New York City’s Urban Assembly School of Design and Construction, a public high school, hosted its first “Iron Designer” competition on June 18 on the roof of its midtown building.

Sheltered Life Team works to determine the best use of the secret material—glass tiles.
Photo: James Blum
Team works to determine the best use of the secret material—glass tiles.

Composed of students partnered with architectural and engineering firms professsionals, 10 teams competed to build the best safe house: a life-size emergency shelter. The organizers limited each team to a handful of common materials and a threehour deadline.

The school envisions the challenge becoming an annual fund-raising event.

On the day before the competition, the organizers gave each team a picture of the environment in which its safe house would be situated. Among the locations were the Arctic, the desert and an uninhabited island.

The participants had to design a structure suitable for the assigned environment, write an essay justifying the design and then build it, using only PVC pipe, cardboard, orange highway cones, tarp, fabric, a stapler and that all-purpose construction problem-solver: duct tape.

As the deadline approached and the structures became more recognizable, a panel of judges perused the projects. The team mentored by OMNI Architects, New York City, won for Structural Innovation for its open, curved-panel design.

The team mentored by structural engineer Robert Silman Associates won for its decorative use of the surprise “secret material”—glass tiles—which were labeled with the initials of the group’s two students. The team of San Francisco-based architect Gensler won the Peoples’ Choice award for its teepee, which featured a shower fed by an inverted traffic cone at the apex, as well as the first-ever Iron Designer title.