May 3, 2021
From top, l to r. Margaret Wallace Brown, Director, City of Houston's Planning & Development Department; Juan José Castellón, Assistant Professor, Rice Architecture; Maria Nicanor, Executive Director, Rice Design Alliance. From bottom, l to r. Tommy Garcia Prats, Founder and General Manager of Small Places; Justin Smith, Senior Associate, Walter P Moore; Nicola Springer, Executive Vice President, Director of PK-12 Projects, Kirksey Architecture.

HOUSTON – May 03, 2021 – Rice Design Alliance (RDA) is pleased to announce the jury for the Houston Design Research Grant. This year’s grant was open nationally to university students and faculty looking to work on research projects that focus on the spatial implications of urban food distribution and consumption systems in Houston and its region, including the existence of food deserts and lack of accessibility to quality food. Applications closed April 15.

The six-member jury met last week to select two winning applicants (one Student, one Faculty), who will receive research seed funds in the amount of $6,000 each. In addition to funding aid, the winning proposal from each category will be published in Cite magazine, and the winners will present their projects at a lunchtime lecture at Rice Architecture. Winners will be announced Thursday, May 6, during the Rice Architecture Annual Awards Ceremony.

This year’s jury included expertise from a variety of fields ranging from academia, architecture, engineering, city planning, and farm management:

Margaret Wallace Brown, Director, City of Houston's Planning & Development Department.

Margaret Wallace Brown oversees the City’s regional and community-based planning efforts, including land-development standards and neighborhood character preservation programs such as historic preservation. She also leads the strategic transportation planning and community planning efforts, including the Mayor’s signature Complete Communities Initiative.

Juan José Castellón, Assistant Professor, Rice Architecture.

Juan José Castellón is an Architect (ETSA Barcelona, 2003), M.Arch. in Emergent Technologies and Design (Architectural Association London, 2011), and Doctor of Sciences by the Swiss Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich, 2017). In 2016, he co-founded xmade GmbH, an architectural practice based in Basel, Switzerland, focused on research and applications of contemporary materials in architecture. His research activities are focused on the implementation of hierarchical porosity in architecture and on the design and development of building prototypes. 

Maria Nicanor, Executive Director, Rice Design Alliance.

Maria Nicanor is an architecture curator and architectural historian with an interest in the ways that cities and people interact through the lens of design. She is currently the executive director of Rice Design Alliance. Formerly, she was the inaugural director of the Norman Foster Foundation in Madrid. Nicanor has been a curator at the Design, Architecture, and Digital Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and between 2006 and 2014 was the associate curator of Architecture and Urbanism at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, where she was also a curator of the BMW Guggenheim Lab project. 

Tommy Garcia Prats, Founder and General Manager of Small Places.

Tommy Garcia Prats has over eight years of hands-on experience in farming and farm management. He has worked under some of the most innovative farmers in the country and hemisphere including: Rock Spring Farm, a 20-acre certified organic farm in Decorah, IA, known for its systems development and process-oriented operations; and Finca Bona Fide a 45-acre educational and mixed agroforestry farm in Nicaragua, recognized in Central America as an innovator in regenerative farm design, mixed grain, and perennial fruit production, as well as on-farm education and training. He serves as the Business Representative on the 2nd Ward Super Neighborhood Council Board (#63) and various advisory committees related to 2nd Ward development and community feedback.

Justin Smith, Senior Associate, Walter P Moore.

Justin Smith is a professional engineer working on the design and construction administration of structural systems for buildings. He has an educational foundation in architectural design with an advanced degree in architectural history. His past professional office experience includes site-related civil engineering services including hydrology, hydraulics, and grading. Smith serves on the RDA Board and chairs the RDA Programs Committee.

Nicola Springer, Executive Vice President, Director of PK-12 Projects, Kirksey Architecture.

Nicola Springer, AIA, LEED AP, is an expert in 21st century learning environments and educational design. She has created state-of-the-art public and private schools and developed PlayTheory, a process that engages stakeholders in a fun, collaborative way to gather quantitative and qualitative information that is used during the design phase. Springer's talents and expertise are often utilized on projects throughout Kirksey, including higher education and community projects. Springer was formerly an RDA Board member and during her tenure was the Editorial Chair and an active contributor to the Cite Editorial Committee.

The Houston Design Research Grant is made possible thanks to a generous gift from The Mitsui U.S.A. Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Mitsui & Co. (U.S.A.), Inc. (“Mitsui USA”).

Established in 1987, The Mitsui U.S.A. Foundation currently supports more than 50 initiatives across the US in the areas of Education, Community Welfare, Arts and Culture, and Employee Matching and Volunteerism.

More information about the Houston Design Research Grant is available here.

About RDA

Rice Design Alliance is the public programs and outreach arm of Rice Architecture. We curate public programs, architecture tours, design competitions and publications that communicate the importance of design in our everyday lives and its ability to make our lives better. We are based at and work from the Rice Architecture school as an advocacy group that believes that multidisciplinary and research-based design can improve our cities and the way we live in them. 

RDA was established within Rice Architecture in 1972 by the school's first dean, David Crane, together with alumni and other civic-minded community members who believed that quality design thinking should be available to all in our community and that Houston’s citizens – experts and non-experts alike – should feel empowered to act and transform our city through design. 

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