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Competition makes students think on feet

December 10, 2007

Envision this scenario: You have one minute riding up in the elevator to make a point with the boss or a client. Can you do it? Can you make that sale, or move that top project forward? Ten teams of ASU College of Design students practiced these skills Nov. 1 in a competition in which they presented design solutions on the way up in the elevator of the downtown Phoenix Chase Bank Tower – and were reviewed by a team of judges on the way down.

The total ride took less than three minutes, and video cameras in the elevator captured the action for replay to a lively audience of supporters in the concourse of the Chase Bank Tower.

Each student on the winning team received a $500 award. Chase Bank and Herman Miller were sponsors of the event.

The competition is the brainchild of the College of Design’s dean, Wellington Reiter, who created this “Dean’s Challenge” as an opportunity to make connections with the Phoenix community and have a fun, educational event at the same time.

The challenge problem is based on a recent study by the Urban Land Institute-Arizona that singled out the top 10 intersections in the Valley. Reiter asked the students to think about how pedestrians, drivers, bicyclists, wheeled-device users and others experience an intersection of two streets – not only proceeding through the street crossings, but also other activities that can occur there.

“Students in the College of Design have creative minds,” Reiter says. “But in the 21st century they must work collaboratively and be able to think on their feet. This competition helps to highlight that our students are learning to think not only like designers and planners, but also to communicate effectively. It is this future generation of creative thinkers that will build a strong economy and a thriving city.”

The teams comprised three students each and were required to have each member come from a different discipline within the college – for example, one each from architecture, industrial design and planning. A few teams also had one member from outside of the college, including from the schools of engineering and business.

The review judges were drawn from faculty at the College of Design, and design professionals and downtown business people, including Dean Brennan of the Phoenix Planning department, who has been working on the Downtown Phoenix Urban Form Project.

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication participated in the event as well. Faculty from the Cronkite School, with the support of that school’s dean, Chris Callahan, provided the College of Design event team with valuable connections to their students, ultimately providing a student to build a Web site for the event, document the competition and create a video recording of the activities. A team from Cronkite News Watch also covered the evening’s competition.

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon opened the event along with Reiter and Mary Jane Rogers, of media and government relations for Chase Bank, who announced the inauguration of the Walter Bimson Prize for the Dean’s Challenge winners. Bimson was Valley National Bank president during the 1960s and 1970s and was responsible for building the Chase Tower. Bimson’s son and daughter were on hand to take in the festivities that honored this Phoenix patriarch. Michael Tilbrooke represented sponsor Herman Miller, which donated one of its “Leaf Lamps” as a prize to a student participating in the event, and individual gifts for members of the top four teams, including messenger bags for the winning team.

The winning team – “Team 40,” including Heather Dessel (design studies), Nicholas Glover (landscape architecture), and Antonie Stahlbuhk (architecture) – pitched their “Liquid Light” proposal for the intersection of Camelback and Scottsdale Roads and featured an interactive light sculpture “to remind people of the beautiful resource of water flowing just below street level, and hopefully inspire better care for it.”

The success of the first Dean’s Challenge confirmed its place as an annual event for the College of Design, especially because it accomplished two of its initial goals: promote interaction of students from different disciplines within the College of Design, and promote interaction between the College of Design and other units within the larger university while reaching out to the business and professional community for support and participation.

For more information on the student teams and their proposals, what was required of the students to participate, or the Urban Land Institute’s 10 hottest intersections, visit the Web site

Julie Russ, (480) 965-6693