September 5, 2023 Three Students Place in ACSA Steel Design Student Competition

Three students from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s School of Architecture were recognized in the spiritual space category of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture 2023 Steel Design Student Competition. The competition recognized six designs of “a place for the Spirit” on a campus, welcoming to all, where members of the community and visitors can learn about and express spirituality.

Grahm Mapes, a fourth-year student from Nashville, received second place for his design titled Structural Grove, and Julia Goodman and Elsie O’Connell, fourth-year students from Knoxville, received honorable mentions for their designs Along the Spine and The Steel Collector.

The nationwide competition drew submissions from over 1,000 participants spanning both categories.

Grahm Mapes

“I’m still shocked,” said Mapes. “I was very ecstatic to learn that second place was awarded to me and my design. I am thankful for that! It was great to hear that two of my classmates got recognized as well. We had such great work all throughout the studio.”

The students’ submissions were a part of a studio held in the spring by Katherine Ambroziak, associate professor and associate dean for academic affairs and research. The competition presented a challenge for students to delve into design considerations tied to steel usage while incorporating spaces for worship, meditation, learning, and fellowship. Each student selected a location on UT’s campus for their proposed spiritual areas.

Mapes and Goodman chose separate areas within the Humanities and Social Sciences Lawn. Mapes received praise from the jurors for his demonstration of the functional interior of the spiritual space and explanation of how sacred artifacts and ritual items are used in different faith communities.

“I had created a list of different places on campus that were selected to be demolished based on the campus’s master plan and spaces with a very green presence on campus,” Mapes said. “I feel most spiritual when I’m in a forest setting so that played a role in my site selection as well.”

Julia Goodman

Goodman’s hand sketches and renderings of her steel assembly were described as engaging and provocative by the jurors. Her site “aims to draw students into a spiritual space that embeds itself within the existing spaces of the site, mimicking how a search for spirituality and purpose is embedded within our nature.”

“I thought about what kind of space I would want on campus, just somewhere to gather with friends, but also provide an escape of sorts,” said Goodman. “I knew I wanted a meditation garden that was nice and quiet, away from the craziness of campus which is what led to the decision to use the garage. I think I really liked the sound-absorbing quality of the concrete in contrast to the loudness of the plaza above.”

O’Connell, having spent time on the agricultural sector of the campus growing up, opted to construct a space linking the UT Gardens to the Hamilton Mound, a Native American burial site on the agriculture campus. Her structure’s emphasis on natural elements acts as a way to restore the space to an energetic spiritual center.

The college’s emphasis on collaborative studios benefited Ambroziak’s course as the students were critiqued by each other as well as faculty in other schools.

The college’s emphasis on collaborative learning benefited the students as they supported one another with peer critique,” said Ambroziak. “The competition focused on the relationship between design, user experience, and building technology, so courses like design implementation and representation directly influenced how students thought about their studio project.

Elsie O'Connell

For Goodman and O’Connell, selecting this studio represented an opportunity to challenge themselves with a novel material. The competition outcomes bolstered their confidence as they begin the fall semester.

“Before working with steel of this scale had seemed out of the ballpark for me,” O’Connell said. “Now I want to try other materials, other settings or programs. I’m really excited, because I feel that there’s so many new opportunities I can look into.”

The winners’ projects will be exhibited at the 2024 ACSA Annual Meeting in Vancouver, and the 2024 AIA National Convention in Washington D.C., as well as published in a competition summary publication.

The competition is administered by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and sponsored by the American Institute of Steel Construction.