Lightweight, strong, malleable, exciting. These were some of the words that architectural students used to describe composites after competing in ACMA’s third annual Composites Design Challenge at the 2018 American Institute of Architects annual conference.

The contest, which is the brainchild of ACMA’s Architectural Division, was created to inspire the next generation of architects, says David Riebe, vice president of Windsor Fiberglass and challenge coordinator. Twenty-seven teams of students from six universities took part in this year’s challenge, beginning the semester with a technical workshop presented by ACMA and then breaking into teams to design and fabricate a composite architectural component. All materials were provided by ACMA members Ashland Chemical, Composites One, Gougeon Brothers, Owens Corning, Polynt Group and Vectorply.

Riebe says that this kind of grassroots outreach is crucial because architectural schools remain focused on traditional building materials like steel, glass, concrete, wood and masonry. For students like Karolina Piorko from Cornell University, the experience was an eye opener. “This was my first time working with a composite material,” she says. “Composites seem to have unlimited potential. We experienced firsthand how strong fiberglass is when cured, how light it remains, and how many forms can be developed.”

This is music to Riebe’s ears. “Students often describe the experience as empowering,” he notes. “This friendly competition offers the students a chance to experiment with materials that can help to realize their designs in ways other material systems can’t. Many times, they realize that they can build things they never dreamed of.”

The award-winning entries are profiled here.