Design Challenge Winner Has the Floor

Discussion with 18-year-old Christine Orlanes

Design Challenge Winner Has the Floor

When she was just eight years old, Christine Orlanes remembers drawing floor plans and designing room layouts while others around her were doodling in their notebooks. Ten years later the Ankeny High School Senior’s talent helped her win the 2014 Design Challenge for Affordable Housingand a $2,000 scholarship from the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines.  Here’s what Christine had to say about the competition, why her school did so well and her future plans.


Q:  You will be graduating this month and going to school at Iowa State University in the fall. What do you plan to study?

A:  I was planning on studying civil engineering but changed my mind just recently to architecture. I thought civil engineering sounded practical, and it was something my dad was interested in when he was young and I’ve always been good at math. But then I realized how much I love doing housing design work. It is a much better fit.

Q: How did you become interested in housing?

A: For as long as I can remember my mom and dad have enjoyed looking at houses and always took me along. We moved to Ankeny from Urbandale when I was little and have lived in the same house most of my life, but we still continue to look at houses like it’s a hobby.  HGTV is also my favorite channel and I especially like House Hunters.  It’s interesting to hear people describe what they think they want and need, what they can afford and see what they eventually get.

Q: What was the most challenging part of the Design Challenge for Affordable Housing?

A: Designing something affordable. I think it is easier to design an expensive house than one that is also of good quality but costs significantly less. I also had to rein myself in from what I would want and think about the people who would be living there and their interests and needs. For example when the architects from ASK Studio visited our classroom and gave feedback one asked why I had a vaulted front area and stairway. It made no sense for what I was trying to accomplish so I took it out and reconfigured, went with one level and a front entry slope. It ended up looking and functioning so much better.

Q: Three of the five finalists were from your school. Why do you think Ankeny did so well?

A: Because we have an awesome teacher. Mr. Vail is fantastic!  He is so motivated and in turn we feel motivated. It is clear that he loves what he does and he believes in students and what we are capable of.  I took my first class from him when I was a freshman. He made me feel like he was glad I was in his class and gave me confidence.  I’ve taken four classes from him over the years, including Beginning House Design, Intro to Engineering, CAD (Computer Aided Design) and Architectural CAD.  


Q: What thoughts do you have about housing affordability as a result of this project?  And anything else you would like to share?

A:  I can see why people design and build houses that are expensive, but that’s just not realistic for most people who are looking to buy or rent. No one should have to go bankrupt because they didn’t have options for housing. Not having options puts people in a position to spend more than they should just to have a place to live. I hope people in charge of communities and planning make it a priority to have housing that fits everyone’s budgets and personal reality.

And the last thing I’d like to say is a thank you to Mr. Cox from the Home Builders Association for coming to watch our presentations and providing the $2,000 scholarship. It meant a lot to me and my family.

About the Design Challenge
The second annual Design Challenge for Affordable Housing invites high school students to learn about affordable housing while applying skills they are learning in class. 40 students from five area high schools were given the fictional background of who would be living in the home – their hobbies, interests and special needs - where the vacant lot was located, maximum square footage and limitations on costs. 

Five finalists were selected to present their designs at the John & Mary Pappajohn Education Center in Des Moines April 26. Judges included David Kruse, Grand Homes & Renovations; Carrie Norris, Grand Homes & Renovations; Justine Bangert, ASK Studio; Abbey Gilroy, Neighborhood Development Corporation; and John Kerss, Iowa Finance Authority. Each student had up to 10 minutes to present their design and answer questions.

The competition was managed by ASK Studio and wrapped up Affordable Housing Week, April 21-26, spearheaded by the Polk County Housing Trust Fund.

2014 Results:
Christine Orlanes of Ankeny High School won first place and received a $2,000 scholarship from the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines. Runners-up Cole Schenk, who also attends Ankeny High School, won a $500 prize provided by the Polk County Housing Trust Fund and Riley Dunn, who attends Des Moines Central Campus and Martensdale-St. Mary’s High School, won $500 provided by ASK Studio, a Des Moines architectural firm. 

Click here to see photos from the final judging event on the PCHTF Facebook page.