America’s Renaissance in Public Architecture

Public Safety Answering Center II, Bronx, New York. Photo: Albert Vecerka / Courtesy of SOM Architects

One of the keynote addresses at the AIA Conference in Orlando this week is  “Anticipate Need: Architecture that Matters,” which focuses on the renowned architects who are creating iconic buildings that shape and serve a given community. The topic of designing exemplary public buildings is also trending in Architectural Digest right now.

In urban settings, municipal buildings often fail to live up to the high-minded ideals of their related institutions. Though these structures may be dedicated to justice, education, sanitation, or public safety, their designs usually reflect budget constraints and bureaucratic compromise more often than they do civic virtue.

In recent years, however, top architects have taken on modest municipal projects in the metropolitan New York area to apply their considerable talents to everything from police and fire stations to neighborhood libraries, sanitation garages, and recycling plants.

In Long Island City, Queens, NY, Steven Holl’s Hunters Point Community Library is likely to become the waterfront’s third landmark when it opens this summer, joining the local Pepsi-Cola sign and ferry gantries in drawing public attention. In the South Bronx, Denmark’s Bjarke Ingels Group is designing NYPD’s 40th police precinct headquarters—the second outer-borough police station done by a big-name architect. The Chicago-based Studio Gang is designing a firehouse in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and a proposed 911 call center in the Bronx will be the work of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM).

Such projects, though scattered and few, suggest that civic architecture, largely neglected since the urban flight of the 1960s and ’70s, is having a renaissance. Architectural pundits suggest that public projects such as these are important because they communicate an imaginative aesthetic to a large audience, allowing architects to adhere to their Hippocratic oath to improve the built environment, and to bring synthesis and integration into what could be a haphazard or bland urban infrastructure. Civic commissions are invariably modest compared to those for a luxury, high-rise condo or a corporate headquarters, but the municipal sites have a unique appeal in that they offer architects an opportunity to reach the public-at-large in a different and significant way. Such projects make the subtle case that public institutions serving the community still matter.


The Biggest Architecture, Engineering & Construction Firms

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center, Virginia Beach, Va., is only the eleventh building to earn Living Building Challenge status. It generated 83% more energy than it used over the past year.

For the 40th consecutive year, the editors of Building Design+Construction have ranked the nation’s largest architectural, engineering and construction firms as part of their “Giants 300 report”.  AEC firms are ranked by discipline, specialty and sector with 22 building sectors covered — from airport terminals to healthcare and educational facilities, hotels and sports arenas. Over 50 design firms and their latest innovations are showcased including Green Building firms who are focusing on technology and occupant health to maintain their edge in sustainability. Turner Construction was ranked #1 out of 90 Green Construction Firms with revenues of $5.7 billion and Gensler, not surprisingly, was at the top of most of the architectural lists.


Can Green Buildings Make Us Smarter?

Green is good -- outside or inside an occupied building.

A recent study published by Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) suggests that Green Buildings create optimized conditions for health and productivity. In a series of experiments, indoor environmental quality (IEQ) factors for both “green” and “conventional” buildings were simulated in a controlled environment that included office workers, and the researchers measured variables such as carbon dioxide variation, ventilation and exposure to volatile organic compounds in the building atmosphere.

The results? On average, cognitive scores for the two groups of workers were 61% higher for those working in a building with green features than with conventional construction.  In other words, green building can potentially deliver a smarter workforce.


Fifteen Architects Memorialized on Money

Thomas Jefferson is one of fifteen noteworthy architects to have his likeness printed on his nation's currency.

As the AIA membership gathers in Philadelphia this week, it is inspiring to contemplate the roster of architects who reached a sufficient level of fame and respectability to have their portraits printed on their nation’s currency. Switzerland’s Le Corbusier, Scotland’s Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and France’s Gustave Eiffel (of the iconic tower) are three of a group of fifteen that ended up on their nation’s banknotes.

The honor has not yet fallen on American designers such as Frank Lloyd Wright or I.M. Pei. The profession is instead represented on the country’s currency in the person of founding father Thomas Jefferson, whose designs of Monticello and the University of Virginia have stood the test of time and taste. Jefferson’s portrait was first printed on the U.S. two-dollar bill in 1869.


AIA Names 2016’s Top Project for Sustainability

AIA COPE Winner 2016

This renovated federal office building in Portland Oregon earned an A+ for sustainability from the AIA.

The AIA’s Committee on the Environment (COTE) works to promote design practices that enhance both the design quality and environmental performance of the built environment. As the Institute’s champion of sustainable design, COPE identifies the most outstanding “green” projects around the U.S. and awards its annual Top Ten Winners.

This year’s overall winner is the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt (EGWW) Federal Building, an 18-story, 512,474 sf office tower in downtown Portland, Oregon. Originally built in 1974, the building received funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to undergo a major renovation to replace outdated equipment and systems. Already, EGWW has exceeded its projected energy and water saving goals.The building’s gas and electrical utility bills racked up a 45% energy savings in the first two years of use, compared to a building built to code.


Sto Corp. Combines Form and Function at the 2015 AIA Expo

In May, the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, GA hosted thousands of architects and over 800 construction industry exhibitors for the 2015 AIA Expo. The Georgia World Congress Center boasts over 170,000 square feet of exhibition space and it needed every last bit of it for the AIA Expo, one of the largest gatherings of architects and design professionals in the world. Sto Corp., whose headquarters is based in Atlanta, GA was one of the many exhibitors who participated in this year’s AIA Expo, and they pulled out all the stops. “This year AIA was in our hometown so we wanted to do something bold, new and clearly distinct from previous years,” said Valerie Mayer, Sto Corp.’s Manager of Marketing Communications. To reinforce Sto Corp’s connection to the larger Sto global family, this year’s AIA booth included a gallery of high profile projects from around the world featuring a variety of Sto’s different wall systems and building envelope solutions.    Among the various systems and solutions that Sto had to display were samples of Sto’s Ventec rainscreen cladding systems. The Ventec systems offer the highest degree of performance in terms of long term sustainability and durability. Largely a green system, Sto’s unique StoVentec carrier board is made from 96% recycled glass. StoVentec systems feature a myriad of aesthetic and design options including glass mosaic, natural stone, and even photovoltaic façades. Throughout the booth, Sto’s four core values; innovation, relationship, performance, and sustainability; were represented. Amongst the innovations being presented were StoPanel Technologies pre-fabricated façade systems. “Unlike other panelized facades, StoPanel Technology is the only system that uses standardized materials, details, and design considerations. We have built a network of contractors and engineers across the Americas who are sharing best practices and constructing the same superior panelized wall systems regardless of design or location,” said Dominick Baruffi, executive director of StoPanel Technology. All Sto wall systems begin with Sto’s industry leading air and moisture barrier system, StoGuard. This year’s booth included a number of videos showing that air tightness and moisture resistance with StoGuard is not only durable enough to last the lifetime of a building, but can be installed much more simply than more conventional systems.    Of course excellent building performance means little if the building is an eyesore, which is why Sto chose to show off its more creative side as well. “Form and function should go hand in hand. Architecture really is functional art,” said Billy Rosbottom, manager of Sto Studio. An inspiration wall on the outside of the Sto’s booth showed off a variety of different aesthetic options that could easily be achieved using Sto’s various different finishes, as well as natural elements that helped […]