Interior Architecture Student Jason Cote Wins Prestigious Gensler Brinkmann Scholarship

Jason Cote, a Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design student, has won the prestigious Gensler Brinkmann Scholarship.
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Jason Cote, a Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design student, has won the prestigious Gensler Brinkmann Scholarship.

Jason Cote, a Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design student, has won the prestigious Gensler Brinkmann Scholarship.

A third year interior architecture and design student at the U of A, Cote received one of four Gensler Brinkmann scholarships awarded this year by Gensler. Gensler is a global design and architecture firm founded in San Francisco, California, in 1965.

The Gensler Brinkmann Scholarship was established in 1999 as a memorial to Don Brinkmann, an inspirational and gifted interior designer who personified the essence of design, vision and leadership, according to the Gensler website.

For this scholarship, Cote was awarded $5,000 to go toward his education. In addition, he was invited to participate in a two-month fellowship this summer at the Gensler offices in Las Vegas. He'll be part of a five-person team working on design research.

"I'm not surprised that Gensler plucked Jason's proposal from the Brinkmann Scholarship entries and placed him in their highly competitive Summer Research Fellowship Program," said Carl Matthews, professor and head of the Department of Interior Architecture and Design. "In his video submission, he spoke passionately and eloquently about the importance of research-based design solutions. It is a testament to Jason and his faculty mentors that his work is beautiful, meaningful and grounded in research."

Finding a Place in Design

Cote didn't arrive at interior architecture and design immediately or directly. Growing up in Jane, Missouri, he was always involved in something creative, including studio art, film, photography, music production, DJing, fashion design, event curation and culinary work. He considered himself a jack of all trades.

After graduating from high school in McDonald County, Missouri, in 2014, he enrolled in college. But he dropped out during the first semester. Then, he spent time traveling and exploring life.

In fall 2018, Cote, a first-generation college student, started attending NorthWest Arkansas Community College, taking classes in art, graphic design and architecture appreciation (where he learned AutoCAD). Then, he decided to pursue a degree in interior architecture and design, and chose the Fay Jones School for its reputation and proximity.

"Once I understood what architecture is and what design is, I realized that it could be my outlet where I use all of these different tools in my arsenal to actually create something — and that that kind of jack-of-all-trades nature played into being the master of this," he said.

Cote, now 26, has found that interior architecture and design suits him very well for many reasons. Americans on average spend 90% of their time indoors — so he feels he can have a significant impact on people's lives.

"For me, interior design falls in that nice, sweet spot between logic and feeling," Cote said. "And I felt that, from my perspective, real structural architecture was kind of missing that feeling component. With interiors, I feel like I can create more of a story, a narrative, and create more of a visceral emotional impact on the people that I'm designing for."

Taking a Chance on Gensler

During the fall 2022 semester, Cote and other students were working on a project in a studio led by Jinoh Park, an assistant professor of interior architecture and design. Park mentioned the Gensler Brinkmann Scholarship opportunity to the class. At the end of the semester, Park said he was nominating Cote and another student to apply for the scholarship. He warned them that they'd have to do a lot of work over Winter Break to prepare.

As Cote considered if he wanted to do this, he thought about all the time and creative energy he and his fellow design students spend with their professors. They develop strong mentoring relationships, and Cote wanted to make them proud.

"Seeing that there were these people that I admire and are so good at what they do — A.K.A. my professors — who believed in me to some degree to nominate me for that, I felt like I had to follow through," he said, "both to see what I was capable of on that larger scale and to do right by the people who had been my mentors thus far."

Cote continued to refine his project over several weeks and then edited it to fit the prompt. To prepare his submission, he worked directly with another professor in the studio, Michelle Boyoung Huh, assistant professor of interior architecture and design. Cote also transformed the 50-page proposal he'd done on the project for his studio into a cohesive and comprehensive 10-page spread for the competition.

He turned in his submission by the March 1 deadline. Two weeks later, he learned he was a finalist. Then he worked with a team to create a five-minute video that introduced himself, presented his work and explained why Gensler was the right fit for him.

In late April, he learned he'd won and that the jury considered him a standout candidate.

"My project was extremely different than usually what they see, and I think that in itself was a product of my non-traditional path," he said.

Cote said that he struggles with believing in himself and in believing that the work he makes is valid. He also tries not to seek validation from external sources. But when the biggest architecture and design firm in the world is validating his work as a third-year interior design student when many of his competitors were graduate students — he's simply elated.

"This has been the single most validating thing that my work is meaningful that I've ever experienced, by far," he said. "It's just super validating that I'm doing something that can contribute to the world on a greater scale, that it's not in vain or a selfish pursuit or something. There's actually value in it."

Proposing a Human-Focused Office

Cote's project was a 12,000-square-foot robotics office in Boston, and he used a human-based design approach to design the space. The goal of his project was to address the various states of emotion that people go through in a day — nearly 400 emotions a day, according to his research.

In his design proposal, Cote created different zones within the office space to accommodate the various feelings people may have — whether they desire to be alone or seek comradery, or they need those things and more all within one day.

"The space really caters to all of the different states we go through instead of the classic, traditional big grid of desks or the isolated cubicles," he said. "I wanted to create a space that adapted to people as they adapt within themselves."

People can feel disdain working in traditional office spaces, he said. When operating from within cubicles, they may feel isolated. Located in an open floorplan, they may feel so seen that they end up hiding.

"The traditional concept of the office is almost like a factory," Cote said. "You just fit as many people in there as you can, and you just make them do their work. And this project is more based on creating a space where people will be productive from within themselves."

Not only has this experience boosted Cote's confidence, but it also confirms his belief that every person has something important to contribute. As different as people can be — their thoughts, feelings and perspectives — each person's individualized experiences share a universal theme with humanity. He wishes that more people would have the courage to embrace their uniqueness.

"Your personal perspective on the world is the most valuable thing you can give other people," Cote said. "Being yourself and acting upon those perspectives and thoughts you have are valid, and creating work that is based upon those perspectives and beliefs can benefit other people." 


Michelle Parks, director of communications
Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design


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