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Getting an early start: SIU architecture student already has designs on his future

by Pete Rosenbery

Even though he’s a freshman in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s architectural studies program, Jordan Adams already has designs on his future.

Adams, who is from Chicago, Illinois, was lead designer on a team earlier this summer to submit plans to redesign and invigorate the historic Excelsior Club in Charlotte, North Carolina. The club attracted Black musicians, professionals and politicians for decades before shuttering.

Adams’ group’s final design was not selected for the final renovation, but it did win a top prize this summer in the second annual NAACP Chicago Southside ACT-SO sustainable building pilot competition. Teams from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Charlotte, North Carolina; the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and Chicago participated.

The competition gave designers an option to completely rebuild or renovate the club.

“We decided for the redesign because I didn’t want to take anything away from it. I wanted to bring back that feeling. I didn’t want it to go away at all,” he said.

Utilizing floor plans and 3D models, Adams’ team came up with an idea to not only renovate the building, but also include a restaurant, outdoor and indoor entertainment areas, and a health food store to help influence residents in the community to live healthier lifestyles. The team also added a community museum that honored Black architects Harvey Gantt, a former Charlotte, North Carolina, mayor and the late Phil Freelon. The project also included a residency/hotel section to provide lodging for people who need assistance, Adams said.

Inspired to be an architect

Adams, a graduate of Homewood-Flossmoor High School, said SIU’s strong, nationally recognized architecture program reputation and financial assistance attracted him. He is also planning to walk on to the Saluki football team beginning in January.

While still in high school, Adams initially was attracted to engineering but that changed to architecture during his junior year.

“It’s a very hands-on job,” he said. “I love to put things together and taking things apart and building things,” he said.

Rarity among freshman

Craig Anz, professor and interim director in the School of Architecture, said the type and level of early experiences and skills Adams’ already brought to campus in August is “actually quite rare” for an incoming freshman. Anz and Jose Lugo, a lecturer in the program, each have Adams in a core curriculum class and Peter Smith, an associate professor in the architectural studies program has Adams in a design communications class.

“What sets this apart from general training is the fact he also competed and worked in interdisciplinary teams alongside others on a real project experience,” Anz said. “With this, they produced the top design ideas that also will have transformative impacts on society. This transformative capacity also aligns with our mission here in the School of Architecture.”

Adams said he appreciates what he has learned in his classes as a freshman, particularly learning new computer programs. Adams noted he talked with his mentor, Bryan W. Hudson, owner and principal architect at SOMA Design Consultants in Chicago, before he visited campus and came away excited about the program.

Hudson noted that Adams is “an extremely inquisitive young man with a bright future.”

“He’s a dedicated team player and focuses on getting the tasks done. He played an integral part with his team as the lead designer. Once his technology catches up with his imagination, the sky will be the limit.”

Hudson noted that a North Carolina-based architect won a National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) Design Citation for reimagining the Excelsior Club as a jazz club, museum and hotel. Adams and his teammates also brought a grocery store and affordable housing.

“None of the other teams had the vision for that programming solution,” Hudson said. “It was a pleasure working with him this summer and I wish we had more time.”


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