BY BRIAN LIBBY
Every year for the past decade as I've covered the annual AIA/Portland Design Awards, the top prize, known as the Honor Award, has gone to one or two projects. This year, however, the jury felt far more generous. A record six projects walked away last Thursday night with the night's biggest accolade.
The winners of the Honor Award were: (1) the Legacy Emmanuel Medical Center Central Utility Plant in Northeast Portland, designed by ZGF Architects; (2) the Early Childhood Development Center in Gresham, designed by Mahlum; (3) the Tandem duplex in Southeast Portland, designed by Works Partnership Architecture, (4) J-Tea teahouse in Eugene, designed by Benjamin Waechter; (5) the Digital Animation Building and Campus in Glendale, California, by Lever Architecture; and (6) the Bud Clark Commons in Portland by Holst Architecture.
Many of these firms have been honored before, some numerous times. ZGF, for example, won last year's Honor Award for the Jaqua Center in Eugene, and has received the same prize in years past for projects like the Doernbecher Children's Hospital at OHSU. To be honest, though, winning for a hospital utility plant rather than, say, ZGF's much acclaimed Port of Portland headquarters, much have been a surprise even to the firm.
"A real achievement architecturally for such a banal program," the jury said of the Emanuel plant. "Expertly executed at every level from siding down to the detail. Subtle and evocative use of light that animates the building at night. There was a real inventiveness in the use of standardized industrial materials."
Works Partnership has won a slough of awards for its unbuilt work as well as for its B-side6 building. Of the Tandem project, which this blog covered in depth earlier this year, the jury was enamored with its "clear, strong concept," adding, "One move has a dramatic impact in a split level house type. Adventuresome use of materials for both exterior and interior. Wonderful interior detailing and use of perforated material. " Tandem also won this year's Mayor's Award for Design Excellence.
Holst, honored this year for the Bud Clark Commons, received a Merit Award last year last year for the Ziba World Headquarters, following awards in years past for projects like the Belmont Street Lofts and Clinton Condos.
The jury said it was impressed "by the long and rigorous process by the architect, clients and community for this building type," applauding its "beautifully and cleverly composed elevation, using one window type to create a subtly dynamic façade." Overall, they said the project was "carefully executed at every level with a light hand," and called the courtyard "an ingenious working component of the building as both social and architectural transition space. Uplifting."
Honor Award winner Ben Waechter has only been practicing in Portland with his own firm for a few years (he previously worked for Allied Works locally as well as the Renzo Piano Building Workshop in Italy), yet by my count all three of his major projects have won AIA awards, given that J-Tea's two predecessors, the Cape Cod House and the Z-Haus, both received recognition last year. And J-Tea, like Z-Haus, was featured prominently in Dwell magazine. Waechter has to be considered on of the top up-and-coming architects in the city.
Of J-Tea, the jury commented in their traditional series of run-on sentences, "A dramatic transformation of a typical bungalow into residential and commercial space. Only four components each rendered beautifully. The canopy, the porch, the tea-walls and the tea-bar are all equally and carefully considered in relationship to the experience of tea. A nice set of transitions between the street and the interior of the tea-bar. The plainer quality of the assemblage makes it feel like you are walking through the layers of a painting. Lively and light with minimal means."
Mahlum, the Honor Award winner for Gresham's Early Child Development Center, won a Sustainability Award last year for Hayes Freedom High School in Camas, Washington; the firm, even after Rick Potestio's departure, has established itself as a venerable leader in building green schools.
Lever Architecture, the one firm out of the five Honor Award winners winning this year for the first time, has more experience than this fact might indicate. Principal Thomas Robinson spent six years at Allied Works, the city's most acclaimed firm, including on projects like the AIA award-winning University of Michigan Museum of Art. Before that, Robinson was a senior project architect for what may be the top architecture firm in the world, Herzog & de Meuron of Basel Switzerland, where he led the development of the innovative perforated copper façade and tower structure for the New De Young Museum in San Francisco.
"Fantastic transformation of a common industrial building," the jury wrote of Lever's Animation Building. "The projected benefited from careful tectonic analysis. There is a beautiful choreography of light and space, which manifests itself that is smart and clear and ready to be abused by the animation geeks. We also like the reuse of the recycled gym floor for the floors and walls."
This year's jury also awarded five second-tier Merit Awards to five projects: (1) the Two Story Four Square house in Boise by Heide Beebe and Doug Skidmore; (2) the School of Medicine Research Building at the University of California Riverside by SRG Partnership; (3) the Interchange residence in Portland by William Kaven Architecture; (4) Director Park in Portland by ZGF; and (5) BodyVox Dance Center in Portland by BOORA Architects.
Of these winners, Beebe and Skidmore are the newest presence. They established their firm in 2007 and were honored this year for restoring and transforming a circa 1924 home prairie/craftsman-style home on the edge of a Boise historic district.
BOORA's win for BodyVox is seemingly well deserved, given how the firm restored an old industrial building on a low budget yet created a place with warmth, function and beauty. That said, it's a project that already competed in last year's AIA Design Awards. Such was also the case for projects like Tandem and J-Tea. This practice of allowing projects that don't win one year to compete again the next is a practice I'd like to see be discontinued.
Winning a Merit Award is a major validation, and the first AIA award, for William Kaven Architecture. The firm previously made its biggest plash as part of the 11 x Design Tour in 2009, which introduced many of the city's most talented young firms and architects such as Kaven, PATH Architecture, the now-defunct SEED Architecture Studio, Ben Waechter, Design Department, and Webster Wilson. Kaven's Interchange residence, located in the Overlook neighborhood of North Portland, is a gorgeous home oriented around a courtyard in the rear and showcasing the client's art collection.
The third-tier Citation Award went to two projects: the Everett Community College Student Fitness Center in Everett, Washington, by SRG; and the James F. Miller Theater Complex at the University of Oregon in Eugene, designed by THA Architecture. SRG, as both of their awards this year indicates, has been a relatively frequent award winner over the years, and almost always for their educational facilities. THA winning an award is no shock; the firm has won countless AIA awards over time, such as an Honor Award for a new theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.
Two more special awards were given out. The Sustainaibilty Award went to Hennebery Eddy Architects for Portland Community College's new facility in Newberg, which is set to become the first net-zero energy educational building in Oregon, and the Craftsmanship Award went to a trio of architects - Randy Stegmeier, Ryan Yadan, and Jenn Ward - for the Quiet House, which the jury hailed for its "sublime" detailing and materials. Stegmeier works at ZGF and Ward at the very talented (but so far scarcely marketed) up-and-coming Firm 151.
Five project won unbuilt prizes. The Unbuilt Merit Award went to the Overton House in Portland by Works Partnership and the Bureau of Environmental Services' Columbia Boulevard Support Facility by Skylab Architecture. Both both firms have won many AIA awards over the years. One of the three Unbuilt Citation Awards was given to another new Portland firm, Architecture Building Culture, for the Lubavitch Center in Vancouver, British Columbia. Ben Waechter's Tower House was also honored, as was Works Partnership's North Mississippi Apartments.
Overall, the award winners overwhelmingly are comprised of two project types: residential and public buildings. With just a few exceptions such as J-Tea and the Digital Animation Building, almost every winner was either a house, multifamily housing, a health care facility, or an educational or government facility. Where is the private sector? If these awards are an accurate reflection of architectural quality, the corporate world of offices is laggging behind. Which is particularly amusing given that many in this demographic comprise the 1% controlling some 20-40% of the nation's wealth that Occupy protests around the nation are now addressing. Why are nonprofits, families and budget-strapped public sector entitites committing to quality design when they have fewer resources to do so?
Meanwhile, congratulations to all of this year's winning projects and architects.