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Diversity and Inclusion > Jeff Potter, FAIA, Juries NOMA Student Design Competition
AIA President Jeff Potter, FAIA, Juries National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) Student Design Competition
Director, Diversity and Inclusion
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with The American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) President, Jeff Potter, FAIA; and Prescott Reavis, NOMA, Chair of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) Student Design Competition. Both were in Atlanta in October for the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) annual conference, which hosts a multitude of continuing education programs and networking events. But beyond the usual programs, the conference dedicates almost a full day of programming to student mentoring through their annual design competition featuring student teams from chapters of the National Organization of Minority Architects Students (NOMAS). Prescott Reavis is a driving force behind the student design competition; and last year, then AIA President-elect, Jeff Potter took on the role of juror, along with Michael Lutz, AIA (Gensler, Atlanta); Mine Hashas, PhD (Southern Polytechnic State Univ.); Lonnie Hewitt, AIA, NOMA (Hewitt+Washington); and Eric Brock, AIA (Lord Aeck & Sergeant). Sixteen teams participated in the competition with Auburn University submitting the winning design. Jeff and Prescott graciously agreed to a post-conference chat to discuss their roles, impressions, and experiences with the students.
As a seasoned juror, what excites you most about student competitions?
Jeff Potter: I truly enjoy participating in student juries. These are inspirational opportunities to see students’ creative solutions to problems and how they present themselves. I consider it an important responsibility to provide feedback to students. It’s tough to publically criticize, but it is how architects learn to advance their proposition in front of clients and in the public realm. The jury process acts as a dress rehearsal for when an individual is proposing a complex solution. In practice, such proposals are often significant investments in projects that change the face of our communities. The competition culture has evolved so that when students become emerging professionals they are prepared to defend their ideas. Communication and improvisational skills are critical elements of development.
You have been involved with the competition for a number of years, what is the history of the NOMA Student Competition?
Prescott: Student mentoring is a very important component of NOMA. The competition has been around for many years. I got involved in the early 90’s. It was during the Birmingham NOMA convention when we really refocused energy on the student competition to build the momentum to bring it to where it is today.
As the program, evolved, so did my role. The following year during the San Francisco NOMA conference I began to chair the competition. Then I was appointed to the board as University Liaison for the Western Region and began working with the next city for the next year’s competition.
The competition guidelines are very detailed, how have they evolved through the years?
Prescott: Regarding the guidelines, we work with the conference host chapter to define the baseline competition. The project must be rooted in some reality. Ideally, it’s a project that could actually be implemented. There is a cultural component that we discuss. For example, guidelines may include reviewing the make-up of the neighborhood and how the buildings symbolize the community. In 2009, when the competition was in St. Louis, the focus was on designing for an intergenerational Latino family rooted in an African-American neighborhood. Again, focus on the community. Some of the teams even go to the design location and interview people, although it is not required.
In you your viewpoint, how does this competition set itself apart from others?
Jeff Potter: A lot goes into these competitions and I value all of them. I was pleased with the standards. This was different because it was not one university, but many. There were approximately 15 – 16 project teams. Additionally, the students presented their work. I’m pleased that my rankings were in alignment with the other jurors.
Prescott: What separates us is that students get to present their work. It’s important for students to be able to express the content of their work. At NOMA we want to make sure they have the verbal communication skills prior to graduation. Since the presentation portion was implemented 4 years ago the presentations have evolved considerably.
Was the Atlanta competition different from previous programs?
Prescott: Well, first off, it was great that we had Jeff Potter, FAIA, AIA’s incoming president as a juror. Having someone of Jeff’s caliber juror the program cements the value of AIA and NOMA for the profession. From the students perspective it was an added cache that reinforced the importance of the competition. Jeff was very gracious and eloquent with the students. He complimented their great ideas but provided critical feedback regarding where a design went off track. Jeff was very consistent regarding his point scoring and offered solutions as to how the team might approach the design challenge in the future.
Keep in mind we invite firm principles to participate as jurors. We want them to see the caliber of students that are a part of NOMAS. The jurors impact the student design teams in a positive way.
What was the genesis of the design challenge?
Jeff Potter: It was a complex design problem focused on a transit center in an underserved neighborhood that over time had become predominantly African-American. The brief asked the teams to solve the problem functionally, but also asked the team to consider other metaphors in the solution. For example, the neighborhood had historical significance, cultural nuances and some other overt and subtle community challenges.
Prescott: As Jeff indicated, we take into account all of those things when designing the program. In this instance, since Atlanta is burgeoning and downtown is looking at SMART growth, Thomas Allen, AIA, NOMA, a prominent local architect started looking at MARTA stops within Atlanta’s transportation system. The City of Atlanta has already identified areas that they were considering but had not developed any plans.
In this instance we chose Washington Park/Vine City communities, which is close to colleges, has housing density, a dearth of single family detached townhouses and apartments/condos which are behind the MARTA Station. It made sense to ask what the next logical sense of development is. There is also a Historical Society that does walking tours but they have no place to start the tours. The program genesis asked for placement and starting point for the walking tours. Ultimately the design teams had to find solutions regarding how to improve the physical nature and the economic genesis of the community that will have the least impact to the environment.
Can you share your overall impressions of the submissions?
Jeff Potter: By and large the projects were very well done. Some of the projects were a little bold for the neighborhood; however I’d say all of the solutions were technically interesting. When critiquing a student’s work, we try not to be too fixated on technical aspects, but look for appropriate and creative solutions to the problem.
The narratives were thoughtful. It was a really good group and I was extremely pleased. Frankly, this was one of the most eloquent groups of presentations that I have heard. The students were polished, made eye contact, and some referenced culturally significant topics during their oral presentations. Anecdotally, I heard that one student may have received a job offer.
What surprised you the most regarding the student competition?
Jeff Potter: Ironically, that civil rights wasn’t a driving force to any of the solutions. These teams were more tuned into the lifestyle in the neighborhood. The tendency was to make it a 21st century neighborhood. The solutions often felt much more urbane and European than “Atlanta.”
What advice would you give to architecture students who may participate in a similar event?
Jeff Potter: I encourage students to develop their storytelling skills. These kids were among the best presenters I’ve seen. In the past I have seen good quality creative work on the wall, but the students’ presentation skills were not as highly developed. Keep building on those skills.
You have built a strong foundation. What is your vision for the program?
Prescott: I would like to see it grow, while continuing to be a showcase for the quality of work that our students are producing. And let firms know you need to recruit some of these kids. There are a whole lot of kids with a lot of solutions that are rooted in reality. I would love to see one of the projects actually get built. At some point we could make this a charrette and involve the community in the process.
Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?
Jeff Potter: The NOMA Conference was robustly attended. I also attended the Bro’s Arts ball and student competition the following day. Everyone was upbeat and it was an honor to be there. I very much appreciate NOMA extending an invitation and look forward to continued collaboration between our organizations.
Village Walk Complex:
Building Community Through “The Movement”
This design competition called for the development of a new Ashby MARTA Transit Village, creating a node of local services and community-supporting activities centered on the existing Ashby Train Station. The new development is intended to serve as an economic catalyst for the Washington Park/Vine City communities.
2011 NOMA STUDENT DESIGN COMPETITION AWARD WINNERS
Three winners were selected from the 16 student teams that participated:
First Place: Auburn University
Second Place: Washington University of St. Louis
Third Place: Boston Architectural College
There are a whole lot of kids with a lot of solutions that are rooted in reality. I would love to see one of the projects actually get built.
Prescott Reavis, AIA, NOMA
“This generation has a broad lens. They are respectful of their past, but are not using it to put a boundary around their future. They are inspired by the past, yet equally inspired by the future.”
Jeff Potter, FAIA
Want to know more about NOMA? Visit www.noma.net.
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