Architecture senior Dion Dekker integrated shipping containers for the Modular Building Institute's Miami Beach Hotel student design competition. Courtesy image

Cal Poly architecture senior Dion Dekker designed a North Miami Beach hotel built partly of shipping containers to win a Modular Building Institute (MBI) student design competition.

Last quarter, Dekker’s architectural design class submitted modular designs to MBI for the hotel, which will be built in North Miami Beach, Florida. A jury of architecture authorities evaluated the submissions for innovative ideas that would reinvent the modular design industry.

Dekker was awarded $7,225 at a ceremony at World of Modular, MBI’s annual convention and tradeshow. Two other Cal Poly architecture students, Thomas Paul Shorey and Michael Charter, both won honorable mentions.

This year, the contest was administered by the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS); Director of Design Matthew Fochs directed the competition and oversaw the jury.

“The modular architecture industry has become very stagnant and focused on utility rather than innovation,” Fochs said. “This competition really encourages students to show how they think modular design can evolve, which is exactly what the industry is looking for.”

The Miami Beach Hotel competition required students to come up with a sustainable design for a modular structure. This means a design for a room or small part of a building that can be repeated throughout the whole building, which allows a construction company to save money and build the components off-site.

Dekker’s class was given the assignment a few weeks into winter quarter by architecture professor Thomas Fowler, who said he looks for national architecture competitions that relate to what his students are learning. Fowler chose the MBI contest last quarter because he said it challenged the class to think outside the box. He also added his own twist to the competition requirements.

“I changed the parameters of the competition for the class this quarter by making old shipping containers one of the required components. They’re so common today and have so much architectural potential, especially for sustainable construction,” he said.

Dekker said the inspiration for his design was the idea of an exoskeleton made out of the shipping containers that would surround the hotel rooms and restaurants.

The MBI jury found the idea ingenious as a modular component and environmentally friendly. They were also very impressed with Dekker’s exoskeleton design.

“I wanted to create a design that was different throughout the hotel, but the basic room structure would only need to be altered slightly,” Dekker said. “I thought the idea of an exoskeleton would allow for that, but it did take a while to really narrow down the idea.”

Students electronically submitted detailed designs along with a narrative description. Fowler said electronic submission required students to be a lot more creative with their work.

“Because the jury decides winners by looking at the submissions online, students really have to be able to tell the story of their design with whatever they submit,” Fowler said. “Dion’s submission was very compelling and convincing, which I think really impressed the jury.”

Fochs said designs like Dekker’s make it clear how much more effort architecture students are putting into their designs.

“Today’s architecture students seem to be doing a lot more research and focusing a lot more on the details of their designs,” Fochs said. “Employers in the architecture industry are pleased to see designs like Mr. Dekker’s.”

Dekker said he’s just happy to be able to put the award on his résumé and is already moving on to another competition. Last week he submitted a reconfigured version of his design for a competition that requires students to explore the possibilities of steel in architecture.

“It’s obviously a really great honor to win a competition like this, but there’s always something new to focus on — another competition, another project,” Dekker said.

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