06/05/20 USC School of Architecture Student Competition Summer 2020 “SPACED OUT: DESIGNING OUR NEW COMMUNITY”


Over the past several decades, the development of digital design and fabrication technologies have transformed both the discipline and practice of architecture, landscape architecture, building science and heritage conservation. Schools such as ours have been integral to this development. At times, we have led the way in proposing and implementing new ways of working. At other times, we have responded to these changes, providing spaces for making and sharing that borrow from leaders in our field.

The rapid, global, and consequential spread of COVID-19 over the past several months has exponentially accelerated this process of transformation. A new vision for how - and why - we work is no longer the subject of conjecture. Our ability to return to a socially integrated working environment depends on the creation of innovative proposals that respond to dynamic or unknown criteria. While this is a challenging situation, this is also a unique opportunity to implement transformative ideas and to shape the rules for future designers.

The goal of this competition (initiated by our GASA student leaders) is to use design to help bring us back together safely, to stay in touch in this isolated world, and to showcase the design talents resident in the USC School of Architecture. While plans are already being developed to accommodate the reopening of our campus, an opportunity exists to shape these plans and contribute to the ongoing discussion of shared working and learning environments. Rather than generating solutions that fulfil prescriptive criteria, our role as designers and thinkers begins by defining the problems we seek to solve. The uncertain nature of our current environment provides the opportunity to ask radical questions, thus leading to radically different proposals for our shared future. This ideas competition is an effort to invite students of all backgrounds to help define and refine that future.


In order to return to the social environment, fabrication labs, and interactive classrooms in and around Watt and Harris Hall, we need to reimagine the function, performance, and layout of the spaces we use. We don’t know much about the best practices for safely sharing space today, and the strategies for doing so in the future will continue to evolve. The best ideas, as in any quest for innovation, come from trans-disciplinary collaboration and draw inspiration from surprising sources. In an environment as uncertain as ours, that sort of sharing is our only hope.

We will value the speculative as well as the pragmatic. We will value the integrative nature of the problem/solution - particularly around industrial design, furniture design, graphic design, interior design, in concert with architectural and landscape design, to address the new potentials of our interior and exterior environments. We also will value those who might address the relationship between personal mental/physical health and one's immediate environment; as well as the issues of wayfinding and using symbols and words to communicate a range of new things we need to be reminded of each day as we gather on campus.

While our focus is to provide a dynamic space for studying and working at USC, we are in the midst of a revolution as to how work takes place in all types of environments. Proposals should provide legible proposals for spaces that foster socially vibrant work and study environments, as well as critical guidance for designs that contribute to the well-being of users.

The intention of this competition is to give students a voice in the discussion on the form of future of shared workspaces. The hope is that these proposals will contribute to the evolution of our on-campus work environment, and contribute positively to the global discourse on the evolution of shared workspace. Student design proposals will be considered schematic designs, and students not be held no liable for their feasibility or efficacy. As with all university work, design materials will become property of the School of Architecture upon submission.


Project teams may consist of one to four students. All team members must be enrolled in the USC School of Architecture. Trans-disciplinary collaboration between our programs in architecture, landscape architecture, building science and heritage conservation is encouraged. Teams may engage an unlimited number of advisors or consultants, provided they are given credit in the project submission and do not actively engage in the design process. Jurors or organizers of the competition may not serve as team members, advisors, or consultants.

Submittals shall consist of a video, in .mp4 format, no more than 1GB in size and (3) minutes in length (content may include a variety of audio and visual strategies, including still images, animations, film clips, soundtracks, etc.). Additionally, each team will submit one static summary board with a maximum of 12 images arranged on 24”x36” (vertical or horizontal) or 36”x36” board, 300 DPI, saved as a PDF. Both formats will be used by the jury as well as for any subsequent display online or physically at school. No names should be included in any of the visual materials. Additional supporting materials may be prepared and presented during the exhibition, but will not be available to the jury for review. 


Registration will open on 8 June 2020. Teams must register by 1 July 2020 to participate. For individuals interested in being connected with other students who may not have a set team: Use the registration form to identify your interest in being paired with other classmates – the Competition Committee will try to pair you with teams open for new partners. To register, visit: https://forms.gle/TGnY64fKmJQC3saV8.

Upon registering, each team will receive additional competition materials (including digital facilities documents, jury members, judging criteria, and other submission information). All submissions must be submitted through the online portal by 4:00pm on 1 August 2020. The jury will then meet to select finalists, who will be announced by August 15th. These teams will be asked to present their proposals in a public forum on 29 August 2020. Each team will have five minutes to present their work, which will be followed with open discussion on the questions and the solutions they have proposed. At the end of the presentations, the jury will present awards to winning teams. All entries to the competition will be included in a public exhibition (either online or at the school, depending on conditions at the university at this time. 


A jury of both academic and practicing professionals familiar with the USC environment will evaluate work using the following criteria (with no rank order):

1. Cultural Impact - Defined as the potential for the work to positively contribute to student culture on campus and within the School of Architecture, either through its eventual implementation or through its contribution to critical discourse we might engage in as we imagine our future community. 

2. Material Innovation - Defined as the work’s novel use of materials or assembly techniques in creating spaces for collaborative work.

3. Technological Innovation - Defined as the work’s implementation of new or emerging technologies that positively contribute to the collaborative work environment.

4. Transdisciplinary Thinking - Defined as the work’s exemplification of transdisciplinary design processes, including the composition of the design team and the variety of design strategies apparent in the work.

5. Design Synergy - Defined by the overall quality of design excellence across the whole project and its representational expression in the submission.

Teams can choose to propose solutions specifically inside our buildings or in our shared outdoor spaces; or propose solutions that transcend these environments (yet still address our particular needs). Projects at every scale – from small to large, speculative as well as pragmatic – will be considered equally valuable. As many of the details of the Restart Plan have been outlined before the competition starts, teams should feel a sense of freedom to where their imagination leads them. 

Awards will be granted in three categories:

1. Jury Awards - A $2000 valued prize per team will be conferred by the jury to projects that receive the highest rating across all evaluation criteria.

2. Students’ Choice Awards - $1000 valued prize per team awarded to two projects receiving the highest number of student votes cast during the online exhibition.

3. Dean’s Awards - Variable funds (in the range of $2500 per team) will be awarded to projects identified as representing viable prototypes. These funds are to cover material costs for developing the prototype during the fall semester using School of Architecture fabrications resources. 

The number of awards in these categories will be determined by the number and quality of entries.


Ken Breisch (Acting Dir., MHC Program), Joon-ho Choi (Associate Dean of Research), Alison Hirsch (Dir., MLA+U Program), Elizabeth Held (Dir., Communication), Alvin Huang (Dir., M.Arch & MAAS Programs), , Amy Murphy (Diversity Liaison), Doug Noble (Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs), Jen Park (Dir., Student Services), John Quach (Budget Office), Doris Sung (Dir., B.Arch & BSAS Programs), Selwyn Ting (Assoc. Dir., M.Arch & MAAS Programs), Geoffrey von Oeyen (Assoc. Director, B.Arch & BSAS), Ben White (Dir., Facilities & Operations). 

If you have questions, please contact gasatrojans@gmail.com.

 Related Links: Competition Registration


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