City Center Master Plan | Hanbury | World Design Awards 2023

Hanbury: Winner of World Design Awards 2023. The City Center Master Plan is built around a dynamic mixed-use urban district that leverages the site’s existing infrastructure and proximity to established nodes of economic activity while delivering new complementary uses that will draw people to the site. The project will be highly walkable with strong connections to its neighbors, designed and developed with resilient best practices and welcoming to all. A mix of building typologies and massing will deliver high density while creating a comfortable, human-scale environment. The result will become an essential part of the city and region’s economy and a defining civic and cultural feature that will inspire and enrich residents and visitors alike.

Richmond has a rich history of strong neighborhoods, each with its own unique personality, that make up the fabric of our City. City Center will add to and complement this fabric, a new square in a diverse and beautiful quilt, with its own juxtaposition of old and new. The old anchored by the historic renovation of the Blues Armory Building and the new represented by first class hospitality, commercial, and residential assets.

Today, Richmond’s quilt is missing its center square: City Center will fill that gap. The project will be the cornerstone of the downtown, offering convention center visitors a vibrant destination full of life and energy; creating a platform for scientific advancement at the new Bio Tech Park; a convenient and desirable place to live and socialize for VCU Health doctors, nurses, students, and other health care providers; and a new urban living room, offering live entertainment and graceful public spaces for all of Richmond.

Key points and highlights of the City Center Master Plan include the following:


The masterplan relies on extensive knowledge of existing downtown street network and the plan provides for strong street, pedestrian, and micro mobility connections to the adjacent neighborhoods. The City Center masterplan will incorporate wayfinding and signage that help residents and visitors to and through the site, clearly communicating points of interest elsewhere in downtown Richmond.

Equitable Communities

Creating a dense neighborhood that encourages walking, biking, and other forms of micro-mobility provides an array of wellness, environmental, and lifestyle benefits. This plan incorporates the appropriate urban design principles to ensure safe access for users of all modes of transport and of all ages and abilities. Integrated micromobility infrastructure provides convenient alternatives to traditional transportation modalities.


Activities including popup theaters, play spaces, sports, and recreational activities that will encourage families and children to animate and enjoy the space and foster a sense of community. A tightly integrated mixed use development will encourage walking and biking. A network of parks will absorb storm water, “cool the streets”, and offer intimate public areas for play, exercise, or reflection.


A new network of outdoor spaces creates opportunities to explore, rest, and gather in Richmond’s dense urban core. A diverse range of landscapes – from expansive greens and tree-lined streets to natural playgrounds and bustling market plazas – provides flexibility for a range of active programming and events while also offering comfort to those who live and work downtown. Canopy trees, native plantings, and integrated stormwater infrastructure knit the site to its larger ecological context while also providing beautiful and sustainable spaces for humans and wildlife.

Ground Floor Activation

A dynamic, downtown location; varied, user-friendly public realm that encourages pedestrians and cyclists; a diverse set of users including event attendees, students, researchers, and entrepreneurs; and an organic, comprehensive approach to ground plane design will come together to create an accessible and vital environment.

Design for Water

The existing site has several different paths of drainage for sanitary and storm and the proposed development would look to take advantage of the existing infrastructure to the extent feasible, with new lines to service buildings and blocks installed as needed. The substantial increase of permeable surface area and green space will improve stormwater management by increasing the tree canopy and reducing the flow of stormwater into the Combined Sewage System and heat-island effect.

Design for Economy

The masterplan is committed to true diversity across the project and development team. Minority Business Enterprises and Emerging Small Businesses have played key and active roles shaping the plan. Throughout the project, the team would coordinating and growing community initiatives through deep and meaningful engagement with the Office of Community Wealth Building.

Additionally, the City Center masterplan also proposes the establishment of a Community Equity Endowment (CEE) that will be funded through a profits interest in the project’s economics. The CEE proceeds will be managed by local trustees who will direct it towards meeting the most critical community needs.

An Iconic Downtown Destination

The signature convention center hotel will provide 500 keys, jointly managed under two flags, to meet the project goals. The dual flag/one management team model will diversify the hotel’s room offerings and provide greater pricing flexibility while maintaining the efficiencies of integrated management and 500- key inventory. Located along 5th and Clay Streets, the hotel will have a strong presence on the signature City Center Park. At a height of 325’, the property will act as a beacon, visible from the interstate and the city.

The Blues Armory: A Revitalized Historical Venue

Constructed in 1910, the Blues Armory stands as the final physical vestige of the Navy Hill neighborhood. Nested at the southern end of the site, it is a historically significant piece of architecture that presents an opportunity for an activated City Center boundary.

At grade, the Blues Armory is bound to the west by a grand arcade that creates a strong connection to the center of the development and a grand pedestrian gateway to the south.

The adapted and renovated Blues Armory will feature a 2,500-capacity entertainment venue configured to host a broad array of events including concerts, sports, family shows, and community events. The venue will occupy the building’s top floor with portions of the second level and new mezzanine reserved for green rooms, production offices, catering kitchen, and other back of house space while preserving the historic façade on either side.

Located at the southern end of the continuous public realm the venue serves as a fitting conclusion to the progression, a living monument to Navy Hill, a reimagined place for entertainment and celebration, and a beautiful, timeless architectural statement.

Re-Establishing Housing Through Crafted Architecture

The City Center housing plan and design is inspired by the dire need for diverse and accessible housing stock and the history of Navy Hill and what the neighborhood stood for.

The proposed approach incorporates 875 units spanning four residential typologies over the three planned development phases:

  • The first phase of the project includes 275 rental housing units, more than half of which are affordable and workforce housing.
  • The second phase adds market rate stock including executive housing designed to provide convenient and attractive temporary housing to researchers, executive, and educators active in the life sciences.
  • In project’s third phase we will introduce a mixed-use building with residential stacked on top of lab/office space.

Life Science Lab & Offices

The City Center masterplan calls for a phased lab/office approach. Phase 1 includes an innovative job training module designed to support small businesses and leverage the Virginia BioTech Park located south of City Center. Future phases include two 125,000 SF class A+/ office buildings adjacent to City Center Park and next to Activation Capital’s Innovation Hub, catalyzing connectivity and engagement.


The City Center masterplan is committed to comprehensive integration of sustainable practices. Specific strategies include:

  • A highly walkable environment with ample shade and water features to lessen the urban heat island effect and encourage pedestrians.
  • An integrated mobility hub and associated project-wide infrastructure supporting bikes, scooters, and other forms of alternate transit.
  • EV car charging stations and “house” EVs available for rent by project residents.
  • Use of deconstructed steel, CLT/mass timber construction, and other materials that reduce carbon impact.
  • Deploy early energy modeling on each building to reducing solar heat gain and glare.
  • Install PVs, heat pumps and other sustainable energy sources where appropriate.

Use prefabricated components to streamline material waste and reduce on-site construction impacts.

Project Details

Nick Cooper, AIA

Project Name
City Center Master Plan

World Design Awards Category
Urban Design Concept

Project Location

SMBW, MARVEL, KEi Architects, Waterstreet Studio, fall line

United States

Photography ©Credit

Hanbury is a collective of architects, designers, and planners driven by a profound belief in the transformative power of design. Since 1979, we have cultivated a legacy of thoughtfully shaping campus, community, and life science environments across the nation, elevating human potential. With every endeavor, we forge partnerships and cultivate spaces that empower people to thrive.