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Empowered Living Design Competition Winners Announced

Six tiny home designs have been selected in the Empowered Living Design Contest organized by Salt Lake City, the American Institute of Architects – Utah Chapter (AIA Utah) and the Community Development Corporation of Utah (CDCU). 

The competition, which opened in September, invited cause-minded designers, architects, and others to submit their designs for small residences that could help address the City’s affordable housing shortage. Participants were invited to submit a tiny home design for a standalone home or cluster of small cottages in a planned development, or an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) on a lot with a primary residence.

“Addressing our affordable housing challenge takes innovation and creativity and that’s just what we’ve seen in the high-caliber entries in this design competition,” said Mayor Mendenhall. “Bringing fresh sets of eyes to this critical need has shown us that people at all stages of life can afford to live in our capital city.”

A panel of jurors reviewed over 80 submissions from across the world, rating each on five key criteria: affordability, accessibility, sustainability, durability, and livability. After their reviews and deliberations, the jurors selected one grand prize winner and two runners-up in each category. Grand prize winners in each category were awarded $1,000 while runners-up received $500. People’s Choice awards were also determined through an online survey.

“CDCU is appreciative of the thoughtful, progressive and creative approaches that the Mayor and her team are using to address the City’s housing crisis,” said Mike Akerlow, CEO of CDCU. “ADUs and tiny homes are an important part of bringing more affordable housing options and density to our communities and will help more people find financial stability and a place to call home. We are so pleased with the interest and incredible designs that we received through this competition and look forward to seeing these units built throughout Salt Lake City.”

A lack of housing inventory has resulted in a significant increase in prices, making buying a home out of reach for many. Recent data shows that in Salt Lake City, the median home price increased 32% between September 2019 and September 2021 and median rental rates have increased 48% between September 2015 and September 2021.

“The market is pricing out too many of our residents, especially low-income residents,” said Blake Thomas, Director of Salt Lake City’s Department of Community and Neighborhoods. “The engagement with this competition shows the interest people have in helping solve one of the defining issues of our day. The level of creativity was impressive, and we thank the community for participating.”

The collaborative effort to host the competition is part of the City’s ongoing effort to address housing costs and increase housing choice.

“AIA Utah is honored to have been able to work with Salt Lake City and CDCU on the Empowered Living Design Competition,” said Phil Haderlie, President of AIA Utah. “We are very pleased that the competition received over 80 submissions from all over the world. The housing shortage within the Salt Lake area has become a critical concern and we are very appreciative of the efforts of many designers who have submitted to the competition and have found great solutions to a complicated issue. The designers have successfully harnessed the ‘power of design’ to continue the conversation about this social issue in a way that will invigorate additional conversations and solutions for the future.”

Winners were announced during a reception on Wednesday, December 8 at The Shop, who was the venue sponsor. Awards were sponsored by Ivory Innovations. The winning designs can be seen here.

Award Winners

ADU Category

Grand Prize

Birch 1 – Woofter Bolch Architecture


Vested ADU – Process Studio PLLC

Guerilla Urbanism – Yixuan Lin

Tiny Home Category

Grand Prize

DAHLIN Concept – Dahlin Group Architecture Planning


Plug and Play – ajc architects

House with a Corner Eave – Cho & Urano

People’s Choice


White Limo – Kevin Blalock & Partners

Tiny Home

Big Me – Kevin Blalock & Partners

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