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UC Students Bring Home Top Two Prizes in Architecture's Prestigious Lyceum Competition

The Lyceum Fellowship architectural design competition is one of North America’s  most prestigious for students. The grand prize is $12,000, and second prize is $7,500. UC students won both those awards this year, in addition to a merit award.

Date: 5/9/2013 9:30:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Provided by Alex Gormley

UC ingot   The Lyceum Fellowship architectural design competition for students is one of the most prestigious in North America, in part due to coveted prizes awarded to the winning students.
First prize is $12,000 to fund six months of travel. Second prize is $7,500 to fund three months of travel. And this year, University of Cincinnati architecture students won both those prizes in addition to a merit award.
The UC winners, all students in the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, are
  • Alex Gormley, 22, of Mason, Ohio, won a $12,000 award that will allow him to travel Europe in order to study architecture and the built environment there.
  • Owen Weinstein, 23, of Washington, D.C., won a $7,500 award that will fund three months of travel.
  • Gael Perichon, 22, of Independence, Ky., who won a merit award.
All told, the Lyceum Fellowship Competition selected only three prize winners (1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners) and only five citation or merit certificate winners. Participation in the annual Lyceum Competition is open to schools by invitation only, and only the best design schools are selected to take part.
This impressive showing by the UC students in this competition is something of a tradition. In 2006, UC architecture students brought home five of six of the Lyceum Fellowships awards, and in 2009, UC students earned seven of 10 awards. Last year, UC students won 2nd and 3rd prizes as well as the Citation (4th prize) and a merit award.
As part of this year’s competition, students were asked to identify a social or political problem in their communities, research the topic through engagement with the community and other means, develop an architectural program addressing the problem, map the story to the site, and then compose a travel itinerary (to use if they won the Lyceum) that expands on and explores these ideas.
UC’s Gormley opted to research and document the state of disrepair of many of Cincinnati’s public staircases, which number over 400. The study focused on a particular set of public stairs in Mt. Auburn that leads from Prospect Hill to Reading Road. This led Gormley to an interest in saving and renovating the public stairs in Mt. Auburn and throughout Cincinnati.
Rendering from Alex Gormley project
Rendering from Alex Gormley's winning project.

He explained, “Without this staircase, walking commutes would be about 15 minutes longer than they are with the stairs.”
Gormley added, “In many cases, the locations of the stairs themselves speak to Cincinnati’s history.” Many – first erected as wooden stairs but made of concrete now – once allowed residents in areas like Clifton to get down into the basin to industry and jobs.
Similarly, these same stairs were often placed near inclines where streetcars once provided transportation up and down Price Hill, Mt. Auburn, in Clifton and Mt. Adams. All the staircases built off one another and ultimately led to large public houses (called incline houses) that were recreation sites at the top of Cincinnati’s hills.
He would like to draw attention to threatened staircases and their history by, among other ideas, asking artists to install art pieces at the stairs, placing community centers at the top of Cincinnati hills (where the resort centers once stood), and celebrating Cincinnati’s hills with a city-wide festival – a “Festival of the Seven Hills,” something like Octoberfest.
Weinstein is examining why African Americans are underrepresented in architecture schools and means for addressing the issue, while also providing public interest design services to under-served Cincinnati communities.
Said Weinstein, “Because of my research, I feel engaged and galvanized. I want to address structural racism in my own architectural practice as much as possible. Because this is a systemic issue, I know that I can incorporate my newfound interest into any work that I do. Architects have a social obligation to use our craft and skill to work with communities rather than simply develop and deliver solutions that don’t engage the people involved.”
UC’s Perichon focused his project on perceptions of safety in the Gateway quarter of Over-the-Rhine. He explained, “The issue was that the area is perceived as unsafe when, in reality, it’s part of a vibrant community. The crux of the issue was lack of activity in certain areas, and my solution was to provide an activity on a main street as a form of community expression. This would make the activity very visible and easy to see and notice, even by outsiders.”
Perichon, who spoke with close to 100 people in the Gateway community while preparing his project, believes the proposal could become reality with backing and effort by the community.
For Gormley, the best part of winning a Lyceum Fellowship is the uniqueness of the opportunity to travel and study similar issues of hillsides, transportation and preservation as they’ve been addressed in Europe. He stated, “This will be an eye-opening, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
According to Weinstein, the best part of the contest and his project was that “it really opened my eyes. It pushed me to carefully consider and research a problem before developing a solution, to think about all those affected by a design project and the importance of engaging with community stakeholders.”
For Perichon, the best part of the project was “being able to serve a community directly and seeing that social problems are often multifaceted. Thus, the simplest solution is the one that will often gain the most traction with affected audiences.”
Gormley, Weinstein and Perichon completed their Lyceum entries this past January in a studio course led by Lucie Fontein, adjunct assistant professor in UC’s top-ranked School of Architecture and Interior Design.