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  • Writer's picturePCHTF

Alyssa Adcock named 2023 student design challenge winner

Two people standing next to each other.
Student Design Challenge winner Alyssa Adcock is shown with her instructor Mark Schmidt.

In its 10th year, the Can I Be Your Neighbor Student Design Challenge, presented by ASK Studio, invites area high school students to create affordable housing for a fictional Des Moines resident. This year’s winner is 16-year-old Alyssa Adcock who is a Junior at Ankeny High School. She took top honors for her 500-square foot Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) design and presentation to a panel of judges. We learned more about Alyssa after the event.

What from your early childhood may have provided hints of your design talent?

From my earliest memories I loved drawing, painting, and driving through neighborhoods and looking at the outside of other people’s houses and different kinds of buildings. Exteriors have always fascinated me, and I would build all kinds of things with LEGOS. Also, in 2nd grade, our teacher asked each of us what we wanted to do when we grew up. I said Architectural Design. I have no idea if I even knew what it really meant, I just knew I wanted to create houses and buildings.

Other personal insights that may have contributed to your success?

I grew up very shy and we had to move to Ohio for my dad’s job for grades 4-7. Then we came back to Ankeny where I started 8th grade. I had to figure out how to make friends and start over. This was very hard for me and yet I did it. Other things that have helped have been my teachers and the classes I’ve taken. I’ve taken just about every art and CAD class offered and of course Housing Design.

What did you know about ADUs and how did you go about creating your winning design?

I instantly liked the idea of an ADU because it can be a way to give back to your parents who have taken care of you all your life. Now you can do something for them when they are older and provide a place for them to be nearby.

As far as my design, I started with the exterior. I wanted to make sure it blended in with the surrounding neighborhood, so I kept that in mind and matched the roofline to the main house and garage. When it came to the interior, the limit was 500 square feet, so I avoided hallways which waste space. I also made sure it was handicapped accessible for a wheelchair, just in case one is needed in the future. My uncle is in a wheelchair and my aunt gave me guidance, especially for the bathroom area, to have a 360-degree circle for navigating shower, toilet, door. And of course hard flooring, not carpet. ASK Studio architects came to our class and for my desk review I received feedback on the best place to put mechanicals, like plumbing along one wall to reduce costs, and also where to put hot water tank, furnace, and air conditioner so they don’t take up living space.

This experience likely gave you some insights on zoning and housing development policies. If you were to talk with city leaders, what would you say or ask for to achieve more housing affordability?

I would start with land. I would ask that they designate space that will be used for creative and affordable housing options. Everyone deserves to be able to have a nice place to live with whatever money they make. I imagine that will mean having lots or land set aside just for units people with lower incomes can afford.

What do you enjoy when you’re not doing art or design work?

I’ve been swimming competitively since I was 6 years old and swim on the team for Ankeny High School.

(Favorite, least favorite strokes?) My favorite race is the 100-yard butterfly, and my least favorite is the breaststroke. There are patterns and your arms and feet have to be in sync. It’s harder than it looks.

I also teach Sunday school for first graders and then on Wednesdays I help with a Youth Group. And lately I’ve gotten into acrylic paints and have been focused on farm animals. We don’t live on a farm, but I have relatives who do.

Alyssa Adock stands next to a display board showing an ADU she designed.
Alyssa Adcock presents her winning design during the student design challenge.

Future plans, advice to future Design Challenge competitors and/or last words?

I’m thinking about going to Iowa State for Architectural Design - residential. I still have another year of high school and I’ll be taking college-level art and CAD classes during my senior year.

As far as advice to future students competing, I’d say keep an open mind. Some have never lived in any house but the one they grew up in. This might limit their thinking, set up boundaries. Let go of all of that and look outside of your own experiences to create what will work for others.

And I’d like to thank the Home Builders Association for my scholarship award, ASK Studio for giving us this design challenge and coming to our schools to give feedback, and my teacher, Mr. Schmidt for encouraging me to do the extra work and making sure I was well prepared.


And the Polk County Housing Trust Fund would like to thank all of the event’s sponsors and judges for supporting our education and advocacy work around affordable housing solutions.

  • Scholarship providers: Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines, HOME, Inc., PCHTF, and Deibler & Company.

  • Panelists: Brent Schipper/ASK Studio, Eric Burmeister/PCHTF, Jeff Ellis/Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines, Kourtney Kirkpatrick/HOME, Inc., and Paige Yontz/AARP Iowa.


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