Architecture student wins prestigious Portman Prize

MARIETTA, Ga. | May 1, 2020

Award recognizes research and design excellence

Andrew Smith

Kennesaw State University’s Department of Architecture has named Andrew Smith the recipient of the Portman Prize for Outstanding Thesis, awarded to those who best exemplify comprehensive research and design excellence as determined by a panel of experts.

Smith was chosen among a group of six fifth-year architecture students selected to present their research to a group of industry professionals and academicians from across the country. The Portman Prize is awarded at just three institutions nationwide: Kennesaw State, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Harvard University. The prize was established by John Portman & Associates with the intention of encouraging students to develop a holistic design approach that ties big ideas to small details.

For his thesis, “Dignified Dwellings,” Smith sought to continue a conversation about how to design, fabricate and transport dignified shelters for the country’s growing homeless population. Citing the National Alliance to End Homelessness, he learned that there were more than 564,000 homeless people on a single night nationwide, drawing his attention to the acute need for smarter practices.

“This is a topic with which I have always held a great personal connection,” said Smith, whose mother overcame homelessness in her home country of Jamaica. “Solving the issue of sheltering the unsheltered is something that has driven me throughout my studies, and it is incredibly humbling to be recognized for those efforts by receiving the Portman Prize.”

Students Zach Hart and Oliver Brown were awarded second and third place for their thesis projects “An Invisible Minority” and “The Material Light,” respectively. Following a shift to remote learning, this year’s jury participated virtually across multiple time zones. Students presented via Microsoft Teams video chat to an audience of nearly 60 others. 

“I commend all the students’ willingness to work constructively within our coronavirus constraints,” said thesis coordinator and associate professor of architecture Liz Martin-Malikian. “The invited jury was incredibly impressed with the students’ ability to verbally present their work and to professionally engage in conversation about their projects at such an advanced level.”

The annual competition marks the culmination of a three-semester project that 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.

– Travis Highfield

Photo submitted

Related Stories

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