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June 27, 2024 Interior Architecture Students Win Gensler Brinkmann Scholarship

Fourth-year students Kate O’Neil and Cecilia Torres-Panzera have been selected as , an annual program that celebrates design excellence and innovating thinking. The competitive award invites interior programs across the nation to nominate two rising seniors.

Kate O'Neil
O’Neil

“When I found out I was one of the three Gensler Brinkmann Scholarship recipients, I was honestly speechless,” said O’Neil. “I was flooded with emotions of happiness, honor, gratitude, and a bit of shock. It was something that I had put a ton of work and time into this semester, and I was initially just so honored to be one of the two nominated from the school, and then extremely honored to be a finalist, and now I am beyond grateful and proud to be one of the scholarship recipients.”

Growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, O’Neil saw the city’s booming development. In between schoolwork and basketball, she spent hours teaching herself to use software that would bring her design concepts to life.

She received the scholarship for Salutogenic Sanctuary, an in-patient addiction center with out-patient facilities and sanctuary conceptual design during her third year.

“For me, a sanctuary isn’t necessarily a specific place in the built environment, but a place I feel calm and a place that I truly want to be, and ultimately a place of healing,” O’Neil said. “Addiction centers generally have a pretty negative connotation, but they can play such an impactful role in someone’s life. I believe that a big part of the healing process in any instance is the want to heal and the environment that you are healing in can play a large role in that. I am very interested in biophilic design and exploring ways design can improve one’s wellbeing and this project informed and expanded that interest.”

The studio, led by lecturer Ashley Coon, encouraged students to explore artificial intelligence as they envisioned and developed their space. Inspired by a lecture from Gensler’s Global Director of Design Technology Joseph Joseph on how the firm is using AI and feedback she received in her final review by Nashville Gensler Principal Christopher Goggin, O’Neil revisited and expanded her designs.

“His lecture reminded me that pushing the boundaries of myself and my work will give me the most desirable outcome,” she said.

Cecilia Torres-Panzera
Torres-Panzera

Torres-Panzera, of Marietta, Georgia, grew up playing musical instruments which she says lent itself to the repetition and iterative practice of design.

“Playing a musical instrument is a super sensory experience,” she said. “When I practiced growing up, I listened to the tone, felt the strings or keys and their vibrations, and read the music at the same time. It is so stimulating and thrilling in this way. When we design anything spatial, we consider each sense as its own experience. Especially because I was designing an exhibition that ignites feelings of nostalgia and ephemerality, I knew I needed to be intentional about how the user would see, feel, and hear the space.”

Her winning project envisioned a temporary exhibit depicting Villa Temporaria Rincón Chico de Piedra del Águila, a temporary town in the southeast of the province of Neuquén, in Patagonia, Argentina, as a part of Assistant Professor Marie Saldaña’s studio.

The former town’s community included School of Interior Architecture Director Milagros Zingoni Phielipp, which encouraged Torres-Panzera to consider the different life experiences as she conceptualized the exhibition.

“It gave me the big responsibility of how I represent her story through design,” Torres-Panzera said. “Some people may associate that town with being a kid, someone may remember those ten years raising a family, and other people associate that town with a chapter of hard work and heavy labor.

“The town was like its own lively bubble, and now all that remains is its footprint. When I designed the exhibition, I wanted something that kind of disappears but leaves its footprint, because this is all people who lived there have left.”

The exhibition features paper structures that rise and fall representing the town’s emergence and disappearance. The paper would reveal silhouettes that represent the inhabitants’ experiences living in the temporary community.

The pair mark the sixth and seventh award recipients in the past ten years in the College of Architecture and Design. Previous winners include:

  • Danielle Lanier, second-place winner, 2020
  • Niklos Toldi, first-place winner, 2018
  • Mary Morgan Smith, second-place winner, 2017
  • Taylor Odom, second-place winner, 2016
  • Erin Collins, first-place winner, 2015

The scholarship was established in 1999 as a memorial to Donald G. Brinkmann, an inspirational interior designer and former Gensler principal who personified the essence of design, vision, and leadership.