We’d like to take the opportunity to introduce you to the Green prize winners of our “Cambodia Remote Hideout Huts” competition – Lea Stagno and Toru Okada from United States!

Architecture Competition Cambodia Remote Hideout Huts Green prize winners – Lea Stagno and Toru Okada

Lea Stagno and Toru Okada from United States

Lea: I grew up in Venezuela. I have a master’s degree from Cornell University where I also taught core design studio for the first year BArch program. I received the Eidlitz Fellowship to survey and produce a documentary on breadth of earth construction techniques in Latin America. After 15 years working in Miami and NYC, I now work at Winkelman Architecture in Portland, Maine and continue working on projects on my own time.

Toru: I am currently working at Robert A.M. Stern Architects. Previously I worked at OMA New York. I received a Bachelor of Architecture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and a master’s degree from Columbia University. I have a license in my home country, Japan.

Brief information about the projects that you/your company have been involved with. For instance, what scale have you focused on/preferred, any significant projects where the company/ individuals have been involved?

Lea: I have worked on projects around the world spanning 800 ft2 to 1.2 million ft2, including residential, commercial, hospitality, and mixed-use projects. I continue to build and experiment with natural materials in my free time.

Toru: I have worked on projects of various scales and types, from interior to master plans, such as exhibit spaces, mixed-use towers, theatres, residential towers, and resort hotels. However, since I was born and raised in a mountain region in Japan, my passion lies in rural architecture and its potential for revitalization.

What does architecture mean to you and what is the role of an architect in your society?

Lea: The challenge of creating a space that not only solves a need of shelter but brings comfort, beauty, happiness, and mental health, no matter the budget. I believe that local materiality should play a big role in shaping these spaces we inhabit. Adapting architecture to local conditions and incorporating local knowledge, materials, and construction techniques is a tremendous amount of work and difficult to do well (and safely), so it is understandable that most architects default to mass-market, carbon intensive materials. I feel it is my mission (as it is the mission for all architects) to use this platform to address social, cultural and environmental challenges.

Toru: There are a lot of aspects that make architecture special for me, but I am most fascinated by its unlimited potential to discover hidden spatial possibilities, create new experiences, introduce new relationships, and change people’s life. I believe recognizing and maximizing potentials is one of the most important roles of architects, beyond all technical/practical architectural responsibilities. We have very different approaches to design, but that is one of the joys of working on a competition. Ultimately, our disagreements helped us discover amazing solutions and become stronger, more open-minded architects in the process.

Why do you participate in architecture competitions? 

Competitions are a great opportunity to exercise creative freedom and regain a sense of autonomy and ownership over our work. As working professionals, diverse competition projects are a great luxury. They allows us to try our hands in projects with unique challenges and social missions that we don’t normally get to experience. Lastly, if we win, it is a great way to get our name “out there” and potentially have our project built.

What advice would you give to individuals who struggle to decide whether it would be beneficial for them to participate in architecture competitions?

If you debate whether it’s worth it to do a competition, just do it! The learning process is so rich; if you work with a team, it prepares you to work collaboratively which is a great benefit, especially if thinking of having your own firm one day; it gives you the design freedom you might not have at work; it gives you experience on all kind of topics; it gives you exposure and other opportunities, such as building your design. You could be helping other communities by participating. It’s always worth it regardless of the outcome.

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