We’d like to take the opportunity to introduce you to the Student Award prize winner of our Iceland Beer Spa competition – Yao Xiao, Nathan Michael Ehrlich and Alexandro Pina!

Yao Xiao, Nathan Michael Ehrlich and Alexandro Pina

Please tell us about your company (when it was founded, where it is based, how many employees, etc) Alternatively, if you do not have a company, please give us some insights on your own professional/academia background.

Coming from different corners of North America, Alex, Nate, and Yao firs assembled at the Rice School of Architecture in Houston, Texas, where they are currently pursuing their Master of Architecture degrees. As a collective, they have been awarded the Morris R. Pitman Award in Architecture. This travel fellowship will allow them to spend the summer traveling in China, investigating discrete urban architectural interventions of foreign and native architects in post-2008 China.

ALEX PIÑA - Closest to home, Alex Piña grew up in El Paso, Texas, and attended Texas A&M University School of Architecture and the Barcelona Architecture Center—his work has also been recognized as a finalist in various competitions and university exhibitions.

NATE EHRLICH - Born and raised in a small town in Southeastern Wisconsin, Nate graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the University of Minnesota in 2018. Nate has also studied at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS), and since graduating, Nate spent four years as an associate at SALA Architects in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

YAO XIAO - Hailing from Virginia, Yao originally grew up in Nanjing, China, until the age of twelve. Yao then attended the University of Virginia, earning his Bachelor of Science in Architecture. Yao is also an accomplished photographer, having traveled extensively to do so.

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?

As a collective of young designers, much of our work has been through the lens of academia. Our interests and early explorations as designers are founded on the versatility of designing at various scales – from the architectural publication to a piece of furniture to the building. Our professional work at various architectural practices throughout the United States has included single-family homes, university student hubs, sports facilities, urban sculptures, places of worship, and master planning urban developments. Navigating between scales or working in an urban and rural context enables us to understand our built environment more deeply and holistically.

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

Architecture itself is humanity. Architecture is the direct response and reflection of the Anthropocene, providing its frame of humankind. Unlike numerous other human constructs, architecture extends beyond providing our basic needs into the realm of our environment, culture, spirituality, and sense of self. In practice, the architect's role is to exist in that harmony, problematizing our world to ensure humanity as its truest form.

Why do you participate in architecture competitions?

As a collective, this is the first time we have all individually collaborated on a project together. Being relatively new to the field of architecture, we are eager to understand and analyze the current conditions of our built environment. Architectural competitions provide us with the platform to establish our voice and explore our interests through the act of creation. In academia and the professional world, the design and construction of a building can be a lengthy process, whereas competitions allow us to work swiftly based on our instincts and intuition.

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

One of the most exciting things for us being part of competitions, especially one open to an international group of participants, is that we get to see how our international contemporaries approach the problems presented in the brief. Additionally, competitions allow us to explore how our ideas translate to complex global situations freely. Most explicitly, competitions provide an equal platform for everyone to explore, test, and research current issues that the field of architecture must grapple with in a free and uninhibited setting.

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