The 2020 Steel Design Student Competition challenges students to design an Urban Food Hub. Urban agriculture is a social movement for sustainable communities, where organic growers, foodies, and locavores form social networks founded on a shared ethos of nature and community. Many people are looking for food security, nutrition, and income generation which are key motivations for urban agriculture and local markets. People who live in cities need a more direct access to fresh vegetables, fruits, and meat products through urban agriculture.

The USDA defines a food hub as “a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.”[1] Food Hubs are a part of the agricultural value chain model and often share common principles relating to conservation, sustainability, healthy food access, and supporting local farmers.[2] A defining characteristic of food hubs is source identification, a food safety and marketing benefit that allows consumers to trace the origin of products they buy.[3] One of the primary goals of food hubs is to give small and medium-sized farms access to larger or additional markets. Food hubs also fill gaps in food systems infrastructure, such as transportation, product storage, and product processing.[4] 

Steel is an ideal material, for the Urban Food Hub because it facilitates the quick construction of affordable, versatile structures. Steel offers the greatest strength-to-weight ratio. In addition, steel can be constructed quickly and for all project site types with the use of labor-saving prefabrication methods such as kit-of-parts, panelization, and modular construction.. Designing the Urban Food Hub with steel will be more flexible and adaptable to allow for changing needs over time. Steel can create an aesthetic that respects and enhances the location of the Hub installation.

"USDA Blog » Getting to Scale with Regional Food Hubs". Retrieved 2016-10-15.

"Food Value Chains and Food Hubs: Supporting Local Producers Through Collaborative Planning, Aggregation, and Distribution | Agricultural Marketing Service". Retrieved 2016-10-15.

3. "Food Hubs: Supply Chain Traceability to Enhance Local Food Systems". Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal. 3.

4. Berti, Giaime; Mulligan, Catherine (2016-07-01). "Competitiveness of Small Farms and Innovative Food Supply Chains: The Role of Food Hubs in Creating Sustainable Regional and Local Food Systems". Sustainability. 8 (7): 616. 

The site for the competition is the choice of the student and/or faculty sponsor. It is required, however, for the site to be in an urban context, close to public transportation, and city amenities. Submissions must explain the site selection and strategy geographically or otherwise.

In addition to improving residents’ food access options, an urban food hub can serve as a fresh produce pick-up location, make commercial kitchen equipment available to small-scale producers, host nutrition classes and serve as an anchor for the local community. The following program elements and corresponding areas are recommended:

Commercial Kitchen (Shared Space)             1 @ 1500 sq. ft.          = 1500 sq. ft.
Teaching Kitchen                                            1 @ 800 sq. ft.            = 800 sq. ft.
Restaurant / Retail                                          4 Units@ 500 sq. ft.    = 2000 sq. ft.
Storage                                                           4 @ 200 sq. ft.            = 800 sq. ft.
Retail                                                              1 @ 200 sq. ft.            = 200 sq. ft.
Restroom                                                        2 @ 50 sq. ft.              =100 sq. ft.
Service                                                            1 @ 100 sq. ft.            =100 sq. ft.
Reception                                                        1 @ 100 sq. ft.            =100 sq. ft.
Office                                                               2 @ 50 sq. ft.              =100 sq. ft.

Total                                                                                             +/- 5,300 sq. ft.


The design project must be conceived in structural steel construction. A strategy should be considered that evaluates a method for reducing overall construction cost for the project in steel using innovative methods of structure, fabrication, and construction.


The ACSA/AISC 2020 Steel Design Student Competition also offers architecture students the opportunity to participate in an open competition with limited restrictions. With the approval of a sponsoring faculty member, students may select a site and building program with one exception: Category II submissions may not include food service buildings. 

  • The Category II program should be of equal complexity as the Category I program.

  • Students entering Category II must submit a written building program, including a brief description of the building type, gross square footage, and project location, as part of the online submission in the Program Edits (copy/paste text box).

Students may not enter both categories of the competition.

The design project must be conceived in structural steel construction.  A strategy should be considered that evaluates a method for reducing overall construction cost for the project in steel using innovative methods of structure, fabrication, and construction.


Program updates, including information on jury members as they are confirmed, may be found on the ACSA web site at Additional questions on the competition program and submissions should be addressed to:

Edwin Hernández
Programs Coordinator

Eric Wayne Ellis
Senior Director of Operations and Programs

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