A graduate student from the University of New Mexico’s School of Architecture and Planning won first place in an international design competition.

On Jan. 10, Sam Fantaye, a third-year graduate student studying landscape architecture, won the grand prize of $5,000 in the Better Philadelphia Challenge.

“I found out I was the winner, and I was very, very excited,” Fantaye said. “The School of Architecture was happy too, because it’s representing the whole school.”

The challenge is an annual competition organized by the Center for Architecture and Design, and each year it prompts students from around the world to focus on design issues in the city of Philadelphia.

This year’s competition was called “Philadelphia’s Next Park+way.” It challenged students to think of new ways to link Philadelphia’s natural and cultural resources to neighboring communities and manage the city’s urban design issues.

Fantaye’s design was called “Smart Weave” and presented a plan to improve the Lehigh Corridor in Philadelphia through a network of “smart paths.” These paths would include solar-powered street lights, designated bike lanes and solar-powered information centers complete with Wi-Fi hotspots.

According to Fantaye’s project description, all of these features are present in order to “reinforce the symbiotic relationship between the natural environment and adjacent neighborhoods.”

Fantaye entered the competition through the architecture program’s competition studio course. The studio chooses a competition to enter and then works on designs for the duration of the course. The BPC gave the option of group or individual work — Fantaye decided to work alone.

Kathy Kambic, assistant professor of landscape architecture at UNM and instructor of the competition studio course, said that while Fantaye’s final design was completed individually, the early stages of the class involved group research about Philadelphia.

“In the weeks leading up to (the competition), we worked in teams within the studio to research things like the history of Philadelphia (and) what the urban landscape is like there or the neighborhoods surrounding the particular areas the competition was going to focus on,” Kambic said.

Although group work is a crucial part of developing ideas in her class, Kambic said she was happy to hear Fantaye’s individual effort paid off.

“I was over the moon. I was just so excited for him. I was pleased that he was able to have his hard work recognized,” she said.

Fantaye is an international student from Ethiopia, and after obtaining an undergraduate degree in civil engineering, he wanted to design landscapes.

“I started looking for schools. Unfortunately we didn’t have any landscape architecture program in Ethiopia, so I had to look internationally,” he said.

Fantaye said UNM’s architecture program has been welcoming and supportive since he started attending the University, as the varying backgrounds of his peers and professors help him learn about different design methods.

“I’m so grateful for this school, having this opportunity to work with a lot of professional people who are always helpful,” he said.

Fantaye will travel to Philadelphia next month to accept his award and present his design to the Center for Architecture and Design and other architecture professionals.

Tom Hanlon is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @TomHanlonNM.