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Davis College graduate student wins Yuanye Award

A West Virginia University Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design student received recognition at an international landscape architecture competition for a design reviving a Pittsburgh neighborhood.    

Udday Datta

Udday Datta, a doctoral student studying human and community development, won third place in the Yuanye Competition for his project “Reviving the Hill,” an effort to reconnect Pittsburgh’s Hill District, a historic African American neighborhood, to the rest of the city. 

“The Hill District was a really vibrant neighborhood that was destroyed,” he explained. “ In the early 1950s, the housing authority of Pittsburgh decided they needed to change the neighborhood and declared it blighted. They forced a lot of people from the neighborhood and demolished the whole area to create a large civic arena.” 

One challenge for Datta was the Hill District’s topography - because it's on a hill and is a very large area to connect. 


“I tried to encourage and create a design that would promote connectivity in the Hill District. The main design concept was connection. I was trying to create some design element to align the city’s environmental goals in my design, so I created a biophilic community and made the whole area more walkable and more accessible,” he explained.

Datta's design for Hill District

He also focused on preserving the historic buildings, which was very important to him. Datta first identified the historic buildings and areas with cultural importance. With multiple historic sites - like the house of American playwright August Wilson, St. Benedict the Moor Church and Freedom Corner - Datta connected these places with a green corridor and activity spaces to help preserve the sites while creating more vibrant urban spaces. 

“I really like areas that have historic flavor to it. Sometimes what happens is the history element gets neglected and we tend to focus on new developments rather than preserving an old neighborhood and building new things in the environment. I thought the people living here deserve more because for a long time they were neglected. They were almost segregated from the city. I wanted to promote the history of Hill District and let everyone know the area can be more,” he said. 

Having won such a prestigious award was a “dream come true” for Datta. 

“My professors really helped me to understand the historical context and the area easily so we could all focus on creating a good design. My advisor, Professor Shan Jiang, helped me and encouraged me to come up with this design and develop it further. She’s the one that encouraged me to submit it for the Yuanye award,” he said. 

Rendered images of Datta's design

Datta decided to continue to use his design to share the story of Pittsburgh’s Hill District and the struggles of the people living there on different platforms. He submitted it to American Society of Landscape Architects Professional Practice Networks' Blog "The Field," World Landscape Architecture and Architecture Online, which all promptly featured it on their websites. 

“I really fell in love with the area to be honest. Through design and implementation we can really change this neighborhood and make it more lively,” he said. 

The Yuanye Award is one of the largest student design competitions hosted annually by the Chinese societies of landscape architecture. It is considered to be the most influential event in landscape architecture societies in eastern Asia. WVU students also received recognition in 2017 and 2018.


CONTACT: Lindsay Willey 
Director of Marketing and Communications 
Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design 

Photo Captions:
Top right: Udday Datta
Middle right: Datta redesigned Hill District to connect it to the rest of Pittsburgh.

Bottom left: Datta designed to make Hill District more walk-able.