Cornell NOMAS Takes Second Place in Annual Student Design Competition

Ten young people pose with a certificate next to a conference banner
The Cornell NOMAS team poses with the award. photo / Abigail Calva (B.Arch. '22)
A woman speaks at a podium while looking at an LCD display beside her
Jaein Lee (B.Arch. '22) presenting Our Backyard at the conference. photo / Abigail Calva (B.Arch. '22)
a row of four- and five-story brick apartment buildings with fire escapes on a city street
The site of Cornell NOMAS's project in Brooklyn. photo / provided
The Cornell NOMAS team poses with the award. photo / Abigail Calva (B.Arch. '22) Jaein Lee (B.Arch. '22) presenting Our Backyard at the conference. photo / Abigail Calva (B.Arch. '22) The site of Cornell NOMAS's project in Brooklyn. photo / provided
October 29, 2019

The Cornell University student chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) was recently awarded second place in the NOMA annual student design competition at its 2019 conference in Brooklyn, New York. The second-place finish is the group's first time in the top five since a fourth place in 2009 and first place in 2008.

Titled "Believe the Hype: A Global Collective of Industry Change Agents," this year's conference took place on October 16–20, in Brooklyn. Cornell's competition entry — Our Backyard — provided a housing solution for a mixed-income residential development in the New York City borough.

The National Organization for Minority Architects Students (NOMAS), the student group under the leadership of NOMA, exposes architecture students of color to the history, culture, and practice of professional architects of color. NOMA's annual conference consists of workshops, meetings, and events focusing on the impact of current issues in architecture on people of color. Students raise funds to attend and participate in the conference. In addition to the conference and competition, during the year NOMAS hosts special events and guest speakers, as well as making field trips and site visits.

Jaein Lee (B.Arch. '22), the chapter's current president, said that NOMAS is open to minority students across Cornell who are interested in joining. "We do not decide who the members of NOMAS are going to be; it depends on how willing each member is to be in NOMAS."

The competition design requirements change yearly but always recognize and strengthen marginalized neighborhoods and communities. "It's a new way for all of us to approach design since in studio we tend to focus on beauty or efficiency," Lee said. She and Angel Langumas (B.Arch. '23) together presented Our Backyard during the conference.

This year, the student team had the support and guidance of staff advisor Lily Rice, assistant director of AAP student services; faculty advisor Rubén Alcolea, visiting professor in architecture; as well as Andrea Simitch, Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow and chair of the Department of Architecture.

"It is gratifying to see students achieve what they worked hard for, and hearing their name called in second place was music to my ears," Rice said. "The students by far exceeded my expectations and proved to themselves that they have what it takes. Now they know that the sky is the limit."

Alcolea said Our Backyard provided a specific architecture design response combining housing units with diverse public spaces — something that even experienced architects struggle to do.

"The team of mostly second- and third-year undergraduates approached the architecture problem with radical ambition and without prejudices," Alcolea said. "The resulting proposal was extremely fresh but also meticulously rigorous, and I think this was perhaps one of the keys to their success."

Competing with 39 other teams from U.S. architecture colleges, the award was even more meaningful in an already demanding context: beginning in the spring, the Cornell team developed their project in addition to classwork and reviews in a relatively short period, while other colleges completed their projects as part of required design courses.

Alcolea praised the team's achievement.

"I hope this fantastic achievement empowers the team to raise their voice and take even more active leadership beyond the Department of Architecture, increasing the impact these initiatives should have in our academic communities."

Joining Lee and Langumas on the Cornell NOMAS team were:

  • Yimeng (Lucy) Ding (B.Arch. '22)
  • Farzana Hossain (B.Arch. '22)
  • Polen Guzelocak (B.Arch. '22)
  • Wendolin Gonzalez (B.Arch. '21)
  • Htet Aung (Alexander) Kyaw (B.Arch. '23)
  • Abigail Calva (B.Arch. '22)
  • Maiko Sein (B.Arch. '23)
  • Cornelius Tulloch (B.Arch. '21)
  • Chi Yamakawa (B.Arch. '21)
  • Carolina Zuniga (B.Arch. '23)

New this year at the conference was the first-ever NOMA Cornell Meetup, coordinated by Rice and AAP Connect director Scott Scheible. AAP alumni in attendance included Kimberly Dowdell (B.Arch. '06), 2019–20 NOMA president; Antoine Bryant (B.S. URS '95), NOMA organizational liaison; Michael Neumann (B.Arch. '81) of Michael Neumann Architects; Mark Hill (B.Arch. '84), cofounder of Studio H Architecture Planning Environments (SHAPE); and more than 40 other alumni from across the country. Joining them were representatives from AAP admissions and Robert (Bob) Balder, the Gensler Family Sesquicentennial Executive Director of AAP NYC.

By Patti Witten

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