Three Minute Thesis

MARIETTA, Ga. | Jan 24, 2019

Architecture students showcase design skills in annual competition

Ten undergraduate students squared off last week in Kennesaw State University’s Cooper Carry Three Minute Thesis Competition, held each year to showcase the presentation and design capabilities of fifth-year architecture students.

The competition, which follows the format of the University of Queensland’s Three Minute Thesis competition, challenges students to deliver a convincing pitch for their thesis project in a short timeframe using only a single PowerPoint slide. The event hosted by Kennesaw State’s Department of Architecture is unique in that all participants are undergraduate students, as the University is one of only a handful nationwide programs that requires its students to pursue thesis projects while earning a professional architecture degree. KSU’s Graduate College also hosts a separate Three Minute Thesis competition for master’s and doctoral students.

Three Minute Thesis Architecture

“Rather than do a capstone that is designed under the direction of a particular professor’s interest, for thesis we reverse the tables allowing the student to tell us what it is they would like to pursue,” said Liz Martin-Malikian, associate professor of architecture and thesis coordinator. “Each student proposes their own project giving them room to develop their individual design voice before entering the profession. It’s exciting because we’re seeing what’s on the minds of the next generation of architects.”

In order to qualify for the competition, students begin presenting their proposals as fourth-year architecture students in a thesis prep course. This fall, 44 fifth-year students participated in an additional round, and 10 were short-listed for the Cooper Carry final round. Prior to the event, the finalists take part in a three-hour training session with three professional presentation coaches, a practice that sponsor and jury chair Richard Fredlund said equips the students with an invaluable skill they will need as architects.

“It’s really important as a professional to be able to present your ideas very concisely to decision makers,” said Fredlund, associate principal of design firm Cooper Carry. “Architects tend to be longwinded and talk ‘archispeak,’ but these days interviews tend to get shorter and shorter, and it’s imperative to get the point across in a short window. It’s a life skill for an architect.”

For the first time in the competition’s seven-year history, a panel composed of industry experts and academicians were unable to select an individual champion and opted to split the $3,000 cash prize among two students, Josh Robinson and Darral Tate. A third student, Dyesha Holmes, received the Architectural Research Centers Consortium King Medal for Research for her thesis “Reframing Urban Redevelopment by Sustaining Existing Community in Atlanta’s West End.”

Three Minute Thesis Architecture

Robinson presented his thesis “Healing the Healthcare Continuum,” which examines how to fix the public’s negative views on hospitals by designing a new, decentralized network of healthcare centers. He argued that many are deterred from seeking care at hospitals because the structures, often large and uninviting, don’t allow potential patients to directly seek the kind of care they needed. By spreading special clinics throughout the community, he said, people could begin to see healthcare centers as an integral part of their neighborhood.

“Because I grew up with both of my parents working in a hospital setting, I always had a different view on health centers,” Robinson said. “It was always a place where I was happy and where I could play with my siblings. I really wanted everyone to see a hospital as inviting as I saw it.”

For Tate’s thesis, “The Anti-Panopticon,” he 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. He chose to challenge Jeremy Bentham’s 18th century design known as the Panopticon, a structure designed to allow prison guards to keep watch on nearly all prisoners from a single vantage point. Rather than encourage constant surveillance, Tate suggested that prisons could be designed in a way to allow more space that could increase learning among prisoners to better prepare them for life on the outside.

“We’re always encouraged when we first come up with a thesis idea to pick something that we’re interested in and how it can relate back to architecture,” said Tate, who won an additional $500 for receiving the people’s choice award. “I’ve always been somewhat shocked about a gray area in our society – prisons. I asked myself, ‘What is architecture’s role in reforming the U.S. prison model?’”

– Travis Highfield

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 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