Equitable Design Insights from BWBR’s Inaugural Scholarship Winners

BWBR is excited to recognize the achievements and talent of the recipients of the firm’s first-annual equity scholarships. Each award is designed to support equity in the built environment by providing a $1,000 prize to a student of architecture, interior design, or graphic design. Applicants submitted both a personal statement and a sample design project, and we were truly impressed by the caliber of submissions for these inaugural awards.

The Dorothy Brink Ingemann Scholarship for Gender Equity in Design is awarded to a woman studying architecture, interior design, or graphic design. This year’s Dorothy Brink Ingemann Scholarship recipient is Allison Loth, an architecture undergrad student at Ball State University. Allison’s submission focused on food equity in urban environments, and she showcased her talent and creativity via an innovative food hub design for downtown Fort Wayne, Ind.

The Milt Bergstedt Scholarship for Racial Equity in Design is awarded to a BIPOC student in a graphics, interior design, or architecture degree program. This year’s Milt Bergstedt Scholarship for Racial Equity in Design winner is Freeland Livingston, a Master of Architecture student at Southern California Institute of Architecture. Freeland’s submission highlighted his work on the Church Rock Senior Center in Church Rock, N.M., which serves the elderly of the local Navajo community.

The Role of Design in an Equitably Built Environment

For Loth, “When we think about how architecture and design play a role in the built environment, we have to think about what equity is, itself. To me, it’s about accessibility and opportunity, and how we give people of all different walks of life – whether it’s based on race, gender, or disability – accessibility and opportunity into different spaces. Design plays a huge role in that. It’s more than just one project on one site. What you do with that site impacts the greater context – an entire culture, entire community, and the society around it.”

Livingston agreed, adding, “I think it’s important to have all members involved, like the community. The project I selected for the scholarship entry was a community effort. It was a long process, and by the time I got into it, it was already 20 years into the project.”

Livingston also noted that, “Funding situations are always interesting on the Navajo reservation because sometimes it’s tribal, sometimes it’s state, sometimes it’s federal. The fascinating thing is that there’s so many people that have worked on each project, and because most of the funds are public, there’s a lot of community engagement and leadership. By the time the project’s done, it’s always a joyous celebration, especially in the Navajo Nation, because we’re still a developing nation. So, we’re trying to create a more equitable environment and also increase the quality of life through design and the built environment.”

About the Winning Submittals

Freeland Livingston | Church Rock Senior Center

Freeland Livingston's BWBR Scholarship entry.
An image from Freeland Livingston’s scholarship entry.

Livingston described how his submitted project, the Church Rock Senior Center, was started in the late 1990s. Over the years, the project’s vision and community needs changed, along with ongoing efforts to secure project funding and various design iterations.

By the time the funding came into play, we wanted to start over because the last design didn’t really fit the community needs anymore. So, we began on a whole new design process with the elders and the community leaders,” said Livingston. “The project was really great because we took design ownership of what we wanted to do with it, but we thought about it more as a place of preservation because for us, the elders hold the knowledge of the culture, of the language, of Navajo life. We needed to create a safe space for the elders and for them to be able to have a nice building, like their second home.”

Livingston emphasized the importance of defining what architecture means to each unique person: “For a lot of us, our only reference to architecture is our homes. Throughout time as Navajo people, we don’t really have any architectural styles; we only have our dwellings as the base idea of what architecture is, so that’s what we tried to implement.”

Livingston was happy to share that the project was a community success. Completed in 2017, the facility sits on a hill and overlooks the thriving community. It’s a living reminder of how he approaches design.

Allison Loth | Local Food Hub Within An Urban Environment

Allison Loth's BWBR Scholarship entry.
An image from Allison Loth’s scholarship entry.

Loth’s project focused on creating an urban food hub in Fort Wayne, Ind., specifically studying how design can bring farmers, food producers, and local food in general to urban cities.

“I’ve noticed across the United States that there’s an issue with accessibility to fresh local food, especially in really dense, urban cities. There’s a lot of fast food or you have to drive 10 to 20 minutes outside of the center of downtown to get to a grocery store that isn’t upscale,” Loth said.

Loth’s project included finding ways for people to get fresh food, and then share the food to come together as a community.

“Programmatically, I wanted to demonstrate the transition from farm to table. So, there are spaces where farmers could pull up in their trucks and sell food directly out of the beds, like a farmers’ market could function. There were teaching kitchens and a restaurant, so people could learn how to prepare this food. There are also community gardens where people could come and learn how to grow their own gardens in their backyard,” said Loth.

Loth sees this project as something that could come to life at a number of sites across the United States. She hopes that dealing with the issue of food accessibility through design will give people equal opportunity fresh food.

How to Welcome More Diversity into the Profession

We asked how the two scholarship winners think the architecture and design industry can become more inclusive.

Loth said, “I think architecture is years behind other industries in terms of diversity. It’s not an immediate change we can make, but I know there is some progress in terms of architecture programs across the United States. We’re getting closer to the 50/50 ratio of men to women, but in terms of people of color, we’re far behind that 50/50 ratio. So, we have a lot of work to do in that sense, too. Right now, our profession needs to continue to reach out to communities and young people across the United States and find ways to get them involved in architecture and learn about architecture, starting with talking to middle schoolers and high schoolers.”

Loth continued, “How do we get people into architecture programs, so that in 20 years, we’re going to reap the benefits of diversity? I think it’s important that we design equitably, but that we don’t design by making assumptions or generalizations.”

Livingston underscored the importance of visibility. “I feel like architecture can be insular, where our discourses are mainly amongst other architects. I have noticed that with native architecture, as well, where we only speak to each other as native architects, but we never take that discussion back to our own communities or our own reservations. So, we definitely need to bring more visibility to that discussion and to the local population, because if we’re only talking to ourselves, we’re the only ones getting the message.”

Both Loth and Livingston agree that the architecture industry needs people to talk to people with different life views and experiences, including getting younger generations involved in design conversations and mentoring young designers. By doing the hard work today, we can all create richer, more inclusive environments going forward.

Knowledge is Power: How Research and Practice Go Hand-in-Hand

Design can be a powerful tool to create change and impact organizations and communities. However, it is important that we are striving to understand through research exactly how the design of the built environment impacts our everyday lives. To this end, BWBR created a formal research and knowledge management program in 2007 which grew out of our vision to serve as a knowledge resource for our clients and to commit ourselves to developing a deeper understanding of the impacts that design has on occupants, on organizations, and within our communities.

In addition to our own research, BWBR finds research and collaboration opportunities through academic and student partnerships, such as the University of Minnesota School of Architecture’s Research Consortium and the Masters of Science and Research Practices program, known informally as the MSRP program. In this episode, BWBR Principal and Design Researcher Stefnee Trzpuc, CID, EDAC, LEED AP, connects with MSRP Program Director Professor Malini Srivastava, AIA, DDes (School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota), as well as former MSRP student Lucas Glissendorf (BWBR).

Harnessing the Combined Power of Academics and Industry

For Professor Srivastava, “The three criteria that I personally use [to define research] are originality, significance, and rigor.” Glissendorf adds: “It’s easy to talk about research and design as these separate methods of inquiry, but I think there’s so much about the research process that also happens in the design process. And that marriage of the two is really fascinating. A lot of the same things that make for a good research project also make for a good design process.”

Professor Srivastava explains why forging a connection between design firms and academic institutions is so powerful:

“The main goal of the MSRP program is to place students between academy and industry to address challenges that are in front of the built environment professionals. I think my greatest pleasure in the program is creating the right partnerships, taking student interests and passions and marrying them to firm needs.”

Professor Malini Srivastava, AIA, DDes


Glissendorf adds, “One of the foundational principles of the MSRP program is this idea of a continuous feedback loop between academic research and the work that’s happening in the professional practice environment. I think one of the greatest strengths of programs like this is the opportunity to engage in research that is incredibly timely and relevant to professional practice while also grounded in the rigor and the structure of academic research. One of the things that I really appreciated about working with the consortium was the incredible diversity of perspectives at the table, where we were all challenged to think about the problem in ways that might fall outside of our usual methods of inquiry.”

A Unique Approach Creates Shared Value

The MSRP program is unique in the way it pairs students, faculty advisors, and firm advisors to work together on common projects. This approach provides specific value to all participants and allows for creative breakthroughs that might not otherwise have been possible within the confines of a traditional project. Professor Srivastava elaborates, “I think there are a couple of really valuable things about the MSRP structure, where the students are in the middle of the academy and the firm. They’re being mentored and advised by people on both sides, and what they’re asked to do in return is ask deep questions. They’re given precious time to investigate something in depth, free of a project cycle, which gives them not only the time, but the permission to ask difficult questions.”

Participating firms also benefit by being able to ask questions that they have been wanting to ask, but haven’t had the time, resources, or expertise to tackle within their own corporate structure. Professor Srivastava elaborates, “Research methods are not a central part of professional training, but the kind of training that MSRP students get is actually implementing and developing expertise in research methodology. Rigorously collecting and analyzing data, and then being able to make sense of what that data shows, allows students to understand an issue from quite a different perspective. That methodology skillset then becomes another really important resource for firms to tap into.”

And while, in practice, firms are experts at what they do and have very advanced knowledge of their work, it’s not part of the traditional practice cycle to share and disseminate that knowledge, which is another benefit of partnerships like this.

The Future of Research in Practice

But what does the future of research hold? One important point of application is truly understanding and measuring the impact of our work. Glissendorf explains, “I’m a big believer in the idea that great design begins with asking great questions. I think research in practice is critical to understanding the impact that design and architecture can have on the organizations and communities that we serve and the social, economic, and environmental contexts within which we position our work. It’s really important to understand the impact our work can have, and to be able to communicate that in a really meaningful way.”

Professor Srivastava says: “We recently conducted research on the MSRP itself. We looked at all our past work, and the categories that emerged included climate change, clean water, sustainable ecosystem issues, and the social context within which we work.” These macro-trends will certainly continue to have an outsize impact on the industry, and research will continue to play a vital role in helping both firms and the academy understand and adapt to our changing circumstances.

Perhaps the biggest hope is for research and design to become ever more fully integrated. Professor Srivastava explains, “Design is not a one-time practice, it’s an ongoing practice. Buildings have long lives, which allow us to be involved from a design perspective over that lifetime, rather than just at the beginning. I’m hoping that the future of research and practice is that we understand the larger context and the role we play, whether it’s environmental or justice-related, and that we understand our part in the big picture.”

BWBR Announces First Annual Equity Scholarship Winners

BWBR is thrilled to announce the recipients of our first-annual equity scholarships. Each award is designed to support equity in the built environment by providing a $1,000 prize to a student of architecture, interior design, or graphic design. Applicants submitted both a personal statement and a sample design project, and we were truly blown away by the caliber of submissions for these inaugural awards.

Let’s meet this year’s winners.


Named for Dorothy Brink Ingemann, one of the first women to graduate with an architecture degree from the University of Minnesota (and foundational collaborator/wife of William Ingemann, the founder of what would become BWBR), this scholarship is awarded to a woman studying architecture, interior design, or graphics.

This year’s recipient is Allison Loth, an architecture undergrad student at Ball State University. Allison’s submission focused on food equity in urban environments, and she showcased her talent and creativity via an innovative food hub design for downtown Fort Wayne, Ind. In her own words, Allison talks about her passion for food justice: 

“We are currently facing a food crisis in the United States where it has become exceedingly difficult to gain access to healthy food for an affordable price. We now live in a society where there are more McDonald’s than grocery stores, where it’s cheaper to purchase a burger and fries for lunch than a salad at the same restaurant. This urban food hub is not only a space where fresh produce can be bought and sold, but is a place for the community to learn how food is grown and properly cooked. […] By designing inclusive architecture that addresses this issue in environments where it’s needed most, we take a vital step towards achieving true equity in the food industry in the United States.”


Offered to a BIPOC student in architecture, interior design, or graphics, the Milt Bergstedt Scholarship for Racial Equity in Design is named for a founder of BWBR who championed the elimination of barriers to equity in his architectural practice and his community.

Headshot of a man with long dark hair, glasses, a brimmed hat, looking at the camera and smiling

This year’s winner is Freeland Livingston, a Master of Architecture student at Southern California Institute of Architecture. Freeland’s submission highlighted his work on the Church Rock Senior Center in Church Rock, N.M., which serves the elderly of the local Navajo community. Freeland spoke eloquently about his passion for incorporating the Native perspective into design:

“I believe that we are in a moment of rapid transition and transformation of our built environment. I want to address those changes through architectural practice and teaching of the next generation of architects. I intend to continue working with Native American communities to create healthy and beautiful Native American communities. I strongly feel that the built environments of Native peoples are inadequate and degrades the culture, commerce, and livelihood of Native American populations. I aim to provide architecture that represents the spatial needs of Native peoples and cultures.”