Jul. 23, 2020

An elegantly imagined college dormitory designed for use during a pandemic has won top honors for a duo of Rice University students in the 2020 American Institute of Architects Houston (AIAH) Gulf Coast Green Student Competition.

Rice Architecture students Carrie Li (M.Arch. ‘22) and Mai Okimoto (M.Arch. ‘22) won first place in the competition for designing a dorm that could house people during prolonged periods of quarantine and social distancing.

The competition’s organizers asked students to design a housing facility that the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) could use not only under traditional circumstances, but also during a pandemic requiring people to obey the Centers for Disease Control’s social distancing guidelines.

“Carrie and Mai’s timely and innovative proposal is beautifully conceived, highly resolved, and elegantly presented,” said Interim Dean and the Harry K. and Albert K. Smith Professor of Architecture John J. Casbarian.

“I am particularly struck by how seamlessly it addresses the pressing issues of flooding, natural ventilation, and social distancing, and how well sited it is in relation to UHD while mitigating the adversity of the freeway expansion,” Casbarian said. “At Rice Architecture, we are very proud of their accomplishment.”

“Our project, composed of three ‘villages’ and a total of 432 units, would house UHD students and also be open during a pandemic to neighboring community members living in unsafe conditions,” Li said. “It aims to: allow social interaction to happen on different scales, from the one-on-one connection to larger scale gatherings; provide the users with safe but varied circulation paths, through which natural ventilation also occurs; treat dining as a key socializing program; and address the site’s flooding risks and impacts of the I-45 corridor expansion.”

Eight teams of students from universities across Texas and Louisiana presented their projects and ideas to a jury comprised of professionals from Kirksey, PDR Corporation, Gensler, Walter P Moore, and UHD. Students from the University of Texas at Arlington took second place honors and students from UHD took third place along with an audience choice award.

“Although I wasn’t a judge, from my own perspective, Mai and Carrie’s presentation was one of the most impressive of the day,” said student competition chair and Walter P Moore associate Christina Hughes.

“They had really elegant, well-developed graphics, their presentation was clear and smooth, and their design was well thought-out,” Hughes said. “They did the research to understand and address site-specific issues, such as flooding, accessibility, and connection to the existing campus, and had some very creative solutions to the main challenge: finding a way to promote student health and wellbeing while providing the necessary safety and distancing protocol required under quarantine and pandemic conditions. It was evident that they put a lot of thought and effort into the challenge, and the judges recognized that.”

- Originally published in Rice News.

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