Joenette Cobb (MArch/MUP '18)

With a big win in her back pocket, this dual master’s grad looks ahead

Joenette Cobb presenting her work

Joenette Cobb presenting her work to Toronto architect Ian MacDonald (center) and Annette LeCuyer, professor in UB’s Department of Architecture. Photo: Alexander J. Becker

By Sally Jarzab

Published February 25, 2019

While still a student in the dual MArch/MUP program, Joenette Cobb had a summer internship with the New York City Department of City Planning.

Joenette Cobb portrait

Joenette Cobb, Photo: Douglas Levere

The Manhattan office wasn’t far from the Brooklyn Bridge, where Cobb’s home is. Every day, she would walk the bridge for exercise.

“It was quite lovely, actually,” she says, laughing. “I would hear maybe seven different languages being spoken along the way. And of course, the views are amazing.”

Now a recent graduate back in NYC to start her next chapter, Cobb is taking the long view on her future, too, still fresh from her studies and a first-prize win in the 2018 Barbara G. Laurie NOMA Annual Student Design Competition for the UB team she was part of.

The team, which included undergraduate and graduate architecture students and members of UB’s chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students, proposed a transit-oriented development for a prominent site in Chicago’s Woodlawn community. “Roots: Woodlawn’s Gateway” designs a new transit station and an elevated, landscaped avenue that connects the site to a nearby transit station. Serving as a signature gateway to the proposed Obama Library, the green route would also integrate with an extensive urban agriculture project, including gardens and a food market. The proposal outlines a development program that could expand over a 12-year period and be net-zero energy usage.

The full UB NOMAS team consisted of Elias Kotzambasis, Xuecheng Ca, Liangying Chen, Evan Martinez and Michael Hoover, as well as UB NOMAS officers William Baptiste (president), Cobb (vice president/student affairs), and Unnati Patel (treasurer). UB architecture professor Brian Carter served as faculty mentor. This was the third consecutive year that UB students have received an award in this prestigious national design competition.

Cobb, who looks forward to heading back to the NOMAS conference next year as an attendee instead of a student competing, reflects here on the experience and what’s next.

Tell me about participating in the NOMAS competition.

It was the first year for me. Billy Baptiste was involved all three years, so he was like our expert. We started prepping over the summer, researching information regarding the site, from its history, to demographics, to crime rates. Then we had to figure out a program that would best suit the needs of the community based upon our research, and we had to make the decisions really quickly before the deadline.

We presented in front of a panel of architects and community members. We were still practicing, and messing up, right up until the presentation. But when we walked in the room and started, it was perfect. In the second round, things were more informal. At that point, we were top three, so we relaxed a bit.

We were nervous about our proposal because all of the others were amazing—the graphics and the presentations, and the people themselves were so professional. But everyone that we encountered, even those competing against us, was friendly and genuine. It was a really nice feeling.

What was the design like? What do you think gave it the edge to land first place?

We decided to propose something to assist two disenfranchised sub-groups within the community—ex-offenders and at-risk youths. Jobs and housing are issues, and we found through our research that the obesity rate is too, and all the health problems related to that. So we thought about getting to the root of the problem—pun intended, given the name of our project—by giving people the opportunity to make healthier choices. We proposed housing that gives ex-offenders and at-risk youths the opportunity to work and manage a green facility, to grow food and give back to the community, and that lifts a barrier and helps them integrate themselves back into society.

The design brief didn’t mention food access—the call was for transit-oriented development. So ours was a little different in that way. We did integrate our project into the train station, but we had that extra component, in that we’re providing more than just transportation access.

How did you become interested in architecture and planning?

I went to LaGuardia [the famed arts high school in NYC]. I took painting and fashion design, and I draw a lot. I’ve always loved design. Architecture seemed like a vessel that could hold my different interests. When I did my undergrad, the urban design studio made an impact on me. I love the collaboration and insight that comes from the group work.

I came to UB for the dual master’s program because the cost was good, obviously, but the quality was exceptional—nationally and internationally recognized.

"I came to UB for the dual master’s program because the cost was good, obviously, but the quality was exceptional—nationally and internationally recognized."

What’s in store for your future?

There are so many options to explore, and at the same time, the architecture profession is changing. The first speaker we had this semester [fall 2018], Olalekan Jeyifous, talked about how he uses architecture to construct art installations. So it’s not always working in a traditional firm, drafting and building buildings. There’s public sector work, doing research and using data to back design interventions that go to the scale of a neighborhood, or delving into planning to the point of affecting policy. I have a lot of interests, so I’m curious to see where they will bring me.