2014 landscape architecture graduate wins AECOM award

Stephanie Swindle
September 30, 2014

2014 Penn State landscape architecture alumna Michelle Zucker and Emily Saunders, an architecture student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, have won the AECOM 2014 Urban SOS open ideas competition. Their project, “Restart Tirupur in India,” proposes to reactivate an abandoned factory located on the periphery of Tirupur as a water filter and start-up community factory. The proposal would provide migrant workers in Tirupur with the tools to obtain clean water, self-grown food sources, and native materials for building and designing resilient shelters in the community, in turn generating sustainable development.

“We chose Tirupur as it is a city that has deteriorated with the fluctuating textile industry. Basic urban rights of the local residents and migrant workers have been lost in order to provide textiles for the rest of the world," explained Zucker. "This specific location was ideal in response to the brief, as it will serve as a pilot project in an effort to apply this strategy to areas facing similar conditions throughout India, and if successful, other countries.”

Urban SOS is the student competition of AECOM, a global design and engineering consultancy. Zucker and Saunders presented their project along with three other finalists at the Center for Architecture in New York City on September 4, where they were chosen as the winning team.

“It is surreal to have won and hasn't quite sunken in yet. When the jury announced that we had won, it was a moment I will never forget,” said Zucker.

Zucker credits her study abroad experience at Penn State with inspiring her interest in areas like Tirupur.

“I had the opportunity to study abroad in Tanzania with professors Brian Orland and Larry Gorenflo," Zucker said. "It was during this time that I learned my true passion for working in areas faced with similar conditions to Tirupur. I realized the potential in activating the local residents living in these areas and how they are the greatest resource for sustainable community growth. By providing the tools and open-source knowledge, we can create self-grown communities with micro-businesses that have the potential to introduce new, resilient economic and social functions.”

“It is surreal to have won and hasn't quite sunken in yet. When the jury announced that we had won, it was a moment I will never forget."

— Michelle Zucker, 2014 alum

“Restart Tirupur” responds to the boom of the city’s textile industry, which has devastated the local environment thanks to the discharge of dyes into the Noyyal River, resulting in polluted water sources and depreciated agricultural land. In their brief, Zucker and Saunders explain that in 2011, due to lobbying from farmers in the area, all of the dying units in the Tirupur textile clusters were shut down and prevented from reopening until sustainable means of processing the dyes were implemented. Zucker and Saunders have addressed this challenge and plan to initiate their proposed framework, increase the quality of living in Tirupur, and enable the growth of community resources and micro-businesses. 

Zucker and Saunders met in the architecture and design program at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad. Zucker is currently working in Copenhagen for arki_lab, a small urban design firm where she participates in a range of community and user-driven projects.

Their project was recently on display as part of an exhibition, Urban SOS: Towards a New Industry, at the Center for Architecture: AIA New York. The next phase is the actualization of the project — the winning team receives a monetary prize and in-kind AECOM staff time to support implementation of the project.

“We are very excited to move forward with the project and work with Potters for Peace, AECOM, and the local community in Tirupur to build our proposal,” said Zucker.

  • a design for a retrofit factory

    Abandoned or non-functioning dye factories will be deconstructed and converted for future microbusinesses and an open-ideas laboratory for experimentation with our proposed response.

    IMAGE: Michelle Zucker
  • image of existing conditions in Tirupur

    a collage of the existing conditions in Tirupur that the project aims to address

    IMAGE: Michelle Zucker
  • migrant workers and residents of Tirupur

    migrant workers and residents, Tirupur's greatest untapped resource

    IMAGE: Michelle Zucker
  • graphics of project responses

    This graphic highlights their response to the basic urban rights of water, food and shelter.

    IMAGE: Michelle Zucker
(1 of 4)

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 15, 2014