Why Student Design Competitions Matter

Date:October 15, 2022
Contact:Tony Bouquot, General Manager

Members of the Metal Building Manufactures Association (MBMA) spearheaded an effort to create a student design competition to help graduate and undergraduate architecture students understand the value and potential of metal building systems as a practical and powerful way to bring design excellence to low-rise architecture. Two volunteer committees within MBMA, the Education Committee and the Architect Committee, joined forces to develop a highly robust design competition format. In 2022, the top two winning entries in the inaugural competition were submitted by students from the University of New Mexico and both winners were coached by a faculty sponsor, Kristina Yu, AIA, LEED GA, NCARB, DBIA. Ms. Yu is an architect with McCLAIN + YU Architecture & Design and an Associate Dean of Curriculum, Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of New Mexico. Recently, she described her thoughts about competitions in general and MBMA’s design competition in particular during a conversation with Tony Bouquot, general manager of the Metal Building Manufacturers Association. Here are some of her thoughts on why design competitions are so important to the educational process.

Bouquot: What value and opportunity does an event like the MBMA student design competition provide for students?

Yu: A student competition provides multiple opportunities for students and faculty. It allows for competition at a national level. It encourages students to delve into finer points of specific building types, such as a school, sports facility or fire department. Design competitions give students the opportunity to study and think deeply about that specific building type. It helps the faculty to engage with the students by providing a structured way to look at design options from multiple perspectives.

No matter how the students perform in a competition, I believe they are on their way to success, to be able to submit. The rigorous submission requirements are a great way to practice the seriousness of professional deadlines. My class had 100% participation in the MBMA competition and everyone learned so much. They were given a challenge to really explore the dynamics of metal building system design. They will take this knowledge and experience into their professional lives down the road. They will have a level of understanding of this building type that may be valued in their future design environments.

Bouquot: What do you consider the significance of having engineering and architectural students include metal building systems in their knowledge base?

Yu: Thank you for the question because it is a curricular consideration. The metal building system is part of our steel industry and steel is a big part of fundamental construction knowledge for our design students. Understanding the role of metal building systems, along with other primary construction types, is an important facet to their toolkit of knowledge they will take into their professional entry.

Therefore, providing a structured way for them to study metal building design helps them to expand their concept of building systems. Metal building systems resonate with students. It is a good way to enter into this and other more complex building assembly types.

Bouquot: What challenges do you experience in presenting a metal building curriculum?

Yu: Just like many people in the general public, students have some preconceptions about what metal building systems are or were. As faculty, our job is to help clarify their thinking. Our job is to help them see the creativity inherent in metal building design, and in building system design in general. Thinking about building systems does not hamper design but brings clarity and design logic to a large endeavor.

There are multiple opportunities where advancements and incremental innovations can influence the direction of the design--the pitch of the building, the openings within the pitch, how the same component pieces can be utilized to make very different interior or exterior expressions. So, the challenge is to help recast students’ ideas of what a metal building is and to allow them to push the limits. As faculty, we encourage students to experiment, innovate with the parts and pieces of known architecture. This semester, we did so with metal building components.

Bouquot: What advice would you give to other professors who are considering the option of bringing design competitions into their curriculum?

Yu: The role of faculty advisor in a design competition is very important. Students are well-intentioned and challenge themselves to often enter design competitions. But without the structure of the faculty and the semester, they often lose steam and do not enter. Therefore, having a design competition as the structure of the course, the students are motivated to do a good job for the class and also enter the competition at the end.

I think a symbiotic relationship between instructor and student, being able to take the design competition material and break it down in bite-sized chapters, is very important. Hopefully, through this process, an instructor will model behavior to show how incremental decisions and considerations ultimately lead to design evolution.

View a video of this interview on YouTube.