UB NOMAS takes first place in national competition

The UB NOMAS team, back in Buffalo, with their first place award. Photo by Maryanne Schultz

The UB NOMAS team stands with their first place award. Architecture professor Brian Carter (fourth from left) is the organization's faculty mentor. Photo by Maryanne Schultz

Published October 25, 2018

A student design proposal that would create a gateway to the future Obama Library in Chicago earned UB's NOMAS team first prize in the 2018 Barbara G. Laurie NOMA Annual Student Design Competition. 

The team included both undergraduate and graduate architecture students and members of UB's chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students. This is the third consecutive year that the team has received an award in this prestigious national design competition. 

The student team 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 existing 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. 

"Roots" would create a grand avenue connecting two transit hubs and a gateway to the proposed Obama Library in Woodlawn.

"Roots" would create a grand avenue connecting two transit hubs and a gateway to the proposed Obama Library in Woodlawn, outside Chicago. The design concept earned UB's National Organization of Minority Architecture Students first place in a national design competition.

The proposal outlines a development program that could expand over a 12-year period and be net-zero energy usage. Student drawings and a model highlighted the details of the development from three different viewpoints -  'Community Roots', 'Green Roots'  and 'Expanding Roots'.

Team lead Elias Kotzambasis said the project evolved over the past few months and required intensive collaboration. Their work began last summer with detailed studies of the Woodlawn community's social, economic and architectural histories. With the start of the semester the team met weekly to compile their project narrative and designs. "Everyone brought something unique to the table and took on a specific role," says Kotzambasis.  

"Roots" features a new transit station that would link to an existing transit station by an elevated, landscaped avenue.

"Roots" features a new transit station that would link to an existing transit station by an elevated, landscaped avenue. 

The full UB NOMAS team consisted of: Elias Kotzambasis (competition leader) and competition team members Xuecheng Ca, Liangying Chen, Evan Martinez, and Michael Hoover, as well as UB NOMAS officers William Baptiste (president); Jonette Cobb (vice president/student affairs); and Unnati Patel (treasuer). UB architecture professor served as the faculty advisor.  

Kotzambasis says the team was highly motivated by the success of the last two UB NOMAS teams, which earned third place last year and honorable mention in 2016. Past team members were similarly inspired, making time to coach and advise this year's team on their prepartions for the competition.  

At the competition in Chicago last weekend, the environment was intense. With 40 participating schools, student teams delivered a quick succession of five-minute presentations to a jury of architects and Woodlawn community members. The short-listed teams then offered more detailed presentations of their concepts.

Kotzambasis says the other schools were well prepared, with impressive drawings and models - but UB was unmatched in its context-sensitive design. "I believe the thing that set us apart was our focus on improving the community. Our research gave us clear goals and helped us design with purpose. This is a lesson that all of the team members will take forward with them as we move into the professional world."

Joenette Cobb, a dual MArch/MUP student and vice president of UB NOMAS, says the win has energized the team and entire UB NOMAS organization: "Winning first place in a national competition stands as testimony to the fortitude of the team. Everyone carried themselves with immense integrity and pride, which was exemplified during the competition presentations in Chicago.

"The team encompassed more than just the four of us who went to Chicago. And we would not have been able to achieve what we did without the support of our faculty advisor, Brian Carter, competition alumni, and financial assistance from the department. It is our hope that through this recognition, the NOMAS organization will continue to flourish within this institution and inspire the practice of architecture and design." 

William Baptiste (MArch '19), UB NOMAS president and member of the 2016 and 2017 winning teams, says his participation in NOMAS has been the highlight of his time at UB: "I've been in NOMAS since 2016 and I would have never imagined being where we are right now as 1st place winners of the NOMAS 2018 competition. This year we overcame 40 schools; that proves that the University at Buffalo can compete with some of the greatest schools out there. Joining NOMAS was one of the best things I could have done in my architecture career because of the people I have met and have been able to work with. UB NOMAS can only go up from here."

UB NOMAS was founded in 2011 to champion diversity and inclusion in the design professions. In addition to the annual NOMA competition, UB's NOMAS group leads student visits of architecture, engineering, construction, and planning firms in the Buffalo area to expose students to a variety of professional environments.