LSU Architecture Students Win International Competition

April 05, 2023

LSU architecture students in associate professor Robert Holton’s senior studio architecture course won the Earth Made Competition, an international design challenge to plan buildings using earth materials.

“The project focus was on the use of earth blocks as a contemporary building material to construct multi-family housing in Bolgatanga, Ghana,” Holton said.

This is the second of professor Holton’s studio courses that has won this competition, the first was in 2020.

The winning project, called Courtyard Living, proposed housing that reflects Bolgatanga’s culture and lifestyle by incorporating the spatial arrangement of the region’s traditional compound houses and courtyards, which encourage community engagement among inhabitants. This LSU team included four architecture seniors: Thu Nguyen of Addis, La., Shane Boone from Bay Shore, N.Y., Clara Jimenez from Venezuela and Berry Lee.

Rendering: Front view of the complex.

Rendering: Front view of the complex.

Rendering: Central courtyard.

Rendering: Central courtyard.

Rendering: Communal space.

Rendering: Communal space.


“For the competition, we were dealing with a building material that we weren't familiar with; but with the help of our professor, we were able to learn more about earth blocks and produce a project we were proud of,” Nguyen said.

Earthblock brick for building"Our winning project of 'Courtyard Living: Weaving life and livelihood block by block' was a great team effort that resulted in a housing design that is affordable, accessible, sustainable and environmentally responsive, and preserves the most important cultural aspects of the region,” Jimenez said. “Through this experience, we were able to get hands on experience with earth block material, which allowed us to dive deeper in sustainable strategies and improve our design. I'm super happy that we won first place. We were a great team with great ideas!"

construction process for earthblock bricks; details follow

The earth-block construction process includes pounding and sifting the dirt, mixing in additives and water, compressing the mixture into a mold, scraping away excess mixture, and smoothing the block before it can be removed from the mold for drying.

“The greatest experience gathered from this competition was learning how to create so much using so little,” Boone said. 

A second project from Holton’s studio course, called Terra Firm, was the competition’s runner up. The student team is made of: Declan Wilkerson, Elliott Burns, Jason Morgan and Nicholas Schulin.

“The project was an enjoyable experience overall. I learned a lot of new techniques and methods of construction. It was also nice to receive an award for the first design competition that I've ever entered my work in,” said Texas-native Wilkerson. 

Holton’s research centers around sustainable architecture practices and advancing construction techniques with a focus on earth as a primary building component. He has worked with several prominent architectural offices in the US and France including Bernard Tschumi Architects in New York and Paris; Smith-Miller+Hawkinson, Gensler, Peter Marino Architect and Peter Gluck Architect in New York; and Oppenheim Architects and Design GH in Miami. His professional experience spans a variety of project types and scales and includes the Corning Glass Center, University of Cincinnati Athletic Center and office buildings for MasterCard International. Additionally, he has worked on winning proposals in Europe, such as the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece, and concert halls in Rouen and Limoges, France.