Architecture professor receives national AIA award

Architect Nik Nikolov joined a select group of designers when he received the 2016 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Small Projects Award, May 19 at the AIA’s annual conference in Philadelphia, Penn.

Nikolov, assistant professor of architecture in the department of art, architecture and design, was one of just three recipients nationally recognized for creating small scale construction, objects, works of environmental art or architectural design elements with a budget of less than $150,000. He was recognized for his design of huts for Bethlehem’s annual Christmas City Village.

“It’s rewarding to be recognized by your colleagues on this scale,” said Nikolov.. “The AIA is the professional organization for architects and I was deeply honored that a pro bono project, which is community focused, was recognized by the profession on something where we can have a measurable impact.”

In parallel, Nikolov's work was included in the Small Project Practitioners (SPP) Exhibition, which was held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

In their remarks, the jury noted that Nikolov’s design truly met the objective of the award theme of small gesture, big impact. They noted that, while alluding to the form and genre of the typical shack at a traditional German Christmas market, the Weihnacht Huts present a contemporary, cost-effective, and clever solution to the need to provide shelter, identity, and flexibility within a standardized design. By day the translucent polycarbonate roofs are reminiscent of snow-covered peaks, and by night they emanate a welcoming lantern-like glow, which draws people in and creates a festive mood. 

In 2013, Bethlehem’s Downtown Business Association (DBA) sought design options for portable huts they need for the city’s annual Weihnachtsmarkt, an open-air Christmas market also known as Christmas City Village. Nikolov’s design was based on Southern German minimalism, architecture found in the Alps, as well as Moravian architecture. The huts featured a steep roof made from polycarbonate material designed specifically for snowfall. Each component of the design was created as a single unit that could be easily taken apart, transported and stored for the next Christmas season. Only nails and wooden screws were used to put the components together.

Nikolov designed the huts to allow for the use of standard construction materials, meaning that very little cutting or modification was needed to build the huts. The cost for all of the materials for each hut was just $285.

“It reinforces the idea there is not big and small design,” he notes. “You can apply complexity on any number of scales. This is a pre-fab house. It’s meant to go up and come down. It’s super cheap and doesn’t require highly skilled labor to build it.”

At Lehigh, Nikolov teaches architectural design and technology. His theoretical interests focus on environmental design and building technology. He is a practicing registered architect in Pennsylvania, a LEED Accredited Professional, and a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

-Robert Nichols