AMES, Iowa — A team of Iowa State University undergraduate architecture students is among the winners of the seventh annual AIA COTE Top Ten for Students Competition sponsored by the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment (AIA COTE) and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA).

The competition challenges students to use an integrated approach to architecture, natural systems and technology to design projects that protect and enhance the environment. It recognizes 10 studio projects that integrate creative and innovative design strategies to achieve carbon-neutral operations through daylighting, passive heating and cooling systems, sustainable materials, water conservation, energy generation and other natural systems.

“The Step” by Samuel Nordmeyer, from Des Moines, and Cody Goedken, from Worthington, is one of the top 10 projects for 2021. The team developed their winning design in the fall 2020 fourth-year architecture studio class taught by assistant teaching professor Ayodele Iyanalu. The course examines how buildings participate sustainably in sociopolitical and environmental systems.

Each studio section may have a different theme and site; projects typically focus on a smaller-scale urban public building. Iyanalu asked students in his section to develop a proposal for an Ames community learning center for renewable energy and material conservation alternatives.

Proposed projects were to help improve awareness about issues of embodied energy and to foster practical solutions for more sustainable material use in construction and household energy and waste management.

Energy demonstration

Nordmeyer and Goedken proposed a facility with solar- and wind-powered demonstration and maker spaces to drive community engagement with renewable energy practices and sustainable resource management.

The facility uses mass timber construction — which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, waste and cost — and features a black slatted wood façade as a weather screen over gray wood paneling to “create a subtle rhythmic contrast and a powerful yet subtle presence on the site,” Goedken said.

South-facing spaces are equipped with a hydraulic automatic-tracking solar panel system that adjusts to the sun’s angle to maximize exposure. The solar demonstration space has an operable vertical louver façade that users can adjust depending on the desired amount of daylight.

The wind demonstration space has a kinetic façade of wind turbines that produce energy while also providing users with a more dynamic experience.

The energy generated by the solar panels and wind turbines is distributed throughout the building, stored in the demonstration spaces, sent to electric car-charging stations and also returned to the city’s power grid. To make this energy visible to the facility’s users, the team proposed a system of orange (solar) and blue (wind) displays that illuminate based on the amount of energy produced by each panel or turbine.

Among other sustainable design features, a sloped roof directs rainwater to permeable surfaces for storage, and bioswales on site help purify runoff before it enters the local drainage system.

The Step

The students derived their project title from the relationship of the building and the landscape, Nordmeyer said.

“There is an interesting idea with manipulating the ground plane around the architecture, so that the architecture steps within the sloping terrain of the site,” he said.

The stepping form allows sunlight to pass through all spaces, providing natural light or heat when needed. It also allows for visual connection throughout the building for users to see the innovative renewable energy practices taking place.

“We created a renewable energy center that is shaped by energy, produces energy, displays energy and uses that energy for the community to learn and innovate in the field of renewable energy,” Goedken said.

The competition judges praised “The Step” “for its sophisticated handling of the building’s environmental impact, integration with the landscape and use of timber construction to create an educational facility.

“There’s an intriguing complexity to the final form and overall scheme depicted in the simple plans and beautiful sections. The entire project is well designed and composed with choreographed views into the organic landscape,” they said.

Virtual celebration

A free, virtual reception for the 2021 AIA COTE Top Ten for Students winners will be at 3 p.m. CDT Thursday, May 20. Register online to participate.

Record of success

Iowa State architecture student teams have been selected for the AIA COTE Top Ten for Students in five of the seven years of the competition (2015, 2016, 2017, 2020 and 2021). In the inaugural year, three of the 10 winning teams were from ISU. This is the first year an Iowa State undergraduate student team has been recognized.


Samuel Nordmeyer, Architecture fourth-year student, samnord@iastate.edu
Cody Goedken, Architecture fourth-year student, codyg@iastate.edu
Ayodele Iyanalu, Architecture assistant teaching professor, aiyanalu@iastate.edu
Heather Sauer, Design communications director, hsauer@iastate.edu