AIA New Jersey K-12 Education Committee Hosts The Women’s STEAM Interscholastic High School Architecture Tower Challenge

April 1, 2022

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AIA New Jersey K-12 Education Committee Hosts The Women’s STEAM Interscholastic High School Architecture Tower Challenge

On February 6, 2020, Tenafly High School invited 96 young women from 12 NJ high schools to compete in the AIA NJ Women’s STEAM Tower Challenge. The project was designed by Joseph David, AIA, and co-chaired by Stacey Ruhle Kliesch, AIA, both past presidents of The Architects League of Northern New Jersey. Tenafly High School Teacher of Technology Education, Ghania Layachi, conceived the idea for the all-women STEAM event, arranged the logistics of the entire event and brought all of the participants together. According to Ms. Layacha, “The lack of girls in engineering and architecture motivated the officers of Tenafly Chapter of Society of Women Engineers(SWEnext) to plan this competition.”

AIA New Jersey Tower Challenge Program

The project, designed and developed by Joseph David, AIA, challenged teams to experience some of the design challenges that architects face every day as they work together to design a residential tower. Points were awarded to teams that designed the highest building, the building with the most square footage as well as designs that explore creative solutions. Teams also assembled a simple study model from spaghetti and marshmallows representing their design’s structural system which was tested on a shake table to simulate seismic effects. The women arrived for the competition blind and were required to absorb the concepts and develop the solution all within the time constraints of the single school day competition. Each team had three hours to develop their design, build their model and prepare their presentation. 

Concepts Presented:
Scale – Scale is used by architects on drawings, sketches and models to represent larger objects using a smaller representation of that object
Zoning/F.A.R. – F.A.R. stands for Floor Area Ratio. This is assigned by city planners to control density and it represents the maximum allowable square footage that is buildable on a site. For example, a site that has an F.A. R. of 1 allows for no more buildable square footage than the equivalent of a one-story building across the entire site. A F.A.R. of 7 allows for no more buildable square footage than the equivalent of a seven-story building across the entire site.
Zoning/Street Wall Requirements – Street wall requirements are created by city planners to enforce an urban feel with a lively streetscape in a neighborhood and does not allow for buildings set back from the street. Street wall requirements will have a minimum height that buildings must meet or surpass along the street edge.
Zoning/Setbacks – Setbacks are created by city planners to preserve views of the sky and the sun from sidewalks and streets. Setbacks are defined by both a maximum allowable height at the street wall and a minimum distance from the street edge.
Building Core – Towers require a vertical core that carries transportation and services between floors. Cores include egress stairs, elevators and pipe/duct chases.
Structural Systems – Towers require structural systems and these are designed to keep the building safe, even in an earthquake or during strong hurricane-force winds.

Joseph David, AIA; Chris Brand, AIA; Delly Yaker, AIA; Simone Tsigounis, AIA; Steven Lazarus, AIA, (AIANJ President); Louis DiGeronimo, AIA; Eric Lam, AIA; Cecilia Cano, Associate AIA; Ryan Moran, AIA; Paul Tiajoloff, AIA; Fay Logan, AIA, volunteered as advisors and judges. Stacey Ruhle Kliesch, AIA, supported the planning and administration of the event from concept. Jennifer Marsh, AIA, provided the closing keynote.  

Participating high schools included Fair Lawn, Leonia, Northern Highlands, Northern Valley Old Tappan, Paramus, Pascack Hills, Pascack Valley, Ramsey, Tenafly, Vernon, Waldwick and Westwood. 

According to Jim Kennedy and Danielle deQuintal of Pascack Valley High School, “The event was a smashing success and so well organized. The idea of having a women’s event was very special and very needed.  The young women from Pascack Valley thought the challenge was fun and rigorous. The involvement of AIA and having all of the judges there to help was very creative.  Jennifer Marsh, the keynote speaker, was very impressive and is an inspiration and role model for young women.”

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