“Off The Rails” Design Competition

The Off the Rails Design Competition is now closed. Please take a look at the semifinalists.

Click Here to View the SemiFinalists

The Urban Lab, in sponsorship with the Downtown Development Authority and the City of Fort Collins, is challenging architects, artists, planners, designers, students, and all other creative and innovative individuals to propose improvements to the Mason Street Downtown Corridor for the benefit of all users of the public realm.

Fort Collins Now

Fort Collins, Colorado is a small city located at the base of the Rocky Mountain foothills along the Cache la Poudre River in northern Colorado with a rapidly-growing population numbering just over 161,000 at the start of 2016.  Sitting at an elevation of 5,000 feet above sea level, the city enjoys a sunny four-season climate with mild winters.  Currently in the midst of a cultural renaissance period, Fort Collins continues to frequent many “best-of” lists as a great place to live, work, and play, and was named Money Magazine’s ‘Best Place to Live’ in America in 2006.

The largest employer in the city is Colorado State University (CSU), a major land-grant research institution and source of talent for the city’s many high-tech employers such as Hewlett Packard, Intel, and Avago.  Known as a craft beer-brewing mecca, Fort Collins boasts 20 award-winning craft breweries, New Belgium and Odell as trailblazers, along with a regional brewery for one of the best-known large beer makers in the world, Anheuser-Busch.  Art and culture thrive in this city, which features a vibrant, historic Old Town district for shopping and dining, a half-dozen live theater stages in production throughout the year, and a flourishing local music scene.  Recreational, competitive, and commuter cycling are also extremely popular in Fort Collins, rounding out its reputation as a great place for ‘Beer, Bikes, and Bands.’

Brief Transportation History

In the late 19th century, railroads became an important economic force for Fort Collins, fueling a transportation and shipping industry and enabling the community to access distant markets. Known as the “Railroad Era,” the period from 1877 to 1900 saw a rapid increase in the number of rail lines, which allowed for the growth and transformation of Fort Collins.

In 1877, the Fort Collins Board of Trustees passed an ordinance that granted the recently joined Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines a right-of-way along Mason Street. It was one of the first lines to be laid in Fort Collins, cutting through the Colorado Agricultural College campus (now Colorado State University) and downtown Fort Collins. The line was an important cargo route, delivering Colorado livestock, foodstuffs, lumber and quarried stone to the Midwest and East Coast. The railroad provided the local economy with a much needed stimulus, and bringing in goods previously difficult to come by locally.

Many active tracks remain in Fort Collins. The most visible line is the north-south BNSF Railroad right-of-way along Mason Street. Just one block to the west of College Avenue—the city’s main north-south artery—the track sees heavy daily use. Ten to sixteen trains a day run northward on this line through the length of town. However, with the growth of the Front Range, Fort Collins is straining to co-exist with the trains. Citizen cited grievances concerning the railroad have mounted. Some citizens note the train-caused congestion and traffic delays. Others cite concerns about the noise of train horns, safety issues related to crossing, and the hazardous materials in transport.

City officials have examined policies and proposals to address these concerns from grade separation to relocating the tracks, but have found them to be either too costly or limited by the topography and presence of nearby buildings. City planners, meanwhile, look for more ways to get people out of their cars. Nonetheless, the railroad parallels the history and the economy of Fort Collins and remains an integral part of a shared local identity.

Bicycle culture is in the fabric of Fort Collins. Planning efforts in the 1990’s, with the adoptions of a Transportation Master Plan and Bicycle Plan, evolved into the FC Moves Department which promotes bicycling as a viable and healthy means of transportation in Fort Collins. Over 280+ bike lanes and 30+ miles of bike trails connect the city earning it the Platinum designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community and Bicycle Friendly Business by the League of American Bicyclists. More than 23,600 bikes are registered on CSU campus alone. In 2014, a Bicycle Master Plan was approved setting new goals for Fort Collins to continue to strive to be a world-class city for bicycling.

In 2014, the City of Fort Collins launched a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line called MAX. Running parallel to the BNSF Railroad tracks and on Mason Street, the line connects the Downtown Transit Center to the South Transit Center south of Harmony Road along a five mile route with twelve stations. With an $87 million price tag, MAX is the largest public infrastructure project in Fort Collins’ history and the first urban BRT service in Colorado. Serving an average of 2,500 residents each day, MAX has become an important amenity for local residents.

This three-stage public design competition is soliciting exceptional design concepts which addresses the interface between the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad right-of-way and the public streetscape along the Mason Street Downtown Corridor.  The purpose of this design competition is to provide designers, planners, and citizens an opportunity to create compelling design concepts for this unique urban condition that enhance the streetscape and address the aesthetic, social, multi-modal transportation, and related safety issues for the segment of the Mason Street corridor along the BNSF Railroad that runs from Laurel Street to Mulberry Street (approximately a quarter mile).  Individuals and teams comprised of local, national, and international members are invited to offer their solutions for the improvement of the streetscape from sidewalk to sidewalk – excluding the railroad easement.

The Design Challenge

The conditions along the Mason Street Downtown Corridor present a unique urban design challenge that offers the opportunity for public space improvements.

A series of open houses have been held by the Urban Lab from 2013 to 2015 to seek public input regarding concerns over the Mason Street Downtown Corridor. Citizen comments highlight several common themes:

  • Lack of pedestrian safety and priority
  • Pollution (e.g. noise, litter, exhaust)
  • Confusion of shared road responsibilities for multi-modal users
  • Lack of local cultural features
  • Lack of engagement with natural systems
  • Aesthetics
  • Need for messaging in the corridor (i.e. landscape and/or design elements)
  • Sense of division between the east and west sides of the street

For this design challenge, we particularly encourage that the following criteria be considered:

  • Addressing citizen concerns (as stated above)
  • Pedestrian, bicycle, automobile, and BRT working in harmony
  • Improved wayfinding
  • Generate a holistic, healthy, and regenerative living environment
  • Create a memorable character and identity for the Mason Street Downtown Corridor
  • Celebrate and reinterpret this unique legacy from the early days of Fort Collins
  • Create an urban environment that is ecologically sustainable, socially inclusive, and economically vibrant

Mason Street Downtown Corridor

The competition site is a 0.23-mile segment of the Mason Street Downtown Corridor from Laurel Street to Mulberry Street. Colorado State University, home to 32,236 students, bounds Laurel Street to the south. North to Mulberry Street supports a mix of residences and commercial establishments. The site serves as a connector, transitioning the University to the Downtown.

Along this segment, multiple transportation modes converge. The site is well-served by public transport with the MAX line. At the Laurel Street intersection MAX joins the two-way street. Two stations are located along the site – Laurel station and Mulberry station. The Mason Trail, a popular bike route for students and professionals, merges onto Mason Street at Laurel Street and connects to the city’s larger route system. The BNSF Railroad track centrally divides the street as car traffic travels alongside. Pedestrians frequent the area to access its amenities.

Over the past decade the site has seen growth and change supporting high public use. Various redevelopment and infill projects have been spurred by the Mason Corridor economic development initiative anchored by the MAX BRT system. The site is transforming into a popular and progressive urban space for all ages and uses.

Competition Process

The competition follows a three-stage process:

Stage 1: Registration and Submission

The first stage is an open call for participation based on an anonymous design submission. For registration information, visit: http://urbanlab.colostate.edu/off-the-rails-registration-information/.  To register, visit: https://advancing.colostate.edu/EVENTS/OFFTHERAILS.  After the submission deadline, the designs will be checked for compliance with Submission Content Guidelines. All entrants or teams will be notified if moving on to Stage 2 of the competition.

Stage 2: Semi-finalist Selection and Re-Submission

During Stage 2, the local jury will deliberate on the semi-finalist submissions.  Entrants or teams will be notified of acceptance or rejection into the semi-final round. Six finalists will be selected from the semi-finalists.  Entrants or teams whose submissions have been selected as final round will receive instructions regarding board revision and re-submission at that time. Following the re-submission period, the final jury will assess each entry in Stage 3.

Stage 3: Finalist Selection and Public Exhibition 

During Stage 3, following the re-submission period, the final jury will assess each entry. Six finalists will be selected from the semi-finalists. Of the six finalists, a winning design will be chosen. Second and third place designs will also be awarded.

Timeline & Milestones

  • Launch – April 22, 2016
  • Q & A Deadline – July 15, 2016 (UPDATED)
  • Submission & Registration Deadline – July 29, 2016
  • Local Jury Deliberations – August 8, 2016
  • Stage 2 Launch – August 12, 2016
  • Stage 2 Re-submission Deadline – September 23, 2016
  • Final Jury Deliberations, Exhibition Event, & Winner Announced – October 7, 2016

Eligible submissions will be judged by independent, qualified representatives selected by the Urban Lab.

Stage 2- Semifinal Jury

Stage 3- Final Jury

See Competition Conditions for more information about each juror.


This is an ideas competition; there is no expectation that any of the submitted designs will be implemented in the Mason Street Downtown Corridor. The winning individual or team receives a $3,000 cash prize, the second place individual or team receives $1,500, and the third place individual or team receives $500.

A gallery on the Urban Lab website will display all of the submissions for public view at each stage of the competition. Opportunities for the public to engage and share feedback will be developed for Stage Two. The competition results will be announced on October 7th, 2016 at the finalist exhibition event. The six finalist submissions will be displayed at the final exhibition event venue October through December 2016.

This design competition is open to artists, landscape architects, architects, urban planners, designers, and students currently enrolled in a university-level program (undergraduate or graduate).  An individual, team of individuals, or firm team may register and compete.  No individual, however, may be part of multiple teams.  All individual competitors must be at least 18 years of age.

Only one design submission is allowed per entrant or team. To merit consideration as a qualified entry, the work must meet at a minimum the following entry requirements:

  • Two 30”x42” size sheets
  • Boards must be oriented side-by-side for portrait orientation or top and bottom for landscape orientation
  • Boards must contain:
    1. Design title
    2. Plan view
    3. Section view(s)
    4.  Perspective rendering(s)
    5. Written narrative explaining the design decisions and proposed solutions
    6. Registration number
  • Suggested scales:
    • 1:10 scale for section view(s)
    • 1:40 scale for plan view
    • Entrants are free to choose the scale most appropriate to represent their designs

For further details, refer to the the Competition Brief.

Download the Competition Brief  Here


Please send your inquiries to Colin.Day@colostate.edu and make sure the write ‘RR Design Competition 2016’ in the subject line.

Q & A – Information