SCM Submits Entry in AIA “I Look Up” Film Challenge


The American Institute of Architects (AIA) “I Look Up” film challenge returned in 2017, with a call for entries by architects, filmakers, and other creatives to collaborate and tell a story related to this year’s theme, “Blueprint for Better.”  The three-minute films are intended to document how an architect has engaged in a process of uplifting a community.

This year, SCM Architects of Little Rock, Arkansas produced an entry, with Intern Michael Davis and Associate Ryan Biles, AIA teaming with aerial imagery firm Provision UAS to tell the story of progress underway in Biles’ hometown of Lonoke, Arkansas.

“Lonoke is often overlooked here in the metropolitan area,” Biles observes.  In 2016, the community came together to undertake a strategic planning process that involved ten months of community meetings with a total attendance of over 400 people throughout the process.  Biles explains, “For a community of 4,287 people, the participation was phenomenal, and we learned so much about ourselves and our context.”

“I believe Lonoke is a humble town that is seeking to blend more seamlessly with its surroundings and the current generations, while still maintaining its unique context and history,” Davis remarks.

For Biles, the lessons he learned as an architect in his hometown made such an impact that he felt the story should be shared with his colleagues in the design community.  “My friend Trae Reed and I were visiting over coffee at Lonoke’s downtown doughnut shop, and I was telling him about the film challenge.  He was all-in from the start.  I credit Trae for bringing this film to life, not only with his technical contributions, but his personal encouragement.”

Trae Reed is the proprietor of Lonoke-based Provision UAS, which provides aerial imagery for the agriculture and construction industry.

The film produced by SCM and Provision UAS is entitled Cultivating Context and endeavors to tell the story of a town discovering its context and developing a plan for action.  While the built projects to come from this action plan have not yet been implmented, the involvement of a local architect residing in the community has generated an expectation that the right tools are now in place to begin that process of improvement over the next five years.

Michael Davis observes, “Architecture has the power to bring a community together and help shape them into a unified force. It empowers people to make changes that affect not only the present generation, but also future ones.”

Echoing Davis’ sentiment, Biles comments, “I believe the field of architecture offers the tools of skill and analysis for the community to improve our situation.  An architect, as a leader, should leverage their unique skill set and role to include more voices at the table and empower dreamers in a process of discovery.  That leadership role is a temporary stewardship, and an architect is accountable to his neighbors during that season,” he explains.

Cultivating Context features imagery of analagous geometries from Lonoke’s built fabric, juxtaposed with corresponding forms from the surrounding agriculture and aquaculture context.  The town is quite literally a built object in a field of rich soil.  This recognition of contetxt will be the key to creating new solutions in the community.


Biles and Reed had previously collaborated on projects for the local newspaper and the website  “As I began to consider how this film project might come together, I realized that we had all of the ingredients right here in Lonoke to make this happen,” Biles remarks.  “This is a story all about our people here.  Many who may have previously been overlooked or ignored were invited to the table, not only to be seen, but to be heard.  That conversation resulted in a realization of what makes us unique as a community.”

The film opens with narration by SCM Intern Michael Davis, a senior at Louisiana Tech University.  Interestingly, Louisiana Tech School of Design Assistant Professors Brad Deal and Robert Brooks won the 2016 AIA “I Look Up” film challenge with the entry “Arch 335: Rebuilding Medcamps,” so Michael Davis is very familiar with the power of film in telling the story of design.  Davis will return to classes this fall having participated in Cultivating Context, while also making a meaningful contribution to SCM Architects’ design work and client service throughout the summer.

Davis concludes, “I thought the film was exceptional in regards to capturing the spirit of the community and then addressing the ways in which a single architect can help revitalize a place.”

Local participants in the film also include narrators Chris Jemison, a standout Lonoke High School Senior and FBLA intern at Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce,  Evelyn Bryant, Community Development Specialist with Central Arkansas Development Council, and Henry Bryant, Jr., George Washington Carver High School Class of 1966.  In featuring citizen voices of Lonoke residents, the film also becomes an anaolgy of how the work to come will be implemented in Lonoke.   SCM Architects is priveleged to be a partner with the community of Lonoke and local professionals like Trae Reed of Provision UAS, nonprofits such as George Washington Carver High School Alumni Association, and congregations such as Lonoke First Assembly.  The creators of Cultivating Context also extend we a special thanks to Aaron Stone of FirstNLR.

The public is invited to vote in the “People’s Choice” category, and support the film of their preference through October 6, 2017.  The creators of Cultivating Context encourage the public to follow the links below to view and vote for this local entry.


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