Competition encourages future architects

While many students in middle and high school may be drawn to visual arts, they might not realize that the skills of learning scale, perspective and artistic composition could lead to a career in architecture.

Kennesaw State professor Chris Welty is working on ways to get more students thinking about transferring those skills into a viable career. As president of the American Institute of Architects’ Atlanta chapter, he taps into the expertise of more than 1,800 professionals in the metro area and connects them with students interested in putting their talents to the test through an annual competition that provides scholarship money for the top winners.

“This competition reaches out to high school students to expose them to architecture and how we work as architects,” said Welty. “We have mentors who go out and talk about how to create meaningful spaces people want to be in and how they can change people’s ideas about how they interact with the environment.”

For the last several years, the chapter has sponsored a competition to engage students with those concepts. Each fall, the chapter develops a project and sends it out to the schools around the state to draw students’ interest. The 2019 challenge, to design a nature center with classrooms and labs on an island in the Chattahoochee River, drew the contest’s highest participation to date, with 140 students from 33 schools.

“Usually a mentor or faculty member runs the competition internally, and they pair with mentors from the profession who go out to the schools and do workshops on how to approach it and what we expect,” said Welty. “Then students work on it for about three months through the spring before we sit down with a jury of about 25 people and go through the submissions.”

The competition included beginner, advanced and group projects. From the entries, judges selected a pool of finalists and winners who showcased their work at an event held in late April at Georgia Tech.

“Over the years, the work has gotten better and better,” said Welty. “It’s been very exciting to see the sophistication with which they think about architecture as more than just solving a problem; it’s creating a sense of place.”

That was the goal Chattahoochee High senior Robert Hunter successfully met with his design, which took top honors in the advanced individual category and earned the Johns Creek resident a $1,200 scholarship toward his studies at Columbia University this fall.

“My concept had a central observatory tower that was the first thing to greet you,” he explained. “I was intrigued by a sense of discovery – that as you walk up to the building you get different views. I tried to do a very organic form for the building to integrate it with the site.”

This year marked the fourth time Hunter competed in the contest; in his second year, he earned an honorable mention, and last year, he took third place. He credits his school’s art program for many of the skills he called upon to win.

“I’ve only had one architectural drafting class in high school, but I did have art all four years that definitely helped me a lot with the basics of drawing, perspective and visualizing different forms,” he said.

Welty and his colleagues also make sure students interested in studying architecture know about local options. “We have great schools here – Kennesaw State, Georgia Tech and SCAD – that have pathways into the profession,” he said. “The competition is a great way to expose these younger people to consider it as a career.”

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Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at or 770-744-3042.