Design Challenge Winner Has the Floor

Discussion with 18-year-old Nick Turner

Design Challenge Winner Has the Floor

As a child, this year’s Can I Be Your Neighbor Design Challenge winner, Nick Turner, wanted to be a weatherman. That changed in 8th grade after a science class weather unit left him feeling it was “too conceptual” rather than what he likes, things that are black and white.  His freshman year he discovered a better fit through a class called Introduction to Engineering and Design.  Fast forward a couple of years and he is now heading off for college with a $2,000 scholarship from the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines thanks to winning the design competition that wrapped up Affordable Housing Week. We followed up with Nick for this column.

Q: You were one of forty students from five central Iowa high schools that took part in the competition to design an affordable home for a fictional family on a vacant lot in Des Moines. What do think helped your design win overall?

A: Watching HGTV, especially Property Brothers and Love It or List It provided great ideas for what is possible, as well as classes such as Beginning House Design and Architectural CAD. Going into the competition I had the experience of designing a house, as well as a single-bedroom apartment complex.

It was also helpful that my teacher, Mr. Block, designed his own house and provided great insights on functionality. Another big help was when the architects from ASK Studio visited our classroom and gave each of us one-on-one feedback.

Q: Did you change anything as a result of the critique provided by the architects?

A: Oh yes!  About the only thing I kept was the outside design. I pretty much gutted my inside design and started over.  

I live in a two-story house with four bedrooms, a basement and a 3-car garage, so designing a one-level house limited to 1,200 sq. ft. was challenging for me, especially how to make everything fit, where to put the mechanicals and how to design for flow of how people move about their house.

Q: Each year students from Ankeny make it to the finals and two of the three years have won the top prize of the $2,000 scholarship.  This year six of the seven student finalists were from Ankeny Centennial and Ankeny High Schools. Is there something in the water up there?

A: I’m not sure about the water, but I do know we have outstanding teachers.  Mr. Vail over at Ankeny High School runs a great program and knows how to help his students do their best work.  We are equally fortunate with Mr. Block. 

Q: What were some of your favorite parts about the competition, besides winning? 

A: Definitely the experience of talking with professional architects and having their insights and the challenging questions they asked. There are so many things they know from real-world experience that makes all the difference in design choices, the cost of those choices, how things work, and good solutions to common challenges.

I also thought it was great that a couple of the judges were people who are tenants from programs that help provide affordable housing. Their feedback was so personal and practical.

Q: What are your plans after graduating from high school this month?

A: I’ll be going to Bradley University and plan to study civil or mechanical engineering. Not sure which area of study. Part of me wants to work on buildings and houses that reduce our footprint on the environment. Another part of me wants to work on bridges and roads because I know here in Iowa our infrastructure for transportation needs attention.

Q: Any last words for other students, community leaders, anyone else?

A: For students and area schools, I’d say that if you have a chance to be part of the Can I Be Your Neighbor Design Challenge, go for it.

For leaders, I hope the minimum wage is raised and even if it is, it won’t be enough if we don’t have places for people to live that they can afford without having to work two and three jobs.

For the people who made this competition possible: Thank you.
And a special thank you to the Home Builders Association for providing the $2,000 scholarship. It will help close the gap on the money I need for school. And I don’t want to forget the architects from ASK Studio who came to our school and the judges who listened to our presentations at The Pappajohn Center and gave great feedback. 

Learn more about the Can I Be Your Neighbor Design Challenge by reading this article from the Des Moines Register, or click to see photos from the architects' site visits or the final judging.