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Architecture Students Bring Home Seven of 10 International Design Awards!

The Lyceum Fellowship architectural design competition is arguably the world’s most prestigious (and richest) for students. The grand prize is $12,000, and this year (as in the past) UC nearly swept the awards – and made history. No other school has ever swept the contest as often as the University of Cincinnati.

Date: 4/30/2009 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Images from Caity Osborn

UC ingot   It’s nearly a sweep for the University of Cincinnati, which houses the nation’s No. 2 graduate architecture program (right behind Harvard University).

The winners of the world’s most prestigious architectural design competition for students were just announced. And one school is bringing home nearly every prize – the University of Cincinnati.

University of Cincinnati graduate architecture student Caity Osborn, 25, of Chapel Hill, N.C., won the top prize of $12,000 to fund five months of travel.

UC graduate architecture student Jacob Mans, 26, of Hinckley, Minn., won the third-place prize worth $1,500 in cash, and other UC students won five of the six merit awards associated with the competition.

Jon McKee, chair and founder of the Lyceum Fellowship Committee, said, “I have never seen one school essentially sweep the competition twice, as the University of Cincinnati has now done. And this contest has been held for 24 years now.”

  • In 2006, UC architecture students won five of the six awards granted, including sweeping first, second and third prizes as well as every other prize except one merit award.
  • In this year’s 2009 competition, UC won seven of 10 awards, including the first-place prize, third-place prize and five of six merit awards.
McKee added that the professionals judging the “blind” competition (where the identities of the contestants and their schools are hidden during the judging process) felt compelled to increase the number of merit awards given this year because there were so many excellent projects from UC.

He explained, “We’ve never before given six merit awards. We’ve never had so many outstanding projects, and it turned out – almost all of them coming from one school. It must have had something to do with the instruction the students are receiving. When the winners’ identities were revealed and their schools were named, it kept coming up: University of Cincinnati.”

The 2009 UC award winners are

  • Caity Osborn, University of Cincinnati, first-prize winner of $12,000 to fund five months of travel.
    Image of Osborn design
    A portion from a rendering of Caity Osborn's winning design.

  • Jacob Mans, University of Cincinnati, third-prize winner of $1,500.
  • Eric Claus, University of Cincinnati, merit winner.
  • Melissa Garmann, University of Cincinnati, merit winner.
  • Preethi Srikanth, University of Cincinnati, merit winner.
  • Nathan Strieter, University of Cincinnati, merit winner.
  • Katsuya Suematsu, University of Cincinnati, merit winner.

Most of the students worked with the guidance of Lucie Fontein, adjunct assistant professor in UC’s nationally top-ranked School of Architecture and Interior Design, part of the university’s internationally ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.

Sharing prizes with the UC students were a McGill University student who won second prize, and two University of Arizona students, one of whom won a citation award and one who won a merit award.

First-prize winner Caity Osborn is using her prize money to fund five months of world travel in Europe and Asia.

She recalled, “I was so surprised to win. I was in a Target store on a Sunday night when I got the call. It was a call that basically said, ‘Here’s your life-changing experience, now go to it.’”

And that’s just what Osborn is doing. She got that call about three weeks ago and just left on her travels to Asia and Europe, including visits to Austria, China, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

“Getting to travel is the best part,” she affirmed. “We study so many environments and designs in books but never get to experience them. I’m a very experience-based designer, and I want to more fully explore how people create meaning with space.”

And Lyceum founder McKee hopes that the travel will, indeed, be life changing for UC’s Osborn.

McKee founded the competition in 1985. It is operated by McKee and an independent board of architect. McKee began the contest because he so strongly believes in the value of travel as part of designers’ education. He stated, “I traveled after I graduated from school, and at the time, I’d wished I’d been able to travel two or three years earlier, when I was still a student. It would have been so helpful to integrate what I learned while traveling with my studies.”


McKee added that the individuality and expressiveness of this year’s entries from UC stood out. Even though the judging of entries is done “blind” so that all entries are critiqued without any student/institutional identifications, McKee said that a judge might guess which school an entry is from because each design program stamps its students with a certain pattern. “I don’t think any of the judges had a sense of these projects being from the same school. They were all extraordinary and individual. Needless to say, I think very highly of the program at the University of Cincinnati," he said.

Participation in the annual Lyceum Competition is open to schools by invitation only, and only the world’s best design schools are selected to take part.


In the 2009 competition, students around the globe were asked to design a creative arts studio, specifically a blacksmith studio, on a wooded hill site in Penland, N.C. It would be a space where people would either learn the blacksmithing craft in workshops courses or at least tour and learn about the trade.

The challenge lay in using the skills and techniques common to our digital/machine age to express qualities common when handcrafted construction and handcrafted arts were the norm in buildings connected to their geographic place and focused on the human scale.

Likely, the careful research efforts by the architecture students helped lead to the winning results. The students not only visited the proposed design site in Penland, N.C., they also sought out a blacksmith in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Northside to learn about the craft and its needs. In addition, another blacksmith from northern Ohio also visited the UC students in studio to discuss his craft.

UC student Jacob Mans explained, “We visited the blacksmith space in Northside to get direct experience of the environment. What are the demands of the craft, storage needs, space needs, ventilation needs and other aspects?”

The students found that in her work focusing on the creation of unique, wrought-iron fences and other fabrications of that nature, that blacksmith did have specific needs for space, placement of tools and, of course, ventilation.

The winning design by Caity Osborn carefully responded to the site.
Rendering from Osborn design.
A portion of a rendering by Caity Osborn depicting how the blacksmiths' studios might fit into the site.

She recalled, “I specifically wanted to preserve the characteristics of the landscape, especially a stand of trees called the White Pine Cathedral adjacent to the site. The quality of light through those trees was a powerful addition to the area. I didn’t want to disturb that but instead take advantage of it.”

In the end, her design incorporates the woods and woodland paths already at the site to lead visitors past two blacksmith studios that could be completely opened on one side to allow visitors to full experience the craft.

“The studios resemble framed boxes and are a frame to encounter and experience this craft. I view the progression through the woods, along the extant path and past the blacksmith studios as a study of light and movement, a progression through space and an arrival,” she said.

  • Apply to UC’s graduate architecture program.