Winners of IIDA’s Student Sustainable Design Competition prove that sustainability is no longer a trend.

Amy Milshtein

“Sustainability is no longer a movement,” proclaims Michelle Melendez, recent graduate of Seminole State College of Florida and Second Place Winner of IIDA’s Student Sustainable Design Competition ( Words like this from the next generation of designers should have the industry rejoicing because Melendez, her peers in the winner’s circle and design students in general have so thoroughly embraced sustainability that it’s now the standard.

The downside to this new reality is it makes judging IIDA’s annual Student Sustainable Design Competition (SSDC) that much harder. “Sustainability no longer means picking materials off of a checklist or going for a LEED certification to today’s students,” says four-time-judge Rob Moylan, principal, vice president, SmithGroupJJR. It’s a familiar scenario to Moylan who remembers the eventual acceptance and integration of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the early 1990s. “I’m absolutely heartened by the sophistication and attention to detail I see in these submissions. Students are looking at sustainability at a macro and mirco level and back up ideas with a substantial knowledge base.”

The competition celebrates original sustainable design and rewards those individuals whose projects demonstrate consistent, creative sustainable principles. As long-time sponsors of the SSDC, Interface appreciatesthe result. “Our goal has been to get future generations of designers engaged in sustainability,” explains Jennifer Busch, vice president, A&D market development, Interface. “We want to help create advocates who can go out and educate the public.” Students have learned the lesson, as this year’s winners demonstrate that sustainable design equals good design.

First Place

The Edge by Jenny Chang and Azarel Marrufo, Arizona State University

Chang and Marrufo worked together successfully as sophomores so they were excited to team up again their senior year for this mixed-use project. The Edge includes retail space, an art studio, gallery and apartments set in a pre-existing urban location. The pair wanted the 38,000-sq.-ft., three-story space to exemplify both sustainable and universal design.

The resulting project is a sophisticated entry that integrates sustainability with livability. Chang and Marrufo conserved energy by employing natural daylighting through a central void that is diffused to reduce heat gain. LEDs light the space at night. Cool ventilation is provided by opening one side of the building to move air to the center. The building features energy-efficient appliances, rooftop photovoltaic panels and low-flow water fixtures.

“Community was the core concept of this design,” says Chang. “We wanted to create a multi-use, multi-generational space that fit into its urban setting.” To do this, the team chose steel and brick, the same materials commonly found in the surrounding buildings. The project’s attention to detail reflect two women who knew their strengths early.

“I have a strong art background,” says Marrufo, “but I’m also drawn to technical challenges. I think that design has the opportunity to really change the world and provide the public with healthier spaces.”

Chang agrees and begins by educating her peers about what it means to be a designer. “There are still a lot of misconceptions of designers as decorators,” she says. “People are surprised to learn how much we know about construction and materials. They have no idea that good design promotes better living.”

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Second Place

College of Communication and Public Relations, by Michelle Melendez, Seminole State College of Florida

Inspired by the idea of collaboration, Melendez points to the calculation 1 +1 =2/2>1. “That means that two heads think better than one,” says the Puerto Rican-native. “I want to encourage teamwork throughout the space.” To that end Melendez included a variety of unusual and inviting cooperative spaces in her design. The more traditional ones are breakout spaces she calls “collaborative cork.” Felt panels made of 100% wool define these day-lit spaces and provide acoustic privacy. Cork walls allow for easy pinning and sharing of ideas.

For students who want to chill with some screen time, Melendez also included the Lay Back Collaborative. This custom, circular structure made of Kirei Board holds four bean bag chairs. The informal nature of bean bag seating encourages students to relax and explore ideas. Melendez also installed a monitor screen inside the shell. The screen rises as needed and students can connect to it from any device via an app-based system provided by the college.

Melendez wants occupants to understand sustainability on a personal level. While a large LEED Platinum plaque at reception speaks volumes, she strove to reach the community in a more interactive, immediate way. “Design has the power to teach, move and preserve,” says the former Biology major. To educate the population, Melendez included a sculpture over the reception desk titled, “The Wind of Knowledge.” These hanging shapes, embedded with LED strips, change color as they monitor the building’s performance. Red means that energy and water are being wasted; yellow and blue say the building is doing better but green means that the College is working at peek sustainability.

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People’s Choice Award

Shipping Container Vacation Home by Tegan Deering, Academy of Art University

Deering boasts an impressive design pedigree: her architect mother has worked for Knoll and Gensler; her father makes high-end cabinetry. Her grandfather was the first Californian landscape architect to use trees to shade a parking lot. “My whole family is obsessed with furniture,” she says. “I grew up sewing, making models and using the computer to lay out my bedroom.” She also understands that designers hold a lot of power. “We spec billions of dollars of materials each year. Designers need to choose wisely and educate our customers. Together we have a loud voice that can change the world.”

Her Shipping Container Vacation Home speaks to that change. Created from four repurposed containers, the net-zero getaway features living roofs and solar panels. Inside, wooden pallets are reshaped into furniture and wall coverings. Crown moldings find new use as picture railing and old water bottles work as room dividers.

A member of Philanthropy by Design, Deering has big plans for the future. “I would like to own a firm that specializes in residential and hospitality design,” she says. “And in 10 years I want to be giving back to the community.”

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