Newhouse Architecture and Design Competition For Teens Turns 40
The CAC's Newhouse Architecture + Design Competition showcases the talents of Chicago area students who create projects that address real-world problems. Now in its 40th year, Newhouse continues to inspire teens to understand why design matters.
Meet Richard Newhouse
The competition was started by Illinois State Senator Richard H. Newhouse (1924–2002), a champion of civil rights, economic justice, Black empowerment and education. Born in 1924 in Louisville, Kentucky, Newhouse served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II and later attended Boston University and the University of Chicago Law School. He was the first African American to run for mayor of Chicago but ended up losing to Richard J. Daley. He did not allow that to derail him, and he entered the Illinois State Senate in 1966 where he served for twenty-five years.
The Early Competition Years
In 1982, recognizing a lack of opportunities to introduce low-income and minority students to careers in architecture and related fields, Senator Newhouse approached renowned Chicago architect Bruce Graham about convening a jury to award a $1,000 state scholarship in a competition for vocational students. 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. Early jury participants and judges included Diane Legge Kemp, the first female partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), Robert Wesley, the first Black partner at SOM, and Adrian Smith, future architect of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. 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 the CAC in 1994. Honors were given not only to students, but also to educators, for their dedication to teaching design and architecture.
“The more I learn about Senator Newhouse, his goals and wants for this competition specifically, and seeing how they are literally manifesting... it's hard not to be in awe of it all, and grateful to aid in its growth and legacy.”
– KENNDA MIMS-BURT, MANAGER OF TEEN PROGRAMS
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 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. For some participants, the Newhouse Competition serves as a stepping stone to pursuing careers in architecture and design.
A Valuable Experience
Since 1982, the CAC estimates over 11,000 students have participated in the Newhouse competition. In 2019, 522 projects were turned in by 792 students from 36 different schools. 76 unique zip codes were represented, with 52% of participants coming from south and west side neighborhoods.
In 1998, Newhouse alum Terrel Millsap and his classmates, with the leadership of their architecture teacher Jamie Rodriguez, brought the Newhouse Traveling Trophy to Chicago Vocational High School for the first time.
“The Newhouse Architecture and Design Competition was a spring-board to my career. I will never forget that experience,” he said. “Winning Newhouse provided the opportunity for me to explore architecture on a deeper level through my first internship at an architecture firm. A chain-reaction occurred and for the next 20+ years I would pursue a career in architecture.”
Millsap is now a licensed architect practicing in Florida.
Newhouse alumna Milena Marchan reflected, “Larger than the ribbons and trophies many of us went home with, what was most valuable about my Newhouse experience was the confidence it gave me. Newhouse in combination with other CAC youth education programs were crucial in helping me transition into higher education and other design spaces where my cultural and socioeconomic background wasn't being represented.”
Alberto Bahena, the 2010 grand prize winner in the physical model division, returned to the competition in 2019—this time, as a juror and a practicing architect. He said that winning gave him the “confidence to pursue architecture as a career and led to internships at prestigious design firms. In other words, Newhouse helped me secure a job in architecture right after graduating college. I am a huge fan of Newhouse and I will always be thankful for everything it allowed me to accomplish.”
Teen TalenT on Display
The Newhouse Competition culminates in a celebration of the winning entries from students around the city and surrounding suburbs. Students see their work featured and receive valuable feedback from the esteemed architects and designers who jury their work, including Landon Bone Baker Architects, Perkins + Will, Ross Barney Architects and Holabird and Root. Today, Newhouse winners are awarded cash prizes, tickets for the Chicago Architecture Foundation Center River Cruise Aboard Chicago's First Lady Cruises and the opportunity to shadow professionals in the field.
“Despite some progress, architecture continues to be a discipline dominated by white men. The Newhouse Competition aims to chip away at that tradition, introducing youth from populations traditionally underrepresented in architecture in an exploration of how they might impact their own communities through architecture, construction, engineering and design.”
– NICOLE KOWRACH, VICE PRESIDENT OF EDUCATION AND AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT
This year, the Newhouse awards ceremony will take place on Saturday, May 21 at the Chicago Architecture Center. Divisions include architecture, construction, engineering, and community art. The Center will also host an exhibition about Newhouse and this year’s winners from May 21-June 20.
Since its founding, Newhouse alumni have earned advanced degrees and risen to management positions in leading firms, while others graduated from paid summer internships straight into professional careers using skills they developed as teenagers. Each of these individuals benefited from Senator Newhouse’s efforts to identify role models for high school students, and in turn, became role models themselves for subsequent generations of aspiring designers.
As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Newhouse program, we honor the Senator’s vision to see the fields of architecture, construction, drafting, and city planning reflect Chicago’s rich diversity.