The 2023 Forge Prize
Congratulations to the 2023 Forge Prize-winning team, LVL (Level) Studio collaborators Jeffrey Lee, Christopher Taurasi, and Lexi White!
Lee, Taurasi, and White won the $10,000 grand prize for Electric Oasis, their concept that would use structural steel to reinvent the gas station experience for the electric vehicle age. They worked with Schuff Steel Senior Vice President Christian Crosby to refine their vision and make the process of bringing it to life in steel more efficient.
The final presentations from the 2023 Forge Prize finalists were streamed live on YouTube on March 30 and are available for viewing on AISC's YouTube channel.
The project team gave an encore presentation at Architecture in Steel NASCC: The Steel Conference in Charlotte, N.C. on Wednesday, April 12.
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2023 Forge Prize Winner: Electric Oasis
Christopher Taurasi, Lexi White, and Jeffrey Lee of LVL (Level) Studio imagined Electric Oasis as a rapidly deployable concept that reimagines existing gas stations as charging hubs for electric vehicles.
Treelike steel canopies provide shade from the hot California sun at a site outside Los Angeles--and they house a bio-remediative aeration system to clean up ethanol contamination from old fuel storage tanks, too.
The judges were particularly impressed by the team’s thoughtful approach, which turns a banal task into a destination event.
“You’ve taken something very mundane that we give not a second thought to usually and injected a certain level of magic--not just waiting for the charging, but also what you can do with that time,” said Forge Prize Judge Melanie Harris, AIA, LSSYB, NCARB, who is the national healing practice director at BSA LifeStructures. “We’re all looking for efficiencies in our life these days and the last thing we want to do is wait around and do nothing while we wait for our cars to charge.”
The time it takes to recharge is, the team noted, one of the primary differences between a gas and electric vehicle.
“On average, a gas stop takes around seven minutes to refill a tank,” Lee said. “A level-two charging station, which is the most common type, takes upwards of four and a half hours for a full charge. We have an opportunity to reimagine the gas station typology into something that can revitalize the local economy.”
So what to do with that time? In their vision, motorists would relax, work, play, shop, or perhaps even get healthcare while their vehicles charge--all activities that offer new economic opportunities for small communities around highway interchanges.
These charging stations are defined by striking steel canopies that offer shade. In their primary use case, for a site within average EV range of both Los Angeles and San Francisco, a pathway winds through the canopies, offering vistas and an engaging space in a loop that takes about 15 minutes to explore.
The pathway connects buildings that would house retail and other spaces--with photovoltaic panels on the roof, naturally. Those hubs feature a steel scrim that is both beautiful and functional, providing shade that would reduce solar gain by up to three hours a day.
The design takes advantage of steel’s unique modular potential to facilitate economical, rapid erection--and steel’s unique recyclability and circular supply chain add an additional layer of sustainability while reinventing the existing infrastructure.
“This is a vehicular kind of society,” noted Forge Prize Judge Rona Rothenberg, FAIA, DBIA, the 2022 president of AIA California, noting that it’s applicable to a vast number of sites across the country. “This is a great way to reuse what we already have and transform it into a resilient, sustainable and lasting solution.”
What motorists may not see while they’re enjoying the amenities: soil remediation. The design includes a mechanism to clean up any ground contamination left over from the site’s use as a gas station.
About LVL (Level) Studio
LVL (Level) Studio provides distinctive design solutions that aren’t afraid to explore unconventional materials and assemblies. At its core, the team believes that addressing environmental, social, and functional concerns are equally important to aesthetic beauty. In practice this means they take a rigorous approach to contextualizing a client’s design problem through extensive research and examination. Collectively they aim to elevate the built environment through this layered approach.
Level Studio is a coast-to-coast team of architectural designers with complementary backgrounds and skills. Based in New York City and Los Angeles, the studio was formed by 3 former classmates who met while pursuing design-build competitions. After nearly a decade of working together, the studio is built on a strong foundation of trust. They see great potential to deliver purpose-driven designs while maintaining efficiency by embedding their knowledge in fabrication and construction early in the design process. Their experience ranges from conceptual design through construction administration, and includes various typologies such as gallery/exhibition, residential, and civic projects.
Christopher Taurasi (left)
Chris Taurasi is a registered architect working out of Brooklyn. He has professional experience working on masterplan, residential, office, mixed-use, and interior projects. This diverse background allows him to work seamlessly across all scales of design. Chris is capable of working from the concept phase through technical delivery. Before starting LVL (Level) Studio, Chris worked his way up from Designer to Associate Project Architect while working at Handel Architects, Studios Architects, and multiple small firms around New York City and Boston. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Architecture degree from Massachusetts College of Art and Design and a Masters Degree in Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis.
Lexi White (center)
Lexi White is currently an architectural designer living in Los Angeles. She has wide--ranging experience across various scales of design--working on projects within the United States and abroad. Her work experience includes museum exhibitions, shade pavilions, student unions, and music performance halls. Her personal interest in aesthetic form-finding stems from the ability of materials to affect the sensory perception of a space. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Architecture degree from Lehigh University and a Masters Degree in Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis.
Jeffrey Lee (right)
Jeffrey Lee is currently an architectural designer working in New York with nearly a decade of experience between construction administration and digital fabrication. His work in construction administration has spanned museums, gallery exhibitions, research labs, and classrooms. Prior to that, he was the digital fabrication shop manager at the Sam Fox School of design at Washington University in St. Louis where he received his Masters in Architecture with honors and graduated with the 2015 “Excellence In Craft” award. He received his Bachelor of Science in Architecture with honors from the University of Missouri, Columbia.
2023 Forge Prize Finalists: Runners-Up
Adaptive Micro Cities
First runners-up Junior Carbajal and Masamichi Ikeda (both of JRMA Architects Engineers) proposed a self-sustaining, vertical micro city to revitalize a small island in an industrial zone in Portland, Ore.
The building has separate zones for the fundamental parts of everyday life--spaces in which to live, work, and play--brought to life with a series of modular boxes. Steel allows for a simple design with strong bolted connections for easy assembly and disassembly in a confined space.
Ikeda and Carbajal worked with James Buchan, president and CEO of Alpha Iron, in the second phase of the competition.
Second runner-up Then Le of Huntsman Architectural Group proposed the Trans-connect to embrace the future of transportation with a multi-modal transit center for everything from high-speed trains to electric airplanes, envisioned for a site in San Francisco.
The station features a skyport as well as terminals for bus and rail service, restaurants, and Airbnb spaces.
Le partnered with Casey Brown, president of Zimkor, to further develop the technical aspects of the design.
Meet the Finalists
Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Junior Carbajal has a passion for the built environment that began at the age of 14, when he worked in the trades for a General Contractor. His continued interests took him to the University of Oregon where he received a Master’s in Architecture. While in school, Junior worked full-time for a product design/manufacturing company focused on technology furniture. It was then he realized his gravitation towards the convergence of Art with Science and the importance of their coexistence. For the past six years, Junior has worked for multidisciplinary Architecture/Structural Engineering firms, gaining exposure to commercial and industrial projects ranging from retail to solid waste management utilizing BIM platform. His imminent goal is to become a licensed Architect, so he can apply the gained knowledge at JR Miller and Associates, Inc (JRMA Architects Engineers) – his current employer.
Junior’s personal interests include, residential renovations, playing fútbol, snowboarding, cycling, and collecting sneakers.
Masamichi Ikeda currently works as a full-time licensed structural engineer at JRMA Architects & Engineers while pursuing a Master of Architecture degree at the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. A native of Japan, he is inspired by the light and shadow work of architects such as Tadao Ando and Louis Kahn. For the past ten years, he has worked on several industrial and commercial projects as an engineer and designer at consulting firms in Portland, Oregon. His experience in the field has led him to seek a deeper collaboration between structural engineering and architectural design, and to push himself to grow beyond the limits of a single perspective.
Masamichi’s passions include sharing his creativity and knowledge with others in ways that encourage and support a new generation of engineers and architects. In addition to his engineering, he dedicates some of his time to tutoring college students in structural engineering and Japanese language.
He received a Master of Science in Structural Engineering and Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Then Le is an architectural designer at Huntsman Architectural Group in San Francisco, an award-winning architectural design firm focused on workplace design, enhancing sustainability, and wellness strategies. He received a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design with a Minor in Business Entrepreneurship from Oregon State University and a Master's Degree in Architecture from the Academy of Art University. He has successfully designed commercial and residential projects of varying styles and purposes. With an interest in green design and maximizing natural light in a limited space, Then sees his work as an opportunity to create unique spaces for all to enjoy without negatively impacting the environment.