The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).

For over two decades, the three Washington, DC, area chapters of the American Institute of Architects (AIA)—AIA Northern Virginia, AIA Potomac Valley, and AIA DC—have collaborated to organize the annual Interschool Student Design Competition. These competitions have helped open doors for students to the various local architectural curriculums and the profession. 

In light of the monumental national and global events of the last year, the 2020 Interschool Student Design Competition was re-envisioned as the Interschool Student Design Conversation

Architecture students from the Catholic University of America, Howard University, Morgan State University, the University of the District of Columbia, University of Maryland, and Virginia Tech came together virtually during one weekend in September to address some of the most significant issues of our time. The weekend culminated in a public presentation of thoughts and ideas from the next generation of architects, designers, and problem solvers.

This year has been challenging, to say the least. Planning for the ISDC event usually starts in February, so our committee first met just as the consequences of COVID-19 began to manifest in the United States. As we continued our planning, the worsening pandemic was compounded by extensive social unrest. 

The question we came up against with each further planning meeting was, “Do we cancel the competition this year, or do we try and go virtual?” In the end, our committee decided to not only take the event virtual, but to leverage the social context, both in process by becoming the “conversation” and in product by creating a program brief focused on the interaction between architecture and social justice. Students were asked to create a graphic narrative and submit videos based on the brief. 

The event weekend consisted of:

  • A kick-off, including a speech from award-winning architect Kathryn Prigmore, FAIA
  • The competition day, where students collaborated in mixed groups on Zoom
  • The deliverable review and commentary by a volunteer panel of professionals
  • A final virtual gathering where comments and awards were shared

Across the board, our committee and the volunteers were impressed with the students’ work and voice. We hope to continue to leverage the digital resources created during the event and will be sharing links to the student videos, professional presentations, and awards. NCARB, as our partner for the last three years, will be working with us to amplify the conversation and student voices. If you have any questions regarding the competition, please feel free to contact the ISDC Committee Co-Chairs, Sonia Jarboe and Rachel Montague-Pampel.