SOM Prize and Travel Fellowship Awards in Architecture, Design & Urban Design

SOM Research Prize 2019 Topic:
Shrinking our Agricultural Footprint

According to the World Resources Institute, agriculture currently uses almost half of the world’s vegetated land, and agriculture and related land-use change generate one-quarter of the earth’s annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If we consider that the world population is expected to reach almost 10 billion by 2050, the need to think about how to increase food production in a sustainable and inclusive way while managing and reducing our agricultural footprint is a key global issue. But food is not the only outcome of agriculture. For example, biofuels, plastics, starch, and fibers can all be non-food products with an agricultural origin. Spatially, while people continue to concentrate in cities, the agricultural footprint required to serve their needs extends beyond the city limits into the hinterlands. This footprint has a direct impact on multiple systems, from the economy and transportation infrastructures to climate change, natural habitats, and wildlife biodiversity. The reduction of our agricultural footprint through policies, actions, and plans has the potential to redefine a more sustainable short- and long-term future.

Grant Proposals

Grant proposals should address how design professionals can work to define new spatial conditions that reduce our agricultural footprint and advance approaches to sustainability and resiliency.

Submission proposals should incorporate multidisciplinary teams and build upon disciplines that seek to scientifically understand this multifaceted topic. Teams should develop a study that is based on rigorous research and that provides a unique and innovative approach to the topic.   


Faculty applicants will be expected to work in a collaborative manner with other faculty or practice leaders from other disciplines to pursue a research question inspired by the SOM Foundation Research Brief. The SOM Foundation Research Prize is intended to support new and ongoing research by faculty and students with the goal of providing conclusive findings about the topic at hand. The development of this research can take place within an academic studio or as part of other research structures within the university.

During the research period, the Foundation Advisory Board is anticipated to have periodic interactions for the purpose of providing feedback and focus to maintain a high level of excellence throughout the research effort.

The grant is expected to be completed a year after its start date. The start date can vary to match academic calendar but needs to be no later than August 31, 2020.  

The recipient will be required to thoroughly document the research findings and develop conclusions or suggestions for application to professional practice. The final product should advance the discussion around this topic and be visually compelling.

The leading faculty and academic institution submitting the grant application may present the results at the end of the project at a public event held at their institution. Faculty will be responsible for seeking out additional opportunities to disseminate research findings at relevant professional, public, and civic events, as well as in online and print publications.


A Jury, chaired by Iker Gil and composed of leading professionals and SOM Foundation Directors, will be responsible for selecting two submissions most suited to the topic profiled in the SOM Foundation Research Brief.

Marina Otero Verzier is an architect based in Rotterdam. She is Director of Research at Het Nieuwe Instituut, where she leads research initiatives such as “Automated Landscapes,” focusing on the emerging architectures of automated labor, and “Architecture of Appropriation,” on squatting as spatial practice.

Nicola Twilley is co-host of the award-winning Gastropod podcast that looks at food through the lens of science and history, author of the blog Edible Geography, and a contributor to The New Yorker. She is at work on two books, one about refrigeration and the other about quarantine.

Charles Waldheim is a North American architect and urbanist based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Waldheim’s research examines the relationships between landscape, ecology, and contemporary urbanism. Waldheim is the John E. Irving Professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design where he directs the school’s Office for Urbanization. 

Doug Voigt is a SOM Foundation Director and Urban Design and Planning Partner in SOM’s Chicago office. Since joining SOM in 1995, he has focused on complex urban plans and architectural projects. He is interested in the capacity of design to build community and connect people to one another.

Scott Duncan is a SOM Foundation Officer and Design Partner in SOM’s Chicago office, where he leads the design of high-rise and mixed-use projects locally and around the world. Since joining SOM in 1998, he has championed the firm’s vision for integrated design, leading interdisciplinary teams of experts to realize highly contextual and impactful work.

Iker Gil, Executive Director, SOM Foundation (Chair)



  • The principal investigator must teach at a US school with accredited degree programs (BArch, MArch, MDes, BA, BS, MA, MS, PhD) in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Design or Urban Design.
  • The secondary investigators and collaborators can be based worldwide. Collaborators can be academic institutions, professional companies, and nonprofit organizations. Multidisciplinary teams are encouraged to apply. 
  • SOM Foundation affiliated members and SOM employees should not be included as part of the proposals.
  • Principal investigators from previously awarded proposals are not eligible. However, previously awarded schools can submit new proposals.  

Evaluation Criteria

  • Proposal relevance to goals and objectives.
  • Research program innovation and rigorousness.
  • Transferability of research outcomes to practice.
  • Qualifications, prior achievements, expertise, track record of performance.
  • Capacity to administer, including contract and budget management.
  • Content and quality of supporting documentation.

Application: Proposal for Consideration

Title Page:

  • Title of Research Project
  • Name(s) and institutional affiliation of principal investigator(s)
  • Keywords
  • Date of submission


Abstract: Maximum 250-word abstract summarizing the topic of the proposed research. Specifically, the problems or the conditions that demonstrate the need for the research; the research question that will be addressed; the scope and proposed methodology of the work; and the expected outcomes of the project.

Description: 500-word expository description of the area of focus, scope, and outcomes of the proposed work. Include the institutional context of the of the research (e.g. team composition, travel, facilities, institutional support)

Work Plan: Identify project partners, a schedule, key milestones, preliminary budget, final products, and a draft syllabus.

Preliminary Budget: Itemized use of the grant funds (e.g. research assistance, travel, equipment, software, supplies, etc.). Matching funds, if any, provided by other funding sources.

Supporting Documentation:

  • CV(s) of principal investigators
  • Examples of student studio work produced under the instruction of Studio Faculty lead. Examples from multiple students in a single studio are preferred.
  • Letter of support from the applicants’ supervising department head or chief academic officer of the department, college, university, or company as applicable.

Supplemental Documentation: Maximum of 20 pages of additional documentation directly related to the proposed research program (e.g. copies of completed or speculative creative work or building designs, relevant writings or other documents that establish unique qualifications)

All proposals submitted should be:
8.5" x 11" page size, 35 page maximum,
with a file size not to exceed 150MB

2019 Extended Deadline
Monday, December 2, 2019 – Upload digital submission to:

Please contact the SOM Foundation.