By Jeremy White
The surprise winner of the Architectural Foundation’s annual Santa Barbara County High School Architectural Design Competition was lone freshman, Olivia Doman. She competed against six seniors, three juniors, and two sophomores, the twelve finalists who presented their work to a panel of four jurors Saturday in Los Olivos. “We haven’t had a ninth grader win it for over seven years,” said David Goldstein, retired architect and founder of the 28-year-old competition. “We gave them a really tough problem this year, and with so many seniors, we figured she didn’t have a chance.” Doman’s name will adorn the legacy trophy which will reside in her school, Santa Ynez Valley Union High School, until next year’s competition.
This year’s competition was unusual, and not merely because a freshman took first place. For the first time, the preliminary competition was held in two venues simultaneously, one in the Santa Ynez Valley Union [High School] gymnasium where Doman spent nearly seven hours drawing her solution, and at Direct Relief near the Santa Barbara airport. Each venue on Tuesday accommodated nearly thirty competitors from ten high schools in the county, and their work was judged by two teams of three architects who assessed their work. Six finalists were selected from each venue, and they were brought together Saturday to make a fifteen-minute presentation standing in front of their architectural drawings.
This year’s problem was another first. Inspired by the charrette organized by the Santa Barbara Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in October 2017, which explored ways to revitalize Santa Barbara’s downtown, this year’s problem required Doman and her peers to tackle an entire city block instead of a discrete building. “We wanted to make this an urban design problem,” said Jake Niksto, of Becker Henson Niksto Architects in Santa Barbara, creator of the problem statement. “Each year we try to make the problem relevant. Last year, with all of the recent fires, we gave them a fire station to design, but this year we thought we could challenge them to think about the importance of the space between buildings, and we wanted to use Santa Barbara as a site for this because its Paseo system was a key feature identified by the architecture community during the 2017 charrette.”
The problem required competitors to redesign an existing city block near the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara. It required a public transportation hub, an inviting open space connecting the block to State Street while scaled to pedestrians rather than automobiles, and six new dwelling units. Drawing entirely by hand, some using T-squares and triangles while others relied on the skill of their freehand, competitors were required to present their design at multiple scales, that of the city block down to the detail of bicycle storage and front doors. “I included vertical bicycle racks because they take up less space,” said Sullivan Israel, third place winner and senior from Laguna Blanca High School in Santa Barbara. This was Israel’s fourth time as a finalist, and he found this year’s problem particularly challenging. “In past years we just had to design one thing but this year it felt like four different things.”
The jury also considered the problem challenging. “This is a sophisticated problem,” commented Jermaine Washington, one of the judges who is an architect and teaches design studio at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. “The fact that they had less than seven hours to work on this is impressive.” Christopher Manson-Hing, architect and past-president of the Santa Barbara Chapter of the AIA, concurred. “This is a real-world problem, and it’s great to see these kids tackle it so well.”
Other winners Saturday were Theo Soderman, senior at Dos Pueblos in Goleta, and two honorable mentions, both seniors as well, one from Providence, Gabe Farhadian, and Jessica Ji, from the Dunn School where Saturday’s event took place. The competition was sponsored by two Rotary Clubs, the Santa Ynez Valley Rotary, and the Santa Barbara Rotary Club. Other sponsors included Inklings in Santa Ynez and Tri-Co Reproductiion [six] in Santa Barbara, who donated printing services.