Rice School of Architecture fellow makes impact at Europan

His little town
Rice School of Architecture fellow makes impact at Europan

Rice News staff

A little town in Germany has been in Troy Schaum’s heart and mind lately, and now that town’s put a little money in his pocket.

Even better, the Visiting Wortham Fellow at the Rice School of Architecture has a terrific addition to his curriculum vitae as a runner-up in the prestigious Europan competition, which comes with a cash prize – in euros, naturally.


Earning second place in this event is no easy feat. It means getting one’s ideas noticed among the hundreds submitted to Europan judges, who challenge architects under 40 to take a hard look at seemingly intractable problems in European cities and towns. Ultimately, architects are asked to design the kind of world they’d like to live in.

Schaum, 33, and his colleague Caroline O’Donnell, an architect and lecturer at Cornell University, spent weeks in early 2009 developing “Urban Punc.,” their plan to transform the eastern German town of Leisnig into a more livable environment suitable to its aging population and attractive to the young, entrepreneurial types so important to its future. Because at least one member of the team must be European, Schaum wouldn’t qualify to enter Europan on his own, but O’Donnell, whom he met while a graduate student at Princeton, was born in Ireland. They will share the prize of 6,000 euros.

Their master plan for the town of about 7,000 is “based on reconnecting the remaining adjacent forest lands back through the community as walking and bike paths and public-space corridors,” Schaum said. “Those could support the development of office buildings that would function for new businesses, because they’re having trouble keeping young people in the town.”

The plan for Leisnig, Germany, would put “apostrophes” in empty lots to provide parking, elevators and community space to make the town’s centuries-old apartments more accessible.

The plan to “punctuate” Leisnig with interwoven linear parks would connect the urban center with historic sites, a train station and the suburbs. Getting into finer detail, they found the centuries-old housing stock increasingly inaccessible to elderly residents and designed “apostrophes,” support structures for existing apartment buildings that would provide parking, elevators, gardens and community space.

Schaum, who is in the second and final year of his teaching fellowship at Rice, has been to Germany but never to Leisnig. He and O’Donnell worked with plans and information supplied by Europan and spent a lot of time on Google Earth getting a feel for the city. “It was clear that there was an important historic center that had to be preserved,” he said. “Whatever insertions we made would have to be surgical and not dominate what already exists.”

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Schaum and O’Donnell learned of the competition results in mid-January and haven’t yet seen the winning entry for Leisnig. “But we know there are certain elements of our plan and that of the first-place winners that officials are excited about, and we’re discussing doing a workshop in the summer to incorporate aspects of both into a master plan,” he said.

Schaum noted Europan competitors often see concrete results. “More so in Europe than in the states, there’s a tradition of promoting young architects through competitions. It creates a fairer environment; instead of work always going to the established firms, which happens in the states, public projects and even certain private projects that have a public presence have to be awarded via architectural competition.

“Some of them get built, some of them don’t. Some of them get built many years later. And this is an urban plan, so it would happen in a phased way, anyway,” he said. “But it’s not unusual to award young architects significant projects via competitions.”

About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.