Student Design Competition 2018

Fennella Nkansah and Jing Tan reflect on their experience of the week and lessons learnt.

In October, we held our annual student design competition which provides an opportunity for graduates and new starters to develop proposals for a real life project or brief.  The competition spans three days and invites all those taking part to our Newcastle HQ, Cooper’s Studios.

This year saw the introduction of two new challenges which focused on creating simple solutions for complex problems.   

First and foremost, we found the immediate benefit of taking part in the student design competition was the fantastic platform it created to meet people from across the practice both in the UK and internationally, all of whom with differing levels of experience.  The dynamics of this enabled us to produce an array of ideas for the competition briefs which wouldn’t normally be achievable.

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The students designing their structures

What made this year’s competition so unique were both briefs’ indirect links to architecture.

The first challenge was to design a container which could hold three eggs using only one sheet of A1 card and glue, and would be capable of protecting the eggs when dropped from a height.  The designs we saw ranged from parachutes to triangular assemblies and even an origami dragon.  Peter Buchan and Gordon Murray seemed to thoroughly enjoy testing their limits from the Cooper’s Studios balcony!

The second challenge was to design and build a structure spanning 1m and support three potatoes at its mid point using only balsa wood, thread and glue.  The hard part – it should also be designed to fail when the load reached nine potatoes.  The judges took into consideration sophistication and elegance of the design solution.

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The assembly process of the architectural creations


Despite the brilliance of the final designs, they were perhaps designed a little too well, with some withholding 15 plus potatoes!  In the end, two bridges tied as joint winners breaking at 10 potatoes.

Both briefs were naturally designed to test us and pushed us to research disciplines outside of our norm, it meant we had to combine the skills we gained studying architecture with our new found knowledge.  The challenges upheld lessons that the judges Peter, Gordon and Richard Wise were hoping we would come to learn to understand – simplicity, usefulness and elegance.  Knowing not to overdesign and think about only the necessary elements of a brief.

Given the slight change in briefs this year, we think it would be interesting for the design competition to continue evolving down the path of drawing more connections between architecture and other professions, after all, the built environment industry is changing rapidly and forcing us all to branch out of our silos.  Upon reflecting at the end of the three days, we know the competition has given us tools to rethink our approach towards architecture day to day and a broader industry knowledge too.

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