UTSA architecture’s Estefania Barajas, Jorden Gomez honored in AIA COTE Student Design Competition

(April 25, 2017) -- The American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment (AIA COTE) in partnership with the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), has selected an architectural proposal by two University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) students as one of ten winning entries in the prestigious 2016-17 AIA COTE Top Ten for Students Design Competition. A jury of national sustainability experts honored Estefania Barajas (pictured at right) and Jorden Gomez (pictured below), both undergraduates in the UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning, for their proposal, “Housing a Million,” which can be viewed on the ACSA website.

The competition was highly competitive, with over 600 participants from 38 schools in the United States and Canada. The winning projects will be exhibited at the AIA Annual Convention in Orlando, FL from April 27-29, 2017 and the 106th ACSA Annual Meeting in March of 2018. Barajas and Gomez’s proposal emerged from a design studio led by UTSA assistant professors Ian Caine and Dr. Rahman Azari. Barajas and Gomez’s win marks the second year in a row that a UTSA studio project sponsored by Caine and Azari has been honored as one of ten winning teams in the annual AIA COTE competition.

“Dr. Azari and I are thrilled that the COTE jury decided to recognize Stephanie and Jorden’s studio project, which confronts the difficult issue of affordable housing in a powerful and direct way,” Professor Caine said. “‘Housing a Million’ pursues poetry and performance within the tight constraints of the most mundane of residential prototypes — modular housing. In this regard, the project wonderfully fulfills the goals of the COTE studio.”    

The competition recognizes ten exceptional studio projects that seamlessly integrate innovative, regenerative strategies within their broader design concepts. The program challenged 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.

San Antonio will add 1.1 million people to its population by 2040. In 25 years, this influx will bring the population of the city from 1.4 million to 2.5 million, requiring an additional 500,000 units of housing. “Housing a Million,” places micro-units, which comprise a small studio apartment with a fully functioning kitchen and bathroom, in the backyard of existing homes in a south San Antonio neighborhood. The proposal provides more affordable housing, increases engagement and inclusion, and diversifies available housing typologies. It also adds walking and biking trails in the existing alley, which will increase transportation options for the neighborhood.   

A primary goal of the project is to generate a micro-unit that minimizes costs for cooling and illumination. Both the envelope and structure of the building are made of modular Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), which are prefabricated and offer relatively inexpensive installation. The panels create an air-tight envelope that allows for control of indoor air, reduces energy use, filters pollutants and allergens, and decreases possibility for mold. To address San Antonio’s humid, subtropical climate, the micro-units utilize four primary design strategies — the well-insulated envelope, window systems with operable shading, large shaded south-facing windows, and cross-ventilation through operable windows. The roof is designed to collect and store rainwater in cisterns, while bioswales use native flora, soil, and a gravel liner to treat water before it infiltrates into the local Edwards Aquifer.

Calling the concept inspiring and practical, the jury commended the project for addressing a hard question — how do we increase suburban population density? “By using modular housing units, the students tackle a problem that needs more attention,” they noted. “This project takes a pragmatic approach and addresses sustainability on site as well as a regional level.”

The ten winning projects are listed below, with the faculty sponsor, project title, and respective university. All winning projects can be viewed on the ACSA website.

Nicole Chavez

Karin Bjorkman
Faculty Sponsors: Sandy Stannard & Daniel Wiens
A Residential School in Andhra Pradesh
California Polytechnic State University

Taylor Metcalf
Madeline Cunningham

Faculty Sponsors: Margaret Ikeda, Evan Jones, & Adam Marcus 
California College of the Arts

James Woods
Christopher Sandkuhler
Elizabeth Widaski

Faculty Sponsors: Ulrike Heine, Henrique M. Houayek, Ufuk Ersoy, & David Francobr
Landscape in Motion
Clemson University 

Charlie Cotton
Faculty Sponsors: Laura M. Briggs & Jeff Geisinger
Urban Ecology: Crossing Boundaries
Rhode Island School of Design

Adam Smith
Rachel Elbon

Faculty Sponsor: Kevin Stevens
Gastronomia: Sustainable Agriculture
University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Shawn Barron
Saranya Panchaseelan

Faculty Sponsor: Ulrike Passe
The Apicenter
Iowa State University

Estefania Barajas
Jorden Gomez

Faculty Sponsors: Ian Caine & Rahman Azari
Housing a Million
University of Texas at San Antonio

Kurt G. Kimsey
Matthew Wieber

Faculty Sponsors: Miguel Calvo Salve & Russell B. Roberts
NURTURE: Lehigh Living Cultural Center
Marywood University

Anushka Pai
Faculty Sponsors: Silvia Acosta, Laura M. Briggs, & Jeff Geisinger
Oscillating States
Rhode Island School of Design

Robin Wilder
Faculty Sponsors: Steven P. Juroszek, Thomas McNab, & Jaya Mukhopadhyay
The Culture and Production of Home: Encouraging Sustainable Lifestyle Through Tiny Dwellings
Montana State University