“Make It Modular” Circular Design Scholarship Contest

March 10, 2022

3 min read

Make It Modular Circular Design Scholarship Contest

Imagine your community as a material bank, rich with resources to reuse. This describes the circular economy model, which makes the built environment sustainable by upcycling waste, circulating existing materials, or regenerating nature. Through a new scholarship contest, Autodesk is challenging high school students to apply circular economy principles, reusing a shipping container to design a structure that meets a need in their community—affordable housing, public space, outdoor classrooms, or pop-ups—and could also be repurposed in the future.  

The circular design contest, called “Make It Modular,” is getting an assist from New England Patriots’ star James Develin, who is finding new purpose as an entrepreneur and builder after retiring from an eight-year NFL career with three Super Bowl championships. “I’m proud and excited to collaborate with Autodesk to promote STEAM programs to our youth, while also raising awareness about the important jobs that make the building industry such a meaningful career path for young people,” says Develin.  

Contest entrants must be ages 13-21, currently in high school (or homeschooled) in the US, and incorporate Autodesk software to create an Instructable for their circular garden or architecture design. Scholarship prizes total $50,000 and will support educational expenses such as tuition, books, room & board, transportation, and childcare. 

James Develin - Make It Modular Circular Design Contest

Accessible Paths to Building Circular Design Careers 

Develin’s love for design and building began as a young person, studying CAD in high school, graduating from Brown University’s mechanical engineering program, and working as a laborer while in college.  

“Engineering and design are fields that I was drawn to because they allowed me to express my imagination and artistic capacity,” Develin says. “I hope that with this partnership, we can shed light on the fact that there are no small jobs in a building project, and that anyone should be able to see themselves in the future of construction.”

His newest venture is Soulberri, a unique brand that serves smoothies and coffee out of a surf shack–inspired, repurposed shipping container in Brigantine, New Jersey.

Last year, as part of the #AutodeskMakeItReal program, Develin co-hosted a series of live webinars and design challenges with Autodesk that immersed students as his “design partners” in a real-life construction project in the health and fitness space.

Develin has continued to grow his skills by learning new tools and workflows from architecture, engineering, and construction. This year’s program continues Develin’s entrepreneurial journey with the “Make It Modular” web series, which follows Develin as he meets the skilled craftspeople who helped make the innovative vision for Soulberri a reality.

In the first episode, Develin interviews Will White, the general contractor and carpenter for Soulberri, who discusses how computer-aided design enhanced the collaboration between skilled tradespeople on the job. As the series progresses, Develin seeks expert guidance on scaling his business in ways that will be sustainable for the environment, the workers executing the design, and for him as an entrepreneur.

Circular Design Changemakers 

By incorporating circular design strategies, students participating in this contest will explore how to reuse materials and produce less waste. These practices are the foundation of the circular economy, which creates closed-loop cycles of materials and minimizes a project’s embodied carbon. As the world’s resources become more limited, future designers and builders will need to take a more modular approach to make building elements that can be easily reconfigured, reimagined, and repurposed. 

Through upcycling waste and sourcing local building materials, such as the shipping container that Soulberri is housed in, Develin is practicing some of these principles and providing a powerful example to inspire change.  

“The toughest thing to change is our way of thinking,” says Fope Bademosi, an Autodesk researcher whose focus is the circular economy and construction. She is featured in an episode of the “Make It Modular” web series, offering advice on how Develin can further “design away waste” and optimize technology to manage his construction projects. 

Educators can learn more about how Develin is applying an entrepreneurial mindset in tackling some of these issues by joining the next “Teaching with Tinkercad” webinar, where Develin will be part of a live panel answering questions from the audience. You can register here. Students can visit autodesk.com/makeitreal to learn how they can build a better future while empowering their own learning about circular design.