The Thirteenth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2011
Berkeley Prize 2011

DESIGN FELLOWSHIP REPORT #1 – PREETI TALWAI

THE InFORMal COMPETITION

December 26, 2011

When I first wrote my proposal for the InFORMal student design competition in April 2011, the idea was to help students examine informal uses of public space by the disenfranchised, and understand the interplay of social issues and architecture that my BERKELEY PRIZE essay had explored. However, creating, launching, and completing the first stage of the InFORMal student design competition over the past six months has been much more than just an exercise for design students. During its course, I too have grown academically through leadership, creativity, and self-motivation, and have gained the confidence to take initiative in projects in which I believe.

Preparation for the competition began in late May and continued into August. Because I individually created all publicity materials, the process allowed me to explore avenues in creative design to which I had not previously been exposed. Furthermore, the execution of these tasks required extensive communication with department heads, professors, and staff members (such as librarians, website managers, schedulers, and management services operators) – all of whom I may never have spoken to so extensively if not for this opportunity. 

I began by securing judges for the competition, a process which exposed me to the diversity of research and expertise within my school, the University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design. But while speaking to professors about their work and witnessing their enthusiasm for the competition was motivating, it also taught me about the difficulties of scheduling and availability that are part of planning a competition. Ultimately, two of the seven faculty members I approached were available to judge the competition – Professor Margaret Crawford, and Professor Andrew Shanken, both in the Department of Architecture.

My next step was creating an informational website, promotional poster, and application materials. The poster was the first piece of promotional material I had created for a wide audience, and it provided an outlet for me to apply the graphic skills that I had acquired as a design student. Designing application materials was a challenge in written communication – hoping to successfully convey my intentions and ideas while connecting with a diverse audience. And as I was inexperienced with web design, that was a significant learning experience which allowed me to creatively experiment through a new medium, and gave me skills that I can carry to future projects.

Along with necessary information about the competition, the site included links to pertinent background reading and relevant examples, which required me to utilize a variety of textual and visual sources. The most interesting part of gathering these various sources was discovering the universality of my competition’s theme (the informal use of space by disenfranchised social groups). From Texas to Tel Aviv, the same concerns surrounding public space are present, and compiling these sources in the website helped me to truly realize the scale of this issue.

Through August and September, I promoted the competition through posters, classroom announcements, informational sessions, and electronic listservs. With help and contacts from our department chair, counselors, and faculty members, I reached out to architecture departments at five universities and community colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area. Through this process I realized the lack of visibility that socially motivated design initiatives such as the BERKELEY PRIZE have in the student community, but at the same time was pleased to know that there was a great deal of interest displayed for the competition.

The final deadline for Stage 1 entries was October 6 and a total of four entries, all from UC Berkeley’s architecture department, were received. Because of the low turnout, I worked with the judges to restructure the original competition guidelines and prize allocations to fit a smaller scale.

In mid-December, the judges finalized Stage 1 decisions, and selected two students’ proposals to advance to Stage 2. These students have received detailed instructions for Stage 2, and will now, with guidance from faculty and/or graduate students, further their proposals to create design boards. that communicate suggestions for their sites. The boards will be submitted in late February, when a panel of judges, including experienced architecture studio instructors, will review them and select a final winner. Subsequent plans include a small awards reception, as well as an exhibition of the final boards in Wurster Hall, home of the College of Environmental Design.

Overall, executing the first stage of the InFORMal student design competition has been a challenging and rewarding learning experience. The process truly demonstrated how difficult, yet satisfying, a large-scale project like a competition is to undertake. Not only have I developed technical, organizational, and communication skills, but I have also gained an appreciation for my role as a design student and an awareness of issues in my community and in the College of Environmental Design. I have gotten the chance to network with many experts in the college and have become confident in sharing my ideas with a variety of people.

The BERKELEY PRIZE has shown me how much more there is to architecture than laboring over digital files or laser-cutting models in a design studio. And, though small in its turnout, this competition – by far my largest individual endeavor – has shown me that others do share my concerns and has motivated me to continue doing such projects. 


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Ms. Preeti Talwai, University of California, BERKELEY, USA
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