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KNOXVILLE — A University of Tennessee architecture student has won first-place honors in an international contest to design affordable housing for migrant farm workers in California’s Salinas Valley.

Eric Hawkins won one of two first-place awards and fellow UT architecture students Michael Ochoa, Josh Spence and Stacey Shepard won three of four honorable mention awards.

The students competed in the student and nonprofessional category of the contest sponsored by the Monterey Bay, Calif., branch of the American Institute of Architects.

A total of 132 contest entries were received. The judges also selected five first-place and five second-place winners in the professional architect category.

Hawkins, a Whittle Scholar and member of UT’s Honors Program, received a $1,500 cash award for his contest entry. The judges gave Hawkins high marks for his use of adobe, a building material made from mud excavated at the building site.

“The families that eventually would live in the duplexes could help build them to cut down on the expenses of labor and materials,” Hawkins said.

UT Honors Program Director Thomas Broadhead said Hawkins shows the kind of leadership and commitment he looks for when recruiting high-quality students to Tennessee.

“Eric is an excellent example of the kind of scholars we want at the University of Tennessee,” Broadhead said, “and his success in the design contest is what we expect to see among the most talented and motivated students in the Honors Program.”

Hawkins, a junior from Maryville, also was recognized for his focus on agriculture, which is the major industry in the Salinas Valley.

In the center of his design, instead of a public green space for the community, he organized a series of small agricultural plots, one for each adobe house.

“The idea is that the residents could grow and sell their own crops to bring in additional revenue,” Hawkins said.

“Once their community is built, they would not be putting more money into public upkeep of a green space but actually receiving back from the land.”

In promoting the contest, the AIA said almost all the land in the Salinas Valley is used for agriculture, so affordable housing is in short supply, prompting the need for innovative housing solutions for the area.

Click here to see the list of contest winners.