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Students use the billboard to raise awareness of diversity in design

UB architecture student Andrew Mamarella created the winning billboard design in Beth Tauke's American Diversity and Design course. The billboard is visible along Route 33 — the Kensington Expressway — near downtown Buffalo. Photo: Maryanne Schultz

By BRENNA ZANGHI

Published June 21, 2017

“I wanted people to think about the fact that anyone can become a designer, and that no matter where we come from or what the color of our skin is, we all have the potential to impact the world.”
Andrew Mamarella, freshman architecture student and winner
billboard design contest

UB students have taken their skills to the sky to raise awareness of the power of design through a classic form of advertising: the billboard.

More than 400 students in the “American Diversity and Design” course at UB took part in a billboard design competition this past spring to represent design as a social act accessible to all populations — particularly those traditionally underrepresented in design.

Led by Beth Tauke, associate professor in the Department of Architecture, School of Architecture and Planning, the popular American Diversity and Design course enrolls students from across the disciplines to explore social issues — and the history and diversity of cultural experiences — through the lens of design.

Tauke, who has taught the course since 2002, says the billboard competition underscores advertising as a powerful force that reflects and shapes values, priorities and actions. “We’re considering the ways in which physical and media environments affect various populations in the U.S. and, in turn, how such populations affect our environments,” she says.

In designing the competition, she found an eager partner in Lamar Advertising, which offered to plaster the winning design on a series of strategically located billboards in Buffalo. Terry Fenske, graphic design administrator for Lamar’s Buffalo office, says the company saw the opportunity to provide students with a real-life example of the power of advertising. Why the billboard? “You can’t turn a billboard off,” Fenske says.

All 445 students submitted a design. Tauke, her teaching assistants and students in the course determined the finalists, and the top three winners were chosen by representatives from Lamar Advertising.

The winning design was that of Andrew Mamarella, a freshman architecture student, whose message speaks to one of the most underrepresented communities in design: youth.

A close-up of Andrew Mamarella's winning billboard.

“I wanted people to think about the fact that anyone can become a designer, and that no matter where we come from or what the color of our skin is, we all have the potential to impact the world,” Mamarella says.

Tauke says the winning design effectively addresses the key tenets of the course. “First, children are the future of design, and nurturing their creativity is one of the most important things that we can do. Second, currently, children are one of the most underrepresented or overlooked groups in the design of our built environments. Third, we need more designers from underrepresented groups — they need to be at the table. The more diverse the designers, the more design will meet the needs of diverse populations.”

Both the second-place (Robert Sullivan) and third-place winners (Cindy Truong) also take on the theme of next-generation designers and design as a form of agency for social change.

Viewable from the inbound Kensington Expressway — Route 33 — the winning billboard stands on Cherry Street on the northeastern edge of downtown Buffalo. The billboard will remain through the end of June. Mamarella’s message also was projected from three digital units across the city for one week at the end of May.