Student takes second in design contest

Architecture student Nhat Nguyen won second place for his redesign of the Leon Sullivan H. Service Center.

Nhat Nguyen stands beside his design which won him second place in BLT Architects’ Student Design Competition. | Geneva Heffernan TTN

Nhat Nguyen, a senior architecture major, recalls being in an architecture class when an unknown number called his phone. He didn’t answer it, but he later checked the voicemail.

To Nguyen’s surprise, it was the administration from Philadelphia-based architectural firm BLT Architects, also known as BLTa, who called to let him know he won the second place prize of $500 in their fifth annual Student Design Competition late September.

“I was shocked,” Nguyen said. “I didn’t think I was going to win because the competition is so big.”

Nguyen was in so much shock that he played the voicemail again to make sure he was one of the winners. Then, he went home and told his family.

“I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t yell, I couldn’t do anything because I was in class,” Nguyen said. “But when I told my family, they were all excited.”

The competition, which is held for students enrolled in an accredited architectural program, gives students the opportunity to put their architectural skills to use by creating a hypothetical redesign for a building BLTa chooses, according to the BLTa website.

This year, students had to redesign the Leon H. Sullivan Service Center, a mixed-use center on Broad Street near Jefferson that hosts several community support organizations.

Nguyen said students from all over the East Coast, especially graduate students, enter this competition.

Because he didn’t know much about the city, the surrounding area and the cultural context for the center, he had to research the area so he could develop a design that would fit the requirements of the competition.

“I had to visit the site and look for things around it like the sun, the students, the street and much more,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen’s design was built around the focus of utilizing the space for more student housing.

Nguyen has been drawing and designing homes and buildings since he was young, and he was always told he was really good at it. His father encouraged him to pursue architecture, he said.

“He said that was always his dream, but he never had the chance to do it because of the Vietnam society at that time and financial concerns,” Nguyen said.

Although he didn’t initialy expect to win, Nguyen took the challenge of the competition because participants would automatically receive a $10 gift card to Starbucks.

In addition to the gift card, the first place winner earned a paid internship at BLTa and $1000, second place won $500 and third place won $250.

While Nguyen didn’t credit any professors or friends with influencing him to join the competition, he said he tried to “apply what I learned in these past three years to the competition.”

After he graduates, Nguyen plans to work at BLTa for a few years and then return to school for his master’s degree. He also said if he finds out about other local competitions, he will make sure to join them.

His advice to other architecture students is to “never stop doing what you like,” and encourages them to submit an entry for the next BLTa competition.

“In architecture, never think about not designing,” Nguyen said.

“You get so much experience for your resume, and even if you don’t win, you still get a cup of free coffee.”

Ashley Caldwell can be reached at

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