throughout the U.S. We ultimately decided on comparing the following aspects of each district:

  • Physical layout (scaled figure-ground)
  • Governance structure
  • Land area
  • Public open space area
  • Research/office space
  • Retail space
  • Housing units
  • Hotel rooms
  • Transit service
  • Distance to anchor institutions & downtown

We compiled the necessary data and information for each district from local government sources, development plans, master plans and reports, and other partner organizations involved with district planning and oversight.

It was a fascinating exercise and successful team effort to put together this poster, and we hope you enjoy exploring it as much as we enjoyed creating it. You can peruse this year’s edition, as well as the entire archive of Comparing Campuses here. It’s exciting to see how these districts are evolving and growing, and to imagine the impact they will keep making on our cities, economy, and collective future.

Place Matters: Cortex Innovation Community Wins SCUP Award

June 28, 2016

In 2002, several major St. Louis institutions had a great idea: they would combine forces to create the Cortex Innovation Community, a mixed-used community that would combine academia, government, and industry.

It was a visionary concept that saw how the isolated research parks of decades past didn’t really serve innovation or the innovators. People wanted to live and work in close proximity, and to catalyze and distribute the discoveries that came out of research more efficiently. With a $29 million dollar investment, the institutions set out to transform a decaying area into a center of research and enterprise.

There was one problem: the district’s physical environment did not support the vision. The envisioned hub of bioscience and technology innovation was just a loose collection of inwardly-focused buildings surrounded by pavement. The area lacked what one writer calls “collision density,” the rate of interaction between scientists and entrepreneurs.

By 2012, the district needed a new vision and significant investment in its physical place. The lead institutions and their developer partner, Wexford Science and Technology, asked the Ayers Saint Gross planning team to create the Cortex Innovation Community Master Plan. The plan was a vision to transform the 200-acre industrial corridor into a vibrant, 24-7, live-work-play-learn innovation community.

Transforming Cortex into a thriving innovation ecosystem required getting a diverse set of stakeholders to think and act like a community. Conversations with city officials, entrepreneurs, university and hospital leaders, students, researchers, and local developers revealed a disconnect between the users’ idea of community and its manifestation in the physical environment.

The integrated planning strategy brought together the following elements:

  • Program. People and ideas do not come together by chance. We tapped into lessons learned from rigorous study of the anatomy of research environments to envision shared spaces and innovative programming to support emerging companies.
  • Placemaking. Cortex needed an identity and a physical plan that mirrored the community everyone wanted. The new model focused on density and diversity of use, strong transit connections, animated streetscapes, and open space.
  • Investment. Access to capital and financing resources are essential to physical and programmatic transformations. A deliberate mixed-use land use strategy which included a TIF district set Cortex up for success.

Although the master plan is a long-term planning document, it needed to address immediate placemaking challenges, include the creation of a central park, flexible research space, and walkable streets with trees. Prioritizing development around a central node made it easy to envision Cortex a true community.


Just over three years since the completion of the master plan, the rapidly growing district propelled St. Louis to become one of the fastest growing startup cities in the country, averaging 5.6 percent growth between 2014 and 2015. Cortex is now home to a network of 200 companies (nearly 150 are startups), over $500 million in investment and 3,600 new jobs. Two years from now it is projected to have 5,000 jobs and $750 million in investment.

The plan initiated a massive neighborhood revitalization. A full build-out of the Cortex Innovation Community is expected to create 13,000 permanent technology-related jobs. A MetroLink (light rail) stop is underway, and a new I-64 interchange serves as a new gateway to the district.

I’m so pleased to see SCUP recognize the hard work of Ayers Saint Gross and the Cortex stakeholders with recognition in Excellence in Planning for an Existing Campus. The community is a model for a university-affiliated innovation district that harnesses a single urban location to build a culture of collaboration and discovery. Each building, each lobby, each green space, encourages people to bump into each other, share ideas, and create connections. It’s a wonderful, vibrant place that can serve as a blueprint for other cities and institutions.