Architecture student Carlos Sierra wins first place in national design competition

July 21, 2022

Office of Marketing & Strategic Communication

SAC students won two of the five awards in the 2022 Coalition of Community College Architecture Programs (CCCAP), which challenged students across the country to design an urban farm in Detroit, Mich.

Carlos Sierra, a second-year architecture student, won first place for his entry. The team of Ericka Garza, William Schott, and Enaam Babeker earned an honorable mention for their design.

“I think what stood out is they did a lot of really good research,” said Dwayne Bohuslav, SAC architecture program coordinator and associate professor. “They had to design an urban farm for a place they knew nothing about.”

First Place Urban Farm Design.jpgThe contest asked students to design a community garden center to bring food, health, and jobs to an area marked by urban decline. It required students to understand the challenges faced by people living in that environment, including a lack of access to fresh food, and to design a thoughtful solution tailored to their needs.

The students took the challenge to heart, learning about the obstacles facing urban Detroit communities.

“The competition is only a hypothetical conversation, but the people and issues are not,” Sierra said.

Sierra spent weeks researching Detroit’s history, current events, people, music, festivals, sun and wind patterns, what crops grow at that latitude and at what time, native plants and flowers, economic and demographic information, and more.

“Learning all of these things really helped me identify who people in Detroit are,” Sierra said. “It helped me identify with the people I was designing for and helped me put love into the project instead of just making a building and moving on.”

“Dealing with a completely new demographic, location, and scale was a great challenge,” Schott said. “I didn’t know Detroit was suffering the way it was until getting this project.”

“I had never thought about how people living in crowded concrete cities were able to find fresh food,” Garza said. “Being able to design a place where fresh produce can be grown for the surrounding community can have a positive impact and creates a hub where people can learn and gather.”

The students enlisted help from Eco Centro, a center for community and environmental sustainability housed on the SAC campus. The center connected students with local experts in sustainability, urban agriculture, and green building, providing guidance on the many factors that needed to go into the design project – from rainwater collection systems to pollinator gardens.

“Their insight as farmers really helped all of us students in our designs,” Sierra said.

Sierra created his winning entry with drawings and watercolor paintings illustrating a community center, native plants, and garden spaces, along with a collage of artwork representing the city’s cultural heritage. He opted for hand-made artwork instead of images produced by architecture software to add more life and humanity to the design.

The team of Ericka Garza, William Schott, and Enaam Babeker created a proposal reflecting a sustainable design, with a community kitchen, classrooms, and a courtyard along with gardens and greenhouses, all drawing inspiration from the nearby Detroit River.

Honorable Mention Urban Farm Design.jpgBoth projects were really grounded and rooted in the culture, environment, and ecology of Detroit, and that’s what made them outstanding,” Bohuslav said. “Jurors commented that both projects were rooted in the problems and the promise of the communities.”

Bohuslav’s students worked on other projects in their final semester, including creating designs for pocket parks on the SAC campus and a final competition to create a plan for the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum.

In that competition, as in the CCCAP contest, Sierra placed first and Garza and Schott received honorable mentions.  


Urban Farm Design by Carlos Sierra – upper right.
Urban Farm Design by Ericka Garza, William Schott, and Enaam Babeker – lower left.