At the end of November, 13 third-year architecture students in Assistant Professor Elizabeth Grant’s class presented their conceptual elementary school designs as part of a competition sponsored by the Virginia Educational Facility Planners, the state chapter of the Council of Educational Facility Planners, International. 

The presentations were the culmination of 10 weeks of work this semester; students had to describe their concept for a new elementary school in five minutes to a jury and their peers, followed by an additional five minutes of question-and-answer.

The competition benefits students in many ways, including the challenge of taking on a comprehensive design challenge under a strict deadline, the opportunity to present in front of a jury of professionals and receive feedback, and the possible rewards of recognition and prizes, all made possible through the Virginia Educational Facility Planners. 

This year's competition was the fifth such collaboration between Virginia Tech and VEFP. Hannah Mitchell of Virginia Beach, Virginia, won this year’s competition.

“Designing an elementary school was very different from anything else I'd done before. For this project, I had to put myself in the shoes of an elementary school student and then design from there,” said Mitchell. “I think I have learned a lot not just about architecture, but also about myself. Before this competition, I didn't know what I was capable of. I thought I had good ideas, but up until this point I wasn't able to share my designs in the way I wanted."

"I knew I had a good idea," she continued, "I just needed to present it in a creative way that showed the hard work I put into it. It paid off, and I am very happy about winning. It makes me want to aim even higher.”

In addition to a $500 prize, Mitchell will have the opportunity to attend the 2015 VEFP Annual Conference, to be held March 16 and 17, 2015, in Williamsburg, Virginia.

The second place winner, Sarah Rege of Nairobi, Kenya, received a $250 prize. Jamie MacNichol of New Hope, Pennsylvania, and Siyu “Tara” Zhang of Temple City, California, received honorable mentions and certificates of recognition for their designs.

The jury for the competition was Ben Motley of RRMM Architects, Corey McCalla and Derek McCalla of Moseley Architects, and Ben Copeland of Lynchburg City Schools. Brothers and architects Corey and Derek McCalla are both Virginia Tech alumni who remembered making similar presentations when they were in school.

“I don’t get to see these kinds of design competitions anymore, so it’s great to get to do this, said McCalla, a 2012 graduate. “Some of these projects are very different than what you would see in the professional world so it’s really nice to see these kind of abstract ideas and maybe even take some different ideas back into practice.”

Assistant Professor Elizabeth has worked with CEFPI VA on the development of the competition and explained what makes it stand out. 

“It is not unusual for students to be working with a real program developed by a real client, or to be interacting with professionals in a mentoring capacity, but what sets this apart is that CEFPI VA has committed to running this competition over multiple years, requiring dedication on the part of their members and financial investment on the part of the organization for prizes, conference attendance, and dissemination of the student work,” Grant said. “CEFPI VA has set up a system whereby students are able to present and discuss their work in a public forum of architects and other educational facility designers and administrators.”