Why Study Architecture at UMKC? Design Challenge Winner Says KC Location is Key

Helix Prize offers students challenges, opportunity
Isaiah Houltberg stands with his hands in his pockets, smiling next to his design model

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Isaiah Houltberg
Anticipated graduation: 2023
Academic Program: Architectural Studies
Hometown: Salina, Kansas

Isaiah Houltberg is this year’s winner of the annual UMKC Architecture and Urban Planning and Design Helix Prize competition and scholarship grant.

Every fall, Helix Architecture + Design sponsors the Helix Prize, a competition and scholarship for UMKC second-year Architectural Studies students. Professor John Eck teaches the studio, and faculty and members of the architectural professional community judge the competition. This year’s competition was to create a design for the “Kansas City Experience Music Project,” a concept based on a similar project in Seattle.

Houltberg has been interested in architecture as a child and had the unique opportunity to take architecture and drafting in high school that inspired him to pursue the field in college and as a career.

Isaiah and instructor John Eck look at a set of blueprints laid out on a table
Houltberg and John Eck, practicing architect and associate teachng professor
Why did you choose UMKC?

I chose UMKC for its urban setting and its architecture program. UMKC has a sister program with Kansas State University. We did our first two years at UMKC and 3 years at KSU.

What are the challenges of the program?

Architecture is a very demanding program. On top of regular project deadlines and assignments, I commit many out of school hours to work. I will often spend all day in the studio and come in on the weekends. A higher-level understanding of design is also a challenge, whether that is coming up with three different design ideas in studio or creating a case study of a building. But at the end of the day, I enjoy it and it’s worth it.

Isaiah and instructor John Eck look at drawings which are tacked up on the wall
What are the benefits of the program?

It's a very unique five-year fast track program, which is nationally recognized as one of the best. Plus, the added benefit of doing the first two years at UMKC is its urban setting.

How has your college program inspired you?

Seeing how much hard work it takes to be successful has really encouraged me to keep pushing through no matter how stressful it can get.

Since entering college, what have you learned about yourself?

Personally, I have used my experience so far to refine some of my learning strategies. I have been able to figure out where I excel and lack in when it comes to how I learn.

Are you a first-generation college student?

I am a second-generation college student. Seeing my extended family take their education in directions that they genuinely love and enjoy encouraged me to pursue an education.

Isaiah shows instructor John Eck something on a tablet

Who do you admire most at UMKC?

I admire my architecture professors for their professionalism and the unique knowledge and views they bring to every lesson. Also, I admire my classmates’ creativity and talent and their perseverance to stay in such a challenging program.

What other extracurricular activities are you involved in at UMKC?

I am the head lifeguard at the Swinney Center.

Isaiah sits at a drafting table and cuts a piece of material for his model

What do you hope to take from your experiences at UMKC into your professional career?

Personally, I want to take the views and experience from the professors who work in an urban setting. I think this helps further my understanding of architecture and satisfy myself as a designer and architect.

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