Announcements August 13, 2020

Announcing the Winners of our 2020 Phil Freelon Design Competition

Winning projects imagine unique co-living strategies to combat housing crises in America through case studies in New York, Los Angeles, and Denver

A self-sustaining community that embraces the diversity of New Yorkers has been named the winning entry of our 2020 Phil Freelon Design Competition, an annual firmwide event that elevates our design culture and attracts participants from Perkins&Will studios around the world.

Designed by Vangel Kukov and Hala El Khorazaty, the conceptual project transforms the site of a current industrial building in the West Village of Manhattan, one of New York City’s most expensive neighborhoods, into a multi-generational, multi-cultural residential and civic hub that builds and strengthens community. Dubbed “Arroyo,” a Spanish word meaning a dry channel that becomes a stream after rain, the winning project symbolizes the transformation of a lifeless space into one that flourishes with energy, activity, and human connectivity.

Infused with principles of social equity, the project also introduces a plan for subsidizing residents’ monthly rent in exchange for community service. The outcome envisioned by Vangel and Hala is that the residents will strengthen their sense of community and thrive—physically, mentally, socially, and economically.

“We know that a community is only as strong and as healthy as its individual members, so harnessing the principles of Living Design—inclusion, well-being, sustainability, resilience, regeneration—was really important to our concept,” Hala says. “The Phil Freelon Design Competition reminded us just how powerful design thinking can be when it comes to creatively tackling society’s most pressing issues.”

Vangel agrees, adding: “It’s an honor to win such a distinctive award, and we truly enjoyed competing with some of the most talented designers across the Perkins&Will studios worldwide.”

The Design Challenge: Co-Living

The annual Perkins&Will design competition, formerly known as the Design Leadership Council (DLC) Design Competition, was renamed in 2019 after our beloved late colleague Phil Freelon—a lifelong champion of architecture that honors humanity. This year’s challenge addressed the dire need for affordable housing—a growing humanitarian crisis in cities across the U.S. Research has shown that nearly half of all renters in America are cost burdened with prohibitively expensive rent, and that rising rents drive up rates of homelessness.

The concept of co-living is being reimagined in our growing technological age as a solution to address high costs of living. It also accommodates a desire for greater flexibility among temporary and permanent urban residents. To contribute to the value of this emerging industry, sixty-eight design teams from around the firm accepted the challenge to create an affordable co-living concept that incorporates a shared economy, social networking, collaboration, and increased density. Economic inclusion, equity, well-being, and resilience were key design criteria.

Teams were free to choose from one of three real-life sites: an industrial building New York City’s West Village neighborhood; a vacant asphalt lot in the historic Lodo area in Denver; and an industrial warehouse in downtown Los Angeles’s arts district. In addition to addressing unique site-based challenges, such as adaptively reusing existing infrastructure, the teams also had to consider ways to handle geographically specific environmental challenges, including sea level rise, flooding, and extreme drought. Teams had four days to conceptualize, visualize, and finalize their proposals. Then, a distinguished panel of jurors from outside Perkins&Will assessed each submission and selected the winners.

Arroyo took first place because of its practical yet innovative solution to providing affordable housing for a diverse range of people, jurors said. Despite its density, the design team was able to weave outdoor space throughout the entire building.

“The form is iconic,” said Rebecca Rudolph, co-founder of a Los Angeles–based women-owned design firm and one of five independent jurors of the competition. “It’s visibly different from the street level and it brings the landscape up and inside of the building.”

“Living Closer,” designed by Giancarlo Gastaldin and Gaia Cella

Second Place Winners

Instead of a second-place a third-place winner this year, two projects tied for second: “Living Closer,” designed by Giancarlo Gastaldin and Gaia Cella, and “Our Backyard,” designed by Foad Faizi, Smith Marks, and Allen Pratt.

The Living Closer team chose to focus on all three sites—New York, Denver, and Los Angeles—by implementing a modular system that can easily respond to unique climate conditions and site specificity. Its prefabricated units can be disassembled, replaced, reused, and recycled over the course of the building’s lifespan to allow for expansion or downsizing, as needed. Jurors appreciated the team’s creative investigation into different unit types, as well as the diversity of ages, races, and ethnicities they included in their project’s renderings.

“I would love to believe that we actually see ourselves living together, instead of creating hermetically sealed silos that I think [current models of] affordable housing [do] all too well,” said juror Rochelle Dynes Mills, CEO of a Santa Ana–based development company specializing in affordable housing.

“Our Backyard,” designed by Foad Faizi, Smith Marks, and Allen Pratt

Similarly, the Our Backyard team focused on a modular system concept in New York. The designers created a flexible framework that allows living units to be arranged in multiple ways, catering to the lifestyle of young professionals. An open plan concept empowers tenants to become active participants in the community, while taking advantage of the site’s existing green space and its view. This strategy further maximized daylighting and created a better visual connection to the site and its surroundings.

“The modules worked well together to eliminate corridors and maximize density,” said juror Angela Brooks, co-founder and managing principal of a Los Angeles–based architecture, landscape, and urban design practice.

Other Commendable Projects

The jury also selected three projects to receive Merit Awards:

Aspen Cooperative

Designed by Richard Schunemann, Vaia Vakouli, and Thomas Henderson Schwartz

Like an aspen grove—a group of individual trees but is actually a single organism stemming from the same root, Aspen Cooperative is rooted in interconnectivity. The team’s modernist scheme demonstrated well-executed planning that seamlessly integrates all sustainable elements in its cross laminated timber structure.

"Aspen Cooperative," designed by Richard Schunemann, Vaia Vakouli, and Thomas Henderson Schwartz


Designed by Mahdiar Ghaffarian, Hannah Gibson, Alyssa Quiring and Rick Browner

The Pivot team designed a flexible, modular approach to housing built around choice and community culture. Its affordability allows individuals to transform their physical space and are incentivized to share space, resources, and amenities to contribute to affordability and social connection.

"Pivot," designed by Mahdiar Ghaffarian, Hannah Gibson, Alyssa Quiring and Rick Browner

The Sponge

Designed by Max Hu, Qian Yu, and Zhoufan Chen

The Sponge is an ambitious prefab model that maximizes density. It offers its occupants unique housing styles and views throughout the building. The building’s voids and open space allows ample daylighting, creating spaces that foster a sense of community.

"The Sponge," designed by Max Hu, Qian Yu, and Zhoufan Chen

A Long-Standing Tradition of Design Excellence

At its most basic level, the Phil Freelon Design Competition is a friendly firmwide contest that fuels creativity and collaboration. More importantly, though, it’s a critical part of our firm’s culture of innovation and design excellence: It dares our staff to dream big, to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, to think outside the lines.

“For 17 years, teams around the world have invested enormous amounts of passion and creative thought into our annual design competition,” says Design Leadership Council Director Casey Jones. “It’s one of the hallmarks of our firm’s design culture, which is rooted in purpose, curiosity, research, and innovation. The fact that we had 68 teams participate this year—a record number—really testifies to our commitment to excellence.”

To view all the submissions and learn more about the design challenge, visit our Phil Freelon Design Competition website.