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Penn Design graduate student Wei Tang recently won first place for this architecture design at the BLTa Student Design Competition. | Courtesy of Wei Tang

For two Penn students, the world as they see it today is not enough. When they look outside their window, they see a canvas, and they are on a mission to paint cityscapes.

These are the minds of School of Design graduate students Wei Tang and Jianan Zhang, two minds that recently won first place and third place respectively in the Bower Lewis Thrower Architects — or BLTa — Student Design Competition.

Now in its fifth year, the competition is open to undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in certified architectural programs. Each year, BLTa identifies a real-world building site and asks its contestants to give it a redesign.

A Philadelphia firm, BLTa has only picked locations from the local area as a way to reaffirm its community focus. This year’s competition was at the Leon H. Sullivan Human Services Center, near Temple University on North Broad Street.

“The purpose of the Student Design Competition is to engage potential employees and students in the profession as well as give back a little bit to the industry,” said BLTa Director of Marketing and Business Development Heidi Thiede.

As the contest winner, Tang not only took home a sizeable cash award of $1,000 but also won himself a potential future at the firm with a paid internship during 2016. Zhang, who also received honors, was awarded a cash prize of $250 for her design entry.

This marks the first Student Design Competition in recent years in which a Penn student has taken home the grand prize, coming at a time when the competition is seeing fewer and fewer Penn contestants each year. BLTa attributes this to the rigorous classwork and schedules that might inhibit Penn students from entering such contests.

Through the promotion of public, open space in his design, Tang stressed the connection between his building design and the city inhabitants. Citing the Drexel University courtyard as a source of inspiration, he said he wanted to create a vital and robust building and juxtapose his design with the typically flat facades of Philadelphia buildings.

“I wanted to give some public area back to the city so that people could come and go as they pleased,” Tang said.

Zhang also saw the need for open space but chose to contain it within the confines of the building, creating a unique and serene courtyard atmosphere. Her design featured an outer ring to serve as potential residential housing and then an inner centerpiece that could house offices and more professional services.

When Tang and Zhang graduate this winter, they will do so with these new accolades as well as their diplomas.

“I want to have a real impact on the world,” Tang said. “I want to reshape buildings, and maybe after years I can shape cities.”

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