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Just like the world of architecture, the Newhouse Architecture and Design Competition has gone through many changes over the past 35 years. What hasn’t changed, however, is the impact the competition makes on thousands of Chicago-area teens.

by Jessica Cilella, Web Editor

In 1982, late Illinois State Senator Richard Newhouse Jr.—the first African American to run for Chicago mayor—started the competition at the 19th annual Industrial Education Exhibit. He proposed a simple model building contest that drew in about 60 entries from carpentry and drafting classes in Chicago Public Schools and City Colleges of Chicago. Professionals from Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), including Adrian Smith, judged the entries and winners received trophies and scholarships.

In the years that followed, interest grew among architectural firms. More signed on to judge and some started offering paid summer internships to the winners. Once an independent project and separate organization, Newhouse became part of CAF in 1994. The competition expanded from simple model building to architectural drawings, models and design problems. Honors were given not only to students, but also to educators, for their dedication to teaching design and architecture.

“The Newhouse Competition is one of CAF’s legacy programs and a unique experience for teens. For nearly 35 years it has empowered underserved students to apply the design process to real-world problems while teaching them what it means to be an engaged citizen.”

– Lynn Osmond, CAF’s president and CEO

Early Newhouse competitions were primarily replication projects: model making, drawings and renderings. But over time, as new technologies emerged, the role of a draftsperson diminished. Chicago Public Schools started eliminating architecture and drafting classes and introducing graphic design and computer programming courses. Newhouse has adapted along the way. In 2015, drafting and replication projects were completely eliminated from the competition. Increasingly, Newhouse projects also challenge young people to consider community needs and design projects that are place-based and personalized.

Although the context for the competition has changed in recent years, its initial objectives—to encourage students from populations underrepresented in architecture and design professions to pursue talents and careers in these fields—remain relevant.

“We are continuously impressed with the projects that are submitted each year,” Lynn said. “CAF is an expert in teen education that reaches more than 30,000 children and families each year with architecture and design programs. We are particularly proud that Newhouse can serve as a stepping stone for these talented students as they pursue fulfilling careers.”

A Valuable Experience

Since 1982, CAF estimates more than 10,000 students have participated in the Newhouse competition. Last year, more than 300 projects were turned in by 297 students from 21 different schools. In total, Newhouse curriculum was taught to more than 700 students.

Newhouse alum Aldair Renteria remembers spending many months in 2008 and 2009 working on his Newhouse projects, which introduced him to new software, project budgeting, building codes and other concepts.

“[Newhouse] stood out from other programs because of the diversity of projects one can participate in,” he said. “The amount of knowledge gained by competing is so immensely valuable. It helps students learn creative thinking and problem solving skills, which are crucial not only in architecture, but in other professions as well.”

Aldair, an Illinois Institute of Technology graduate who now works on high-end residential projects in San Francisco for BDE Architecture, said the competition also taught him a lot about the city and its diverse neighborhoods.

“It opened my eyes to the vast array of architecture and culture the city has to offer and I finally started to develop my own perceptions of architecture and started to see things most people would never notice,” he said. “It was like seeing the city again for the first time, with fresh eyes.”

Newhouse alumna Ashleyann Sanabria is now an assistant project manager at Ventana Design-Build Systems. She was one of four girls raised by a single mother with no college education. Her older sisters either didn’t complete college or didn’t attend at all. She said her experience competing in Newhouse from 2007 to 2009 encouraged her to pursue her dream of obtaining an architecture degree.

“I never anticipated going to college, but these experiences—both devoting myself to the competition, as well as other activities—completely changed my outlook on my future,” she said. “I believe this program was instrumental in shaping my future and the future of other students that were in similar positions as I was.”

Teen talent on display

The Newhouse Competition culminates in a city-wide project showcase of hundreds of entries from diverse students from around the city and surrounding suburbs. Students get to see their work featured in a prominent location and receive valuable feedback from the more than 60 architects and designers who jury their work. Today, Newhouse winners are awarded cash prizes, tickets for the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise Aboard Chicago's First Lady Cruises and the opportunity to apply for summer internships and other architecture programs.

“You see all of these students completely jazzed up and proud of what they’ve created. Their work is on display for families, friends, teachers and professionals to see. They start to see Chicago as their own. It’s an extraordinarily unique celebration of the built environment and the talent of Chicago’s teens.”

– Jesse Banwart, CAF's Manager of Teen Programs

This year, the Newhouse showcase will take place on Saturday, May 20, from noon to 3pm at Robert Morris University’s State Street Gallery. Divisions include digital and physical modeling, advanced architecture, landscape architecture, graphic design, industrial design, photography and fine arts.

Today, Newhouse alumni can be found far and wide, working as architects, educators, planners and more. It’s proof that Senator Newhouse’s effort to introduce students to architecture and role models in the industry has been a great success. On this 35th anniversary we celebrate the many doors to fulfilling careers this Chicago tradition has opened for hundreds of underserved students across Chicago and look forward to seeing the work completed by this year’s contestants!