College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities

Clemson Architecture students build on environmental design award dynasty


A prestigious national competition focusing on architectural innovation has once again recognized Clemson Master of Architecture students for their work on sustainable design.

For the fifth year in a row, Clemson students have been honored by the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment (AIA COTE). Each year, the COTE Top Ten for Students competition honors sustainable design excellence.

The winning Clemson students are Thalia Jimenez Escobar and Daniel Mecca for their project “Growing Together Under One Roof.” Their winning design was a concept for a transitional housing project for domestic violence survivors in Alaska. The design combines public and private spaces to accommodate residents at different stages of the recovery process.

The award-winning project by Clemson students Thalia Jimenez Escobar and Daniel Mecca is “Growing Together Under One Roof.”

“I am very proud of our students and faculty for being recognized by the national COTE awards,” said Jim Stevens, director of the School of Architecture. “The Clemson School of Architecture is committed to preparing students to design a more resilient and sustainable built environment.”

The proposals were completed in the Fall 2020 design studio III (ARCH 8510) taught by Ulrike Heine, David Franco and George Schafer.

Designed for survivors

“Growing Together Under One Roof” is designed to be a 165,309-square-foot facility for domestic violence survivors who may not have the resources needed to escape difficult home lives. Jimenez Escobar and Mecca incorporated multiple renewable energy sources into the design to ensure sustainability.

Thalia Jimenez Escobar

Jurors commented that the successful project exhibited “a strong sense of integration between the buildings, sustainable responses and building performance. The design creates something unique in an already harsh climate by developing a community of support. The unique climate location in Alaska along with the project’s environmental solutions elevates the design.”

The design suits residents at different stages of the recovery process by helping them integrate slowly into the community. The complex accommodates varying levels of privacy, with the most private units placed toward the back of the building where the river serves as a natural barrier to avoid public entrance. The less private units are located at the front of the building where the residents have a chance to interact with the public.

Additionally, programming for the local community such as a community garden, playground, library, computer lab, and vertical farming seeks to bring the nearby community together by providing neighbors of all ages with a place where they can come together and continue activities such as cultivating crops during Fairbank’s long winter months.

A tradition of excellence

Projects created at Clemson have received seven of the 50 COTE student honors in the past five years, representing a full 14 percent of the awards presented nationwide. The annual successes reflect the School of Architecture’s “commitment to sustainablity and excellence in design,” Stevens said. All student entries are judged anonymously.

Daniel Mecca

Architects play a key role in addressing the effects of climate change through the design of the built environment, and the AIA developed its Committee on the Environment for this reason. The committee and its annual competitions help prepare students to predict needs and create adaptive and resilient structures.

“The concept of sustainability is taught as an integral part in our graduate education,” said Heine, Associate Professor and Assistant Director of the School of Architecture. “The COTE Top Ten competition gives us a great opportunity to teach it in sync with creativity and innovation, and not as an afterthought. Seeing the success of our students in the past five years makes us proud and validates this innovative teaching approach.”

The annual Top Ten for Students competition is a partnership between AIA COTE and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA). The competition recognizes 10 exceptional studio projects that demonstrate designs moving toward carbon-neutral operation through creative and innovative integration of design strategies such as daylighting, passive heating and cooling, materials, water, energy generation, and sustainable systems. The program challenges students to submit projects that use a thoroughly integrated approach to architecture, natural systems, and technology to provide architectural solutions that protect and enhance the environment.

The winning COTE student projects are displayed on the AIA and ACSA websites. Winning students will also receive an honorarium and mentoring opportunities with professional architects.

Among this year’s judges in the COTE competition was Raymond Huff, Associate Professor Emeritus and Director of the Clemson Architectural Center in Charleston.

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