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Interview with Stephanie Colon: Second Place Winner of The Existing Conditions Innovation Challenge 2023

Interview with Stephanie Colon: Second Place Winner of The Existing Conditions Innovation Challenge 2023

In launching our inaugural Existing Conditions Innovation Challenge in February 2023, we set out to empower the next generation of architects.


The Existing Conditions Innovation Challenge was carefully designed to provide college students in architecture, design, or planning with the opportunity to unleash their creative potential, focusing on the historic Pemberton Mill in Lawrence, MA. By encouraging independent research and hands-on project development, we aimed to cultivate a community of forward-thinking students ready to make their mark on the future.

3D Revit model of Pemberton Mill

3D Revit model of Pemberton Mill

Meet Stephanie Colon, the second-place winner of the Existing Conditions Innovation Challenge. Stephanie is currently pursuing her Bachelor's in Architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, with plans to continue into a Master's program upon graduation.

Stephanie’s roots are a blend of Peruvian and Puerto Rican heritage, though she was born in the United States, in the state of New Jersey. Beyond her academic pursuits, Stephanie actively engages in campus life, participating in organizations such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students, and the Educational Opportunity Program. She also contributes as a mentor in the Educational Opportunity Program, guiding freshman students in the field of architecture. Apart from her studies, Stephanie loves going sightseeing as well as playing different sports. 

Stephanie's potential impact on the field of architecture and design is significant. Her design not only met but exceeded expectations, particularly in terms of completeness and creative ideas. The thoughtfulness she applied to various criteria for judging, set her apart. Stephanie's ideas were not only interesting but also demonstrated a high level of creativity, leaving a lasting impression on the competition and contributing to the advancement of architectural and design practices.

In our interview, we delved into Stephanie's journey and insights, providing a glimpse into her innovative design that secured second place in the Existing Conditions Innovation Challenge. Stephanie shared her design philosophy, highlighting features like lighting tunnels and greenery integration. Join us in celebrating Stephanie's remarkable achievements and the unique perspectives she brings to the architectural landscape.

Experience the innovation firsthand! Watch Stephanie's award-winning proposal video now and explore the unique features that set her design for Pemberton Mill in Lawrence, MA, apart. 


Design Philosophy and Distinctive Elements:


Can you describe the design philosophy that influenced your winning design of Pemberton Mill?

Stephanie: “The driving philosophy behind my winning design for Pemberton Mill primarily centered on the integration and preservation of greenery within the structure. Instead of confining green spaces to the exterior, I aimed to explore and implement the green elements inside the building.

This approach served as a practical way to test and develop ideas while maintaining a connection to the structure's history. The historical aspect was a significant influence on my design, bridging the present with the past. The main influence was the desire to bring unexpected greenery to the interior, positively impacting people's moods.”

Page one of Stephanie’s PDF design proposal

Page one of Stephanie’s PDF design proposal


What were the most distinctive and innovative features of your design that set it apart?

Stephanie: “My structure's standout feature, in my opinion, is the innovative use of lighting tunnels. When considering ways to support the roof, I also reflected on incorporating elements that resonate with the tragic history of the site. This led me to the idea of creating spaces within the structure that connect with people in the present.

I found that combining greenery and light was an ideal solution. This design not only provides an open space for communication and socializing but also offers more private areas within the columns or the light-filled tunnels. This feature, as highlighted in my presentation, stands out as one of my favorites.”

Page two of Stephanie’s PDF design proposal

Page two of Stephanie’s PDF design proposal


Challenges and Growth:


Were there any notable challenges you faced during the competition while developing your design? How did you address them effectively?

Stephanie: “When I enrolled in the competition, I did so quite early. However, due to the challenges I faced, effective time management became crucial. It required a high level of discipline.”

Being disciplined was crucial because, even with a well-structured schedule, without that discipline, I wouldn't have accomplished everything I did. The key takeaway is to stay organized, remain disciplined in your approach, and follow through with your plans.”


How has participating in the challenge contributed to your personal and professional growth within the field of architecture/design/planning?

Stephanie: “The competition has had a positive impact on me by allowing me to exceed my expectations. It was the first project where I ventured into various approaches without external critics limiting my exploration. It provided a platform for me to delve into my style and preferences, pushing the boundaries to see the extent of my capabilities. This experience has been a significant learning opportunity, revealing more about my style and helping me understand myself better.”


Real-World Impact:


How would you envision the real-world impact of your design in the context of architecture/design/planning?

Stephanie: "I believe that integrating greenery is an important intake. While some might see it as an easy inclusion, the reality is that many structures overlook prioritizing greenery on the inside. I find it to be a beautiful and powerful message, symbolizing the beauty within.”

Page three of Stephanie’s PDF design proposal

Page three of Stephanie’s PDF design proposal


Advice for Emerging Talents:


What advice would you give to emerging architects, designers, or planners looking to excel and innovate in their careers?

Stephanie: “As for advice to emerging architects aiming to excel and innovate in their careers, I would suggest not taking things too seriously all the time. There's a right time and place for seriousness, but when it comes to your creative ideas, if you believe in them and their potential impact, go for it. As long as you can express your main idea correctly, many people will understand. Be clear with your ideas, and even if faced with rejection, it's not the end of the world.”


How do you find inspiration and maintain your passion for creative work?

Stephanie: “In addition to my architectural pursuits, I am an artist, and my preference leans towards drawing objects rather than people. I find that objects maintain a consistent form, unlike people who can easily fake expressions. When sketching objects, I observe details that you normally don’t pay attention to.

This practice sparks numerous questions in my mind, leading to questions that I incorporate into my architectural models. For instance, if I observe a bird's wings, it triggers my curiosity about their functionality, leading me to design something that mirrors how the wings function.”


Reflection on Achievement and Future Aspirations:


How do you view the significance of securing the second-place position in the Existing Conditions Innovation Challenge?

Stephanie: “Securing second place in this competition feels like a fantastic opportunity, especially considering it's my inaugural participation. It's truly a blessing to have come this far. I appreciate how Existing Conditions not only acknowledges our achievements but also takes the time to amplify our successes. As Jared mentioned earlier, the company is committed to not just hyping up the participants but also celebrating our achievements. This kind of encouragement has a significant and positive impact, particularly for aspiring architects like myself.”


What are your future aspirations and career goals within the field of architecture, design, or planning?

Stephanie: “Upon completing the five-year program, I intend to pursue a master's degree. Currently, I find myself at a crossroads, debating whether to specialize further in residential or landscape architecture. While I was leaning towards residential until last year, my recent appreciation for the environment, particularly plants, is swaying me more towards the landscape specialization.”



Stephanie Colon's award-winning design in the Existing Conditions Innovation Challenge stands out for its inventive features, such as lighting tunnels and integrated greenery. Stephanie's thoughtful approach, combining historical context with functional and aesthetic elements, showcases her unique perspective.

The challenge has instilled in Stephanie a newfound confidence, allowing her to rise above her own expectations. It has become a catalyst for personal and professional growth, fostering a deeper understanding of her design philosophy and creative potential. As she reflects on her achievements and contemplates her future academic path, The Existing Conditions Innovation Challenge stands as a chapter that has undoubtedly left an impact on Stephanie's trajectory in the field of architecture.

A special thank you to our very own experts and esteemed guest jury, Graham Clegg, Principal of STUDIOS Architecture, and Kevin Deabler, Principal at RODE Architects, for their invaluable contributions and insights that enriched the Existing Conditions Innovation Challenge.

Get ready for the 2024 Innovation Challenge! Mark your calendars for the launch in early 2024. If you have any questions or are interested in participating, reach out to our Marketing and Public Relations Associate, Amanda Zaslow, at Don't miss the chance to win prizes, gain valuable experience, and showcase your innovative designs. Stay tuned for updates! Remember, participants must be actively enrolled in a college program related to architecture, design, or planning.

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