AUBURN — Auburn-born Monica Wilder spent around six months with her partner toiling away at a project, up at 3 a.m. with caffeine keeping them going, their papers covered in eraser marks.
But that project would eventually turn into the winning design at the International Student Design Association Competition.
Wilder, 21, and her partner, Blair Lehman, of Pennsylvania, defeated hundreds of participants from all over the world in the annual competition. Any graduate and undergraduate students in an architecture or interior design program could enter it; submissions were due in late February and the winners were announced in late March.
Wilder was raised in Auburn for the first eight years of her life and then moved with her parents to New Jersey before they came back to her hometown last year. She transferred from a New Jersey community college to Marywood University School of Architecture in Pennsylvania, where she began working with Lehman, a fellow junior there, on their design. The duo weren’t the only Marywood students to enter the competition, as another group of two, as well as two other students flying solo, also tried their hands.
The challenge: Design the seventh floor of a building in Dallas owned by company FactorySix03 so multiple “social retail” companies — which use social media to entice consumers into coming to the building to buy that businesses’ products — could temporarily use the space at the same time.
Wilder said she and Lehman couldn’t wrap their heads around the concepts at first.
“For the first two months we were like, ‘What even is this? How do you do this?'” Wilder said, laughing.
From August to February, they worked at their idea, cycling through a grand total of 12 concepts before returning to their original idea, while also integrating elements from all of the other iterations into their finished product. Their solution involved setting up an area in the center of the floor as a “nucleus” of sorts, allowing workers to collaborate by bouncing ideas off one another.
Still a little dazed by her victory, Wilder said that stressful work period was ultimately rewarding.
“For me and my partner, it’s going to open a lot of doors,” Wilder said. “I don’t know how many sleepless nights went into it. It was rigorous. It was so rigorous, but it paid off in the end.”
Wilder — who also works at dental distributor Benco Dental’s CenterPoint design team — appreciates walking into a space and seeing the time and effort embedded into its design. She used entering a well-designed coffee shop with nice colors and great lighting as an example. She believes those design choices are not made accidentally.
“They made that to make you feel good,” Wilder said.
Wilder was so floored when she and Lehman learned of their win in March that the significance of the achievement, both for them and the school, didn’t sink in at first blush.
“It was pretty surreal. I didn’t really understand until I started seeing articles (on it) and people started emailing me about it,” Wilder said.
Wilder admits that when the day submissions were due finally arrived, she didn’t want to submit it. Dealing with the project, along with keeping other endeavors afloat, was exhausting, she said. And after receiving some constructive criticism from staff and other classmates, her mind zeroed in on what she still wanted to tweak about the project, rather than its positive aspects.
It took their studio professor, Andrew Doyle, offering to foot the bill for submitting the work, along with university Dean Jim Sullivan, to get Wilder and Lehman to bite the bullet.
She believes that decision has since paid off, as her professors have told her that she likely won’t have any trouble getting her foot in the door at any design firm as a result of her newfound recognition. Wilder said the win may open up new opportunities for her at her job, as well.
“This definitely motivates me (to) do better work for my future designs,” Wilder said.