Student Design Competitions: Where We Learn from Student Architects

Higher Education Facilities designer Ozzie Tapia sheds light on a thrilling educational opportunity through the AIAOC Student Design Competition.As professional architects and designers, we consider ourselves to be life-long learners. We find it critical to have a connection between the profession and academia. It starts in the traditional K-12 setting; perhaps there was a catalyst in our youth that sparked our love for design. It continues as we grow with our higher education credentials, proving ourselves as industry experts, competent to do the work that we love. Even when we’ve “made it” and are working in the industry, we have to continue to learn about industry trends, new technologies and growing our credentials.

As a student, I had the opportunity to participate in some student design competitions. It was an exciting experience that allowed me to put in practice what I had been learning in terms of taking a project through an architectural processfrom analysis, design conception to development, refinement and final solution. It also served as validation that I was on the right track. Through mentoring opportunities with a practicing professional I learned about dynamics of the profession that are not part of an academic education, like how to be efficient and deliberate with how you spend your design time.

Higher Education Facilities designer Ozzie Tapia sheds light on a thrilling educational opportunity through the AIAOC Student Design Competition.A competition mirrors time constraints common in professional practice and it forced me to make timely decisions and to be critical of myself in order to move forward efficiently. Having had these opportunities, I find it a pleasant responsibility to pay it forward to our next generation. 

Because we, at LPA, place such a high value on education, we were eager to connect with today’s architecture students through the American Institute of Architects’ Orange County (AIAOC) chapter to sponsor the annual Student Design Competition. Through the competition, we are able to enrich lives—a core value at LPA—in a different way, by connecting with local schools, students and our Orange County community. The experience has been tremendously rewarding—we’ve ended up learning just as much from the students as they do from us—and it’s a fun, non-traditional way to keep a pulse on what’s new and fresh.

The AIAOC Student Design Competition is open to all local community colleges with an architecture program. It aims to connect the future generation of our profession with applicable design scenarios, to build their expertise and to encourage new, creative approaches to design.

Students love this event, as it encourages them to not just participate, but to take leadership in the basic process of design. Plus, they receive genuine advice and feedback from us, as experienced professionals, and their peers, who learn just as much from providing feedback as they do receiving it. Not to mention, the winners of the competition will earn some cash—the competition awards monetary prizes totaling $2,500 for the top three student projects.

Higher Education Facilities designer Ozzie Tapia sheds light on a thrilling educational opportunity through the AIAOC Student Design Competition.Higher Education Facilities designer Ozzie Tapia sheds light on a thrilling educational opportunity through the AIAOC Student Design Competition.Each year, the design competition is centered on a theme. This year’s competition challenges participants to reinvent an urban site in Downtown Riverside as part of revitalization efforts for the centennial anniversary of the city. This program challenges students’ creativity, imagination and critical thinking to develop and present their ideas for an environment that Riverside residents will enjoy for work and play, all rooted in sustainable design.

As part of the process, we have established a ‘feedback loop,’ a mechanism that allows students to come into our office, see and experience the profession and get constructive criticism on their projects along the way. It’s a fun interaction and a great way to spend an afternoon. We’ve been impressed by the raw honesty and genuine conviction shown by students, which makes for some straight-forward, refreshing discussions about how to best use materials, space and color.

In June, the competition draws to a close as jurors gather to deliberate about the competition winner. Final juries are typically made up of outstanding teaching professionals from the best local universities’ accredited architecture programs. They are in tune with students’ needs and development at this level and provide helpful feedback and comments. They are also a great preview of what’s to come in the next level of education. Win or lose, every student walks away with a valuable addition to their portfolio.

An awards ceremony will take place in our Irvine office’s coLAB this summer after jury deliberation, as well as a special recognition during the annual AIAOC design awards gala. To round out the experience, students will have the opportunity to display their competition entries at a public gallery in John Wayne Airport.

We look forward to this year’s final submittals and the challenging process of selecting winners. Some of the work we’ve seen come out of this competition is extraordinary. These students will be designing the world around you sooner than you think. Stay tuned for the announcement of the design awards winner in July 2014.

Photography from the 2013 AIAOC Design Awards courtesy of Luke Melrose.

Ozzie Tapia is an architect for Higher Education Facilities at California-based LPA Inc. Ozzie is a LEED Accredited Professional BD+C and active member of the U.S. Green Building Council and the AIA Orange County chapter.

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