Architectural honors: BCSC students earn awards at (AIA) Indiana chapter high school design competition

Photo provided BCSC students earned awards at (AIA) Indiana chapter high school design competition, shown with instructor Darin Johnson, left-right, Vaughan Williams, Bryce Olson and Brooke Leslie.

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. students in the C4 architecture and construction program are continuing Columbus’ architectural legacy after their student projects were widely recognized.

The American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Indiana chapter puts on a high school design competition every year for high school students, known as “the architecture state championship.”

Seventy student projects are chosen by a panel of architects to be put on display at the Arts Garden in downtown Indianapolis and a number of those projects received specific commendations during a ceremony on May 3.

Of the 70 projects selected this year, 27 were from students in Darin Johnson’s C4 program. Four students— Johnathan Barbieri, Haniel Cruz, Bryce Olson and Brooke Leslie— received an Award of Honor, and another student, Vaughan Williams, received the highest distinction winning an Award of Excellence.

“I probably have a handful of kids that go on to architecture every year as a career,” Johnson said. “A lot of my students will go on to related careers like civil engineering, interior design, construction management is another one a lot of my kids went into, but all of them study or have an interest in architecture to a varying degree.”

Every year, right after the December break, AIA puts out a detailed, multiple-paged design brief that “is relatively long by high school standards,” Johnson said. Students are tasked with designing a particular building on a certain site.

This year, students were instructed to pick a well-known architect and mimic their style. More specifically, students were to design a residential structure for the chosen architect’s high school art teacher, who now is a practicing sculptor.

“They had to incorporate into their design, a sculpture garden, where the art teacher could display some of their works to sell, and they also had to have a sculpture studio where the art teacher could continue to teach sculpture at their residence,” Johnson said.

Students also had to design the private part of the residence. The structure was to be placed on a several-acre rural site on a hillside with a few flat areas.

Students work on it for nine weeks and then present what they’ve come up with on a 24-inch by 36-inch foam core board that is judged by the panel.

The trickiest part, Johnson says, “is going from a space plan into a mass model of what the structure would look like.”

Johnson’s students have taken part in the competition for more than 20 years. Although being recognized with awards is nice, he tells his students it’s about the journey up that that point.

“It’s a very subjective contest,” Johnson said. “… We do it for the experience with students going through the steps of the project. Our goal is just to get to the finals, so I tell my kids every year, if you can get to the finals, that’s our goal.”

Eight awards are distributed. The AIA Indiana chapter bestows two Designs of Merit that “are basically two boards that didn’t win one of the top six awards, that were still judge’s favorites,” according to Johnson. They also give away three Awards of Honor and three of the preeminent Awards of Excellence.

Award of Excellence winner Vaughan Williams chose to mimic German-American modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for his project “The Minimalistas Projekt.”

Williams wrote that it inspired by Mies’ “Skin and Bones” design concept, which features a steel structure and glass enclosure.

“Lastly, the cherry on top of the building’s design, its furnishing with the ‘Knoll Barcelona Mies van der Rohe furnishing Collection.’ Timeless aesthetic and comfort, yet still functional design, the Barca collection still holds up today, but oh my goodness it will cost you an arm and a leg,” Williams’ projects says.

It was Williams’ third year in the architecture state championship so he understood how it operated and was able to “play the game of the competition,” Johnson said.

“He made sure he picked a recognizable architect, then he mirrored probably that architect’s most famous residential structure and then he actually showed the process that he went through from start to finish of designing what he ended up designing,” Johnson said of Williams’ work. “… Architects are interested in process and so Vaughan went one stop above and he showed that process and he just did an outstanding job.”

Johnson said every student had their own process for picking the architect they wanted to use as inspiration.

In his class, Johnson discusses different architects throughout the year, so some students drew on those. Others “just went the Google route,” and others, having grown up here, already had a number of architects in mind.

“A lot of the kids that grew up here, they just grew up around it,” Johnson said. “You get used to riding your bike past Eero Saarinen’s churches. They just grew up around it, they don’t think about it until they get into class and we actually go visit them.”

Bryce Olson used Eero Saarinen for inspiration for “The Eagle Eye,” that has design elements of North Christian Church and the TWA hotel.

Brooke Leslie won an Award of Excellence last year and an Award of Honor this year, becoming only the second student Johnson has had to win in consecutive years. Her project “Hansha” was inspired by Japanese architect Tadao Ando.

“As you enter Hansha Studio you will see the sculpture garden where it is surrounded by water showing reflections of the art work,” Leslie’s project board reads.

Johnson, in his 38th year of teaching, has seen many students go on to careers in the field and knows the edge going through such a competition can provide, no matter the outcome.

“I think their real advantage is just their ability to handle a project, just the magnitude of taking something from a design brief to a finished project. The value, in my opinion, is not winning a prize or coming in first, second, third.”