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Americas Studio Students Compete Nationally

Render of Farnsworth House

Auburn Architecture students participated in the annual Americas Studio in spring semester of 2016. Annually the Americas studio focuses on contemporary issues of architecture and urbanism in the Americas. Taught by associate professor Rebecca O’Neal Dagg, the third-year studio this spring was focused in the United States. Through the pursuit of two significant design competition projects, NYC Aquarium and Public Waterfront International Open Ideas Competition and the ACSA Farnsworth House: Visitor Experience, Preservation as Provocation competition, the studio’s design research considered architecture for cultural preservation and cultural tourism at two different scales and locales. “Auburn architecture students have a long history of competing in internal year-level competitions here at the school. These are sponsored by our supportive industry partners,” said Rebecca O’Neal Dagg. “However, the students have much less experience competing nationally and internationally in competitions. Under the new IDP guidelines, architects in training can earn some credit for competition entry. Now that these students have worked on these two international competitions, upon graduation they may be more likely to pursue competition opportunities as a part of their IDP.

The first competition, NYC Aquarium and Public Waterfront International Open Ideas Competition, was hosted by the website and journal Arch Out Loud. It was an open competition for students and practitioners worldwide. As preparation for the aquarium project, the studio travelled on site visits to both the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tennessee and the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia. In Chattanooga, the students were able to interact with aquarium leadership members during the tour and experience the Tennessee Riverfront Park adjacent to the aquarium site as well as the twenty-two mile long River Park, Centennial Park, and Coolidge Park located along the Tennessee River. At Georgia Aquarium, the studio experienced a behind-the-scenes operations tour that included travel through the sizable filtration system bays, research labs, and whale shark feeding areas above the 6.3 million gallon Ocean Voyager exhibit tank. Measuring over twenty feet long, each whale shark is fed by researchers in boats. Because Tennessee Aquarium is on the Tennessee River and Georgia Aquarium is land-locked, the study of both institutions as precedent was important to the analysis of current aquarium typological variations. The competition encouraged participants to re-think the idea of the aquarium for New York City for our time through the design of at least five major exhibitions and a park on the prominent site in Queens on the East River overlooking Manhattan.

“An international ideas-based competition was a first for most of the studio members. The challenge was not as straightforward as responding to a given program to design a building and waterfront park. Instead, each project promoted an idea for what a contemporary aquarium institution should be for the city’s residents, visitors, researchers and watershed ecosystem,” explained Rebecca O’Neal Dagg. Although the students didn’t win the competition, seven Auburn student projects are included in the online exhibition featuring competition entries and finalists. NYC Aquarium and Waterfront Park competition entries can be viewed at this link: http://www.archoutloud.com/nyc-results.html. Arch Out Loud published that 565 participants with 178 proposals competed. Competitors represented six continents and forty countries. “Because the aquarium competition results were announced before the end of the semester, students appreciated being able to view the other entries and were pleased that their projects considered many similar themes to ones valued by the judges. The timing was useful because formal and informal studio discussions continued, leading to some major design and presentation strategy changes for the second competition,” said Rebecca O’Neal Dagg.

ACSA Farnsworth House: Visitor Experience, Preservation as Provocation
Offered by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture the ACSA Farnsworth House: Visitor Experience, Preservation as Provocation was also an international competition, yet it was limited to students and student teams. The project is to design a new visitor center and experience for Mies van der Rohe’s iconic Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois outside of Chicago. Originally designed for the progressive client Dr. Edith Farnsworth, the glass and steel house represents the height of mid-century modern architecture in America. Prone to flooding, the house is a case study in 21st century historic preservation, interior preservation, and preservation research. Individual proposals for the visitor center included one group entry and highlighted a range of architecture strategies and site strategies such as constructed wetlands and exterior spaces for cultural events.

View an interactive 360° of one student submission: http://panopdm.com/viewer.php?application=panorama&id=59408c4b4ef3eac86078e1b2a305dab852528998

Americas Studio students entered the competition individually or by team. A field study trip to Chicago was a highlight of the semester. While there, the students experienced both a winter snowstorm and spring-like weather over the course of the week. Studio research culminated with an excursion to Plano to study the Farnsworth House on the Fox River. This offered the opportunity for students to experience the historic house interior, exterior, and site firsthand. The Americas Studio focus in Chicago included research at other Mies van der Rohe projects, especially Crown Hall, the Naval building and the overall IIT campus. Of note, the studio visited the Minerals and Metals Building which was the first construction by Mies van der Rohe in the United States, circa 1943.

Other studio group tours included Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park Home and Studio, Oak Park neighborhood and the Robie House at UIC. Students viewed the “Van Gogh’s Bedroom” exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago along with other notable Chicago design including Millennium Park. The students demonstrated faith in the architecture of Skidmore, Owens and Merrill by not only visiting the skydeck at the top of the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), but also by going out on the new retractable sky boxes called, “The Ledge,” also designed by S.O.M. Rebecca O’Neal Dagg concludes by saying, “These two competitions enhanced the Americas Studio because participation in the competitions is a significant way to enter into an international dialogue with other designers working on the same challenges.” Competition results should be announced in July.

(Second-year Auburn architecture students also participated in the competition under the direction of faculty members Mary English, Matthew Hall, Justin Miller, and Danielle Willkens.)