Innovation earns DMU Architecture student top timber award


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Breaking convention has landed De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) in the winning team of a national architecture competition for the second year running.

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Isaac Palmiere-Szabo

Final-year Architecture BA (Hons) student Isaac Palmiere-Szabo was chosen to represent DMU in the University Challenge 2019 run by TRADA, an international organisation dedicated to informing the best use of wood in the built environment.

Isaac was one of 60 students across 25 UK universities tasked with designing, costing and engineering student accommodation, using predominantly timber to emphasise health, wellbeing and energy efficiency. 

Hosted at the University of Sheffield over two intense days, each of the 10 teams included two architects, two engineers, a landscape architect and a quantity surveyor - none of whom had met before - creating relationships comparable to real world projects.

To support them along the way, teams had open access to the judging panel of pioneering design professionals and knowledgeable industry experts. 

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The winning design

Their innovative approach and attention to future adaptability are what earned Isaac’s team - team nine – first place and a £1,200 prize.

The 22-year-old student from Sheffield said: “We were given approved floorplans for an existing site in the middle of Sheffield’s shopping district as a starting point and, surprisingly, we were the only team to scrap it and start again.”

“It was scary because as the lead architect I was taking my team down this route and it could have gone either way. I’m so happy that a move this risky and bold paid off.”

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The winning design consisted of four towers with central service and circulation cores and a surrounding framework. 

Apartment modules would be built off-site and ‘plugged’ into the framework, future-proofing it with the flexibility to replace the modules with ones suitable for hotel rooms, offices and so on. 

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Winning team nine

“I was pushing to design something a bit more experimental and different to standard student typology, which I know can be easy to get wrong. But we had a really strong team and worked really well together,” said Isaac.

Kieran Walker from Waugh Thistleton Architects and one of the competition judges said: “We were unanimous about team nine, the only group to ignore the convention of the red line boundary and change the arrangement of buildings around the site. 

“Their approach was one of the most innovative in terms of combining post and beam with a modular volumetric structure.”

Isaac added: “It’s great to have a competition like this on your CV and winning is a big bonus. 

“My favourite part was working with people across different disciplines. It was a little fraught at the start, but within an hour we were all on the same page and I feel like I now know how to work well with a range of people in future. 

“The competition has also improved my knowledge of designing with timber, which is valuable because listening to the judges on the day, it sounds like it’s what the industry is shifting towards for sustainability.”

Posted on Thursday 7th March 2019

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