Architecture Students Honored for Design Excellence

MARIETTA, Ga. | Apr 23, 2019

KSU becomes third institution to award prestigious prize from Atlanta-based architectural firm

Kennesaw State University’s Department of Architecture has named two fifth-year students as co-winners of the inaugural Portman Prize for Outstanding Thesis, awarded to those who best exemplify comprehensive research and design excellence as determined by a panel of experts.

Varshil Patel and Darral Tate each received $2,000 as first-place winners in the competition. Jeremy Bowen, who finished runner-up, was awarded $1,000. The competition featured 10 Kennesaw State students and a jury of seven professionals and academics from across the U.S.

Portman Prize

With the event, KSU joins the Georgia Institute of Technology and Harvard University as the only institutions to award the Portman Prize. In addition to the prize money, the first-place winners are offered a summer internship with award sponsor John Portman & Associates.

“The Portman Prize recognizes the creative talents of Kennesaw State University’s architecture students,” said Robert Halverson, chief operating officer of John Portman & Associates. “While there are three award winners, our hope is that all the participating students are inspired by the exposure to professional opinions and encouraged to think and create on a higher level.”

The competition marks the culmination of a three-semester project which begins in a thesis prep course, where students work with faculty to determine which architectural topic to explore, and continues during a research course where students further investigate the topic and begin work with their advisors. In the final semester, fifth-year architecture students take part in a studio, where they combine their research and architectural skills to offer a new perspective on the topic.

KSU’s Department of Architecture is one of only a handful of programs nationwide that requires its undergraduate students to pursue thesis projects while earning a professional architecture degree.

Patel’s thesis, titled “Kolkata: Ecological Urbanism Strategies for Bridging Social Gap,” focused on using design to improve social cohesion and reform the urban ecology of Kolkata, a city in East India. Tate, who also placed first in the Cooper Carry Three Minute Thesis Competition, chose to tackle America’s high prison population by designing a facility that could help prisoners more easily reintegrate with society and limit the rate of recidivism in his work, “The Anti-Panopticon.”

Portman Prize

Bowen presented his project, “Skater Conscious,” in which he researched how designers cultivate social and artistic expression among skateboarders. He argues that people are able to take otherwise mundane environments and experience them in a unique way through skating. Bowen also received the Faculty Choice Award following the competition.

Architecture students Jesse Halverson, Andrew Newman and Karen Rios were among the finalists invited to compete in this year’s event. Halverson received the People’s Choice Award and Rios was nominated to represent the University in Archiprix International, a biennial competition bringing together some of the best graduation projects worldwide. Rios also presented her work at CriticalMass, an event hosted each year by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s College of Arts and Architecture.

“We are grateful for our partnership with John Portman & Associates,” said Tony Rizzuto, chair of KSU’s architecture department. “Our shared interest in advancing design standards benefits the students, the profession and the community at large.”

– Travis Highfield

Photos by Dorianne Gutierrez, Department of Architecture

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit