Competition Brief



Members of ACTIVATE NC invite you to share your ideas on contemporary multi-family housing concepts that satisfy ‘the Missing Middle’. The Missing Middle describes a scale of infill multi-family development that may fit appropriately within single family neighborhoods while providing greater density in Asheville’s urban core.  These multi-plex structures may resemble larger single family structures, the scale of which falls somewhere between the single family city cottage and larger multi-family structures, like apartment buildings.  The City of Asheville has identified “The Missing Middle” as a key infill housing strategy to help with the community’s housing shortage.  Asheville’s initiatives to accommodate Missing Middle projects can be found here. Current state of Asheville housing is detailed here: Asheville Housing Market challenges.

The concept of the "Missing Middle", while historically found in most established urban cores, is re-emerging as an infill housing strategy.  Multi-family structures clustered as duplex, 4-plex or more, but are much closer in scale and character to single family, can serve as infill housing solutions that are more feasible and attractive for development.  "Urban Mountain" might be an apt description for densely built portions of San Francisco hillsides. Density built on topography is an appropriate precedent Asheville should consider.  Larger multi-family houses, compact enough to step up and down with steeper slopes, can insert into existing neighborhoods in a contributory way.

Deemed the 6th least sustainable housing market in the country, Asheville is experiencing a growing divide between soaring housing costs and stagnant income levels. Buncombe County, in particular, has a 5,000 unit housing shortage.  Such low inventory is driving existing home sales to unsustainable prices, rivaling the trend of several high priced housing markets nationally. 

The city and surrounding vicinity need to embrace an "all of the above" strategy.  Single family housing does little to address the shortage. In fact, it may be fueling a low-density mindset.  Larger scale multi-family developments in the city currently lack momentum.  Many larger projects are shelved because of higher development costs in Asheville - Their pro formas don't work.  It was recently stated that “all of the easy sites in Asheville have been taken so we're left with the more challenging sites”.  Topography is the primary hardship: site development costs, a more stringent steep slope ordinance, and geometrically unconventional sites pose unique challenges that, while ripe for design creativity, tend to discourage bottom line driven developers.  The current pace of population influx is outpacing added housing units, so the crisis looks to only worsen in coming years.

This is an ideas competition generated by a real need to demonstrate new and better ways for infill multi-plex housing in mountain or hillside communities with challenging topography.

The competition encourages a housing type that blends different income levels and demographics and helps knit together the fabric of the city. A building boom of multifamily housing is prevalent in Southeastern US cities, but much of the efforts are large-scale and do not work well in Asheville.  Asheville’s unique character, history, and blend of socio-economic and alternative lifestyles are not good fits with the bland multi-family housing solutions that are repeated in many cities without much influence of context.The competition concepts should, above all, be uniquely Asheville.

Designers are invited to explore and develop the following:

• Multi-family housing solutions for young families, retirees, and alternative households.

• Urban outdoor space via a reimagined Murray Hill Park

• Indoor and outdoor environments that support sustainable initiatives.

The competition site is within walking distance of the emerging River Arts District, New Belgium Brewing Company, and the equally popular South Slope. The competition site is nestled amongst both single family areas and several subsidized multi-family apartment complexes. Like much of Asheville, the site has the significant challenge of undulating topography.  The competition area, centrally located between two popular tourist and working hubs, is an ideal location for multi-family workforce housing.  Transit is nearby, and the city’s new Asheville Middle School lies just to the north of the site. 

The site is along the west end of Bartlett Street, consisting of a tract of city owned land known as Murray Hill Park.  The existing property and park are underutilized and without organizational clarity.

The competition winners will be publicly announced in November 2017 (exact date to be determined). Entries will be displayed at the AIA NC Center for Architecture and Design as well as other venues throughout the state in the seven AIA NC Sections.

Section One
Competition Brief


The site is located along Bartlett Street, including Murray Hill Park, in the neighborhood between River Arts District and South Slope. It is a combination of 2 parcels on the north side of Bartlett Street. Addresses are noted in the aerial photograph. Participant are strongly encouraged to consider the following:

  • A minimum of 3 multi-plex prototypes shall be developed, with between 2-6 units per prototype. Dwelling units should be between 800 -1,600sf each and demonstrating incremental range of accommodation is desired.
  • Multiple structures of each prototype shall be arranged on the site in compelling and sensible ways, demonstrating fit on a range of topographic conditions: uphill, downhill and cross (side) slope.  There is no maximum structure count, considering the solution honors the City’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).
  • The natural topography shall be honored to the extent possible.  A mass-grading solution is not appropriate or desired.
  • Be mindful and responsive to neighborhood context.  Use the infill designs to improve the existing fabric.  Compose the "missing teeth", knitting the new with old.
  • Incorporate sustainability as a core parameter of design.  The City of Asheville is one of the more progressive and forward thinking municipalities in the Southeast with regard to sustainability initiatives.  Demonstration of sustainability objectives of the Asheville City Development Plan 2025 is encouraged. 
  • Project viability and marketability is key.  This is a real crisis in need of real solutions.  This includes cost effectiveness of development and construction.
  • Adaptability of unit arrangement should be considered.  The non-traditional household is a growing demographic in the Asheville community.
  • Stormwater management is key to project viability.  Higher density can exacerbate runoff and burden downhill properties.  Measures will need to be demonstrated that mitigate an increased stormwater burden.
  • Murray Hill Park, a public city owned and managed park, shall be reimagined as part of the competition submittals.  The new park area shall have better intention, function, and community benefit than the current park.
  • Deal with the reality of the automobile.  Though the city is focused on a multi-modal smart growth strategy, cars will need to be moderately accommodated in an off street manner.  This is one of the biggest challenges to hillside development and construction, but vital to market viability.  A minimum of one (1) off-street parking space per dwelling unit is required.
  • 25% of each type of residential unit will be fully accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Provide ample bicycle parking.
  • The property is zoned RM16. 15’ setbacks along Bartlett Street (front); 40’-0” side setbacks, 40’ rear setbacks.  The project may be proposed as a Planned Unit Development (PUD), so that alternative setbacks may be proposed for the interior subdivision of the parcel – Exterior perimeter setbacks will need to be honored.

View images of the site here>>


James is a single male in his 30s who has previously lived in an 800sqft downtown apartment. He is a design professional who appreciates quality, modern architecture. He enjoys going to various local music venues and often walks to them. In addition, he considers himself an amateur musician and has several instruments, including a guitar, bass, and small drum set. 

Julie and Amanda are a married couple in their early 40’s. They have one adopted son, Andres, 8, and often have out of town grandparents stay in an extra bedroom. Julie works from home and enjoys mountain biking in and around Asheville. Amanda works for a college outside of town, and needs a place to charge her electric car for the commute. A typical weekend for this family might include riding bikes as a family, stopping for a visit to a local brewery and food truck, and enjoying a relaxing evening at home.

Janiece is a single mother with 3 school age children: Zion, 5, Brianne, 9, and Donovan, 13.  Donovan walks to nearby Asheville Middle School, while Zion and Brianne ride the bus.  Janiece has a new administrative job at a downtown hotel – She is the sole income provider for the family, and while still living from paycheck to paycheck, the family is finding better footing in an improved economy.  The family recently transitioned out of nearby subsidized housing, where many of the childrens’ friends still reside.  Janiece has an old car that is somewhat unreliable.  When she has car trouble, she’ll walk to the nearby bus stop to catch a ride to downtown.

Rufus and Tom were recent college roommates who decided to room together after graduation.  Rufus has gotten serious with his girlfriend Rebecca and she moved into the apartment in recent months.  Tom has a serious boyfriend, Alan, but they tend to spend more time at Alan’s place across town.  Rufus, Tom, and Rebecca all have cars, so they sometimes need to coordinate or shuffle parking accommodations.  Tom walks to nearby AB-Tech to take classes in the culinary program – He hopes to open his own restaurant in Asheville in the coming years.

Section Two


Coming Soon


Site Sensitivity
Designs should enforce a sense of connection to the urban fabric and surrounding neighborhoods. This site is a hinge between commercial and residential areas. The project should create links between these two parts of the city.

Asheville, like many other cities, must face the real challenge of existing topography. Each proposal must demonstrate high aptitude in managing and responding to different topographic conditions. 

Asheville is located in a temperate environment with warm, often rainy, summers and relatively mild winters. You are encouraged to take advantage of the exceptionally fine weather in spring and fall.

Space, Form, and Materials
We encourage you to explore the site and program to arrive at a solution that emphasizes space, form, composition, and the inherent qualities of materials. Likewise, we encourage you to develop proposals that could be translated to a real world issue of workforce housing.

Section Three
About the Competition



The competition is open internationally to all students in a certified architectural program, un-licensed design professionals, and licensed Architects. Individuals or teams may submit more than one entry, but each entry will receive separate ID numbers and require an additional entry fee.


Top prize *$3,000
Merit award(s) *$1,000
* exact amounts based on sponsorship and number of submissions


Announced July 28, 2017
Registration Opens July 30, 2017
Registration Closes September 15, 2017
Submission Deadline October 27, 2017
Jury Deliberates November 2017
Announcement of Winner November 10, 2017
Exhibition statewide mobile exhibit through the remainder of the year and early 2018

Section Four
Submission Requirements


1. Registration
To register online, go to and complete the process. The registration fee is $50 (USD). Multiple entries will require a registration fee with each. You will need to give your project a title in this step. This title must be unique and anonymous. It must not contain any description of yourself or any firm or company information.

2. Application
Once you have registered and submitted your registration fee, you will be sent a link to complete the rest of the submission process online.

3. Project Description
No more than 250 words. Contestants should read judging criteria, and use this written portion to portray how their design is sensitive to the surrounding areas and facilitates community interaction.

4. Graphics
Two 24”x36” boards (portrait orientation) as hi-res PDF. Title as [your project title]_Boards
Boards may include additional drawings and images as deemed necessary by entrant, but boards are required to include:
• Site plan oriented north up
• Site and/or building section
• One rendered exterior
• One rendered interior
• Your project title

5. Physical Model (Optional)
There are no material restrictions. Participants may submit model photographs instead of a physical model, or physical models may be delivered or mailed to:

ACTIVATE NC: Competition
14 E Peace Street, 2nd floor
Raleigh, NC North Carolina 27604

Section Five

Submit materials electronically to by 5:00 PM EST on October 27, 2017.

Section Six
Fine Print


•Use of firm, individual, or company names or logos on competition material or incomplete submissions may result in disqualification.
•Once the final submissions are uploaded, no additional edits, uploads, or changes can be made.


ACTIVATE NC reserves the right to retain ownership of all competition materials to use in exhibitions or publications without compensation to the entrants. Each competitor will retain full copyright unless state otherwise. No submissions will be returned.


Competition entrants may submit questions until date September 15, 2017 to All questions will be answered at one time and sent to registered entrants no later than September 30, 2017, and posted to

Coming September 30, 2017



Section Seven

For information on more design competitions visit: