Green Week 2018: The Carrot Awards

April 18, 2018
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Ayers Saint Gross hosts an annual Green Week to advance sustainability literacy within our staff so we can provide better high-performance designs to our clients. We use this time to:

  • Evaluate our performance in the AIA 2030 Commitment, a voluntary program of the AIA in which we report the predicted energy use intensity of our whole building projects and the lighting power density of our interiors projects.
  • Recognize the most energy efficient whole building project and interiors project under design with the annual Carrot Awards to inspire other projects to strive for greater energy efficiency.
  • Share information colleagues have learned through project experiences, professional certifications, and attendance at conferences.

Since Green Week’s inception in 2013, every year’s programming gets more robust and more engaging. Last year’s Green Week included five sessions and awarded 99 continuing education units to our staff. This year hopes to top those numbers by offering seven sessions across all three of our offices.

So what exactly is a Carrot Award and who are this year’s winners? Sustainable design is sometimes oversimplified to as “carrots and sticks” process, in which carrots are enticing incentives that inspire great design and sticks are cumbersome requirements design teams have to meet. We believe sustainable design is great design, so high-performance projects are a carrot to us. Our highest performing projects under design in 2017 are aspirations for every project in our firm to reach for.

This year’s whole building Carrot Award goes to Washington College’s Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall in Chestertown, Md. It is a new construction project of approximately 11,000 GSF that will support academic and lab spaces for environmental programs and the Center for Environment & Society at Washington College. The project is working toward a Petal Certification under the Living Building Challenge and is predicted to have an energy demand 71% less than baseline. The remaining energy consumption of the building will be offset by on-site solar power which will allow the building to achieve net-zero energy operations annually. To achieve this extraordinary level of energy savings, the project prioritized appropriate building orientation to maximize passive heating and cooling strategies. It will also optimize on-site solar production. A highly efficient geothermal heating system supports the project’s capacity to meet all of its HVAC demands without any on-site combustion.

The project is designed to use daylight whenever possible and supplement as needed with efficient LED lighting. End users have also strategized with designers about how to minimize plug loads, as these become a higher percentage of the total end use of energy in net-zero buildings than in other buildings.

This work would not be possible without the collaboration of an engaged client and our teams at Gipe Associates and CMTA.

This year’s interiors Carrot Award goes to our renovation of George Washington University’s Marvin Center. This student collaboration space in Washington, DC acts as a campus living room and decreases lighting power density by 73%, nearly three times the current AIA2030 reduction target, through daylighting and LED lighting.

Congratulations to this year’s winners, and be on the lookout for more sustainability-focused projects from our firm. For more on how Ayers Saint Gross approaches sustainable design, see our firm’s sustainability strategy, Take Action.

Legacy and Leadership: Designing the National Churchill Library and Center

February 23, 2018
National Winston Churchill Library and Center entrance
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“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” – Winston Churchill, 1943

Sir Winston Churchill was the most powerful statesman of his generation, and he remains an indelible symbol of British tenacity, wit, and honor.

His American connections were quite strong, though. Churchill’s mother, Jennie Jerome, was a New Yorker, and Churchill himself was granted honorary U.S. citizenship in 1963. That is partly why the International Churchill Society (ICS) wanted to create a strong Churchillian presence in Washington, DC. That ambition was realized in October 2016, when the National Churchill Library and Center (NCLC) at The George Washington University opened.

Because Churchill was a man of true historic importance, we designed the library to reflect his august legacy in a new and modern way.

The NCLC occupies 5,800 square feet within the university’s Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library. It is the first research facility in the United States dedicated to the study of Winston Churchill, and it currently houses 2,000 volumes.

In addition to study rooms and exhibition space, the NCLC includes staff offices and event space and offers a wide array of programming inspired by the center’s namesake. The many NCLC speakers  thus far include General David Petraeus, Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Daniel Mulhall, and former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

“Having the Churchill Library in the center of Washington is symbolically very important, given the fact that Winston Churchill’s legacy remains so vital to many people in positions of leadership,” said Michael F. Bishop, director of the NCLC. “There’s something compelling about having this only five blocks from the Oval Office.”

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The idea for the NCLC originated with the ICS (formerly known as the Churchill Centre), which was founded in 1968 and is the premier membership organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of Sir Winston Churchill. The ICS had long desired a permanent home for Churchill studies in Washington, and found an enthusiastic partner in The George Washington University, which had underutilized space in the Gelman Library.

Infusing a space with the personality of a historic figure was familiar territory for Ayers Saint Gross. Our firm designed both the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mt. Vernon and the Visitor Center & Smith Education Center at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

In the case of the NCLC, the challenge was to create a “building within a building” at the existing library. The project demanded a collaborative, interdisciplinary design team that included architects, interior designers, and graphic designers.

At the project’s outset, members of our design team traveled to England in search of inspiration. We visited Chartwell, Churchill’s country estate in Kent, which provided some key colors and tones that made their way into our final design.

During our research trip, we also explored the Churchill War Rooms, a WWII-era London bunker that now serves as a museum. The War Rooms are a key precedent for the NCLC. The space set aside within the Gelman Library for the project was below grade, not unlike the War Room’s subterranean location. To create new volume and add height to the NCLC’s long and narrow space, the ceiling was left exposed and painted a dark tone.

“The design of the space is attractive and striking, a sleek silvery space. The exposed ceiling is suggestive of the Cabinet War Rooms in London, which I like very much,” Bishop said. “The NCLC is very distinct from the rest of the building, and distinct from the area immediately outside it.”

The NCLC features  a fritted glass entryway that balances visibility and privacy. Our team also designed a wordmark for the NCLC and some interior signage. The result is a richly layered design that draws visitors into the space.

In addition to Chartwell and the War Rooms, our design had another distinctly Churchillian inspiration: his signature cigar. Churchill often smoked Romeo y Julietas, a brand with a distinctive red band that encircled a brown wrapper. Drawing on that color palette, we created high-gloss red thresh holds embedded within dark wood walls.

Churchill’s love of cigars also inspired another major NCLC design feature: the “cigar.” This three-dimensional element divides the center into a more publicly oriented event space near the entrance and smaller, more private spaces for staff and individual study in the back. The warm walnut panels also have an acoustical function, separating the public-facing space from the quiet work and gallery area.

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Today the NCLC is open 24 hours a day to The George Washington University community, and to the public five days a week. In addition to the library’s primary collection, the library features a touch-screen exhibit that allows visitors to see photographs and documents from Churchill’s life. This interactive element drew inspiration from a similar exhibit in the Churchill War Rooms in London. The chance to engage with Churchill’s life and legacy so far from his homeland is a draw for scholars and tourists alike.

“We’re a very unusual resource in that we offer visitors a unique glimpse into the life and career of Winston Churchill right in the heart of Washington, DC. We do that with books, documents, artifacts, and other exhibits, as well as outstanding programming with very prominent speakers,” Bishop said.

The design, construction, and ribbon cutting of the NCLC happened on a tight schedule. The project’s kickoff meeting was in June 2014 and it had to be completed before the end of 2016..

The grand opening was held on October 29, 2016. Speaking at the event, Randolph Churchill, Winston Churchill’s great-grandson, remarked of the importance of the project: “The opening of Churchill’s permanent home in your nation’s capital is truly a thrilling moment. I am more confident than ever that Churchill’s legacy will now be secure in the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

 

Green Week 2017: The Carrot Awards

April 17, 2017
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Ayers Saint Gross strives to make every project as energy efficient as possible. We’re signatories of the AIA2030 Commitment, and each year we report on the predicted energy use intensity of our whole building projects and the lighting power density of our interiors projects. Reducing both advances us toward our goal of designing net-zero projects across our design portfolio by 2030.

To keep our eyes on the prize and recognize Green Week 2017, we’re celebrating two projects – one whole building and one interior – with the Carrot Awards. Too often designers think of sustainability goals as a “stick,” something they have to do that’s at odds with good design. But for us, sustainability is a carrot. It’s something we reach for, something that inspires great design. The projects recognized by this year’s Green Week are examples for design teams across our firm to emulate in pursuit of sustainable design excellence.

This year’s whole building Carrot Award goes to Washington University in St. Louis’s Bryan Hall.

Bryan Hall is the renovation of approximately 49,000 GSF of existing 1968 laboratories for Washington University’s chemistry department. The project reuses more than 60% of the existing structural components while bringing in new building systems, infrastructure, and a vibration-sensitive design to support instrument-based chemistry. Laboratories are an energy-intensive program, but modeling predicts this project will use 55% less energy than the baseline laboratory.

To achieve these energy savings, KJWW Engineering (now IMEG) designed HVAC systems to serve laboratory, public, and restroom spaces separately so systems could be tailored to each type of space’s unique needs. Most of the laboratories require six air changes per hour to maintain high indoor air quality, but heating or cooling that air for once-through use would be very expensive and energy-intensive. To minimize that demand, laboratory exhaust air is routed through a sensible-only heat recovery system which pre-conditions outdoor air before it enters air handling units. Public spaces have different HVAC demands and are provided supply air as required to meet heating and cooling needs.

The building’s two laser research areas require constant temperature and maximum relative humidity conditions. These spaces are served by separate constant-volume air handling units that can optimally meet those conditions. Electrical and IT rooms on each floor are served by a variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system for local space conditioning.

This year’s interiors Carrot Award goes to our tenant improvement work for Tishman Speyer at Park Place, floors six and nine. This commercial office space in Arlington, Virginia includes multiple office suites and decreases lighting power density by 57%, more than double the current AIA2030 reduction target, through LED lighting.

We announced these awards today to kick off Green Week 2017, our firm’s annual celebration of high-performance design and sustainability. The week’s activities include internal and external luncheon speakers, trivia questions on our internal knowledge-sharing platform, and the Carrot Awards to get us inspired to create ever-more energy efficient design solutions.

For more on how Ayers Saint Gross approaches sustainable design, see our firm’s sustainability strategy, Take Action.

Built to Last: Creating Comprehensive Interior Designs

February 13, 2017
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As a firm with more than a century’s worth of history, Ayers Saint Gross understands that design must stand the test of time. Working mostly with large institutional clients, we create enduring interior designs from a thoughtful pursuit of functional, beautiful, and durable selections. We balance our established knowledge of the tried and true with an eye towards the industry’s innovations and improvements to produce the best possible results. Here’s how we do it.

1. Developing good relationships with vendors who can work at scale. The Interiors team at Ayers Saint Gross has deep knowledge of quality products and is in contact with the industry’s best representatives. We take the vetting of our vendors seriously. It’s not unlike a job interview. Can your product meet or exceed the benchmarks of our and our clients’ standards of design?

In addition to a product’s performance, aesthetics, and contents, we also assess the principles of the manufacturers and expertise of their representatives. They are among the experts we consult to verify industry standards and to advocate for best design measures. This working relationship helps develop our acumen in materials before we propose solutions to our clients.

In the event of complications during or after installation, our vendors will be proactive in assisting our projects with attainable resolutions. We have to have confidence in them, so our clients can have confidence in us.

2. Building and maintaining a materials library. Even with a lot of electronic options for browsing products, Ayers Saint Gross maintains material libraries in our offices. We’re curious here, and we like to research and investigate. We compare, and we shop for quality.

Besides the ease of having samples on hand, our libraries are interactive ‘sketchbooks’ for materials. Collections continuously evolve, and they literally display our enthusiasm to study and innovate. Since many of our clients have facilities departments with their own materials libraries, we appreciate opportunities to collaborate on current preferences and valuable lessons learned that design standards documents might not provide. Information sharing is a two-way street, too; often clients use our product knowledge and libraries as resources in developing their own collections.

Industry experts also know the importance of our libraries and visit regularly to update holdings and canvass needs. In addition to keeping our libraries current, this contact strengthens Ayers Saint Gross’ voice (among other national design firms) to ensure our clients’ goals are represented as manufacturers improve and develop products. (We are excited about plans to make the libraries easier to navigate and access remotely. Stay tuned!)

3. Finding quality materials and using them correctly. Even quality materials can fail if they are misunderstood or installed poorly. The range of materials with which we work and the significance of the materials we select has never been greater. Our clients’ interests in interior design are many, including: demonstrating an investment in their communities, supporting branding and marketing campaigns, and streamlining maintenance practices. As a result, interior design is constantly changing where options, adaptability, and maintainability are among the indicators of quality work.

Our deep experience in higher education, designing residence halls, libraries, and other high-use buildings, has taught us the importance of longevity and durability. Materials are viewed and touched throughout an occupant’s day, placing our selections front and center for continuous evaluation and assessment of a project’s overall quality.

Clients have long memories, and may retain a bias against certain materials, colors, or designs based on past experiences. Often a material alone does not fail; rather, a non-standard application or low quality installation caused problems. The Interiors team at Ayers Saint Gross investigates materials and their applications to weigh the pros and cons. Our design process includes a systems-based approach to assess a material’s compatibility with other material selections, and evaluate its constructability in combination with other materials.

4. Listening to clients. The pop culture idea of an interior designer is usually someone who sweeps into a meeting with a pre-existing vision. This is pretty much the opposite of how Ayers Saint Gross approaches interiors.

Our design process begins with client-specific research and questions followed by very close listening to what our clients say. If we’re creating a common area in a residence hall, should it be energetic and bright? Or do the students need a more subdued space for relaxation and recharging? Once we understand a client’s goals and hopes, we can use our knowledge of a project’s context, architecture, and cost-modeling to evaluate and advise, envision and create, and transform spaces into places.

We host collaborative moments for our clients to contribute and respond to schematic ideas that help inform the next steps. This nurtures a creative partnership that distinguishes a project as client-specific vs. trend-specific only. Eventually, a fully formed design emerges from team vision. Clients notice when they see their comments realized in a completed project and our work to discuss and listen proves to be a wise investment in (and by) Ayers Saint Gross. This shared effort sparks enthusiasm in the success and endurance of our service and projects.

Small Wonder: Baltimore Visitor Center Wins ENR Mid-Atlantic Award

November 29, 2016
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We’re pleased to announce that the Baltimore Visitor Center won Best Small Project from ENR Mid-Atlantic. The renovation updated the 12-year-old building to incorporate modern technology to serve its 400,000 annual visitors during daytime hours. The design also includes a more flexible layout that allows the BVC to be transformed into a revenue-generating event space at night.

Typically, a visitor center is designed more for tourists than for city residents. But with the possibility of using this beautiful waterfront location as an event space for special occasions, it becomes a space of gathering and celebration for Baltimoreans as well.

To achieve that kind of flexibility, we developed a concept of completely mobile displays. The custom millwork gives daytime visitors easy access to information they need, and then the displays can be moved and stored for evening events.

The installation of “Seagrass” by local artists McCormack and Figg required a long lead time, but the results speak for themselves. It’s a wonderful piece with a shape that echoes the aquatic grasses of the Chesapeake Bay, and it can be lit in many different ways, from customized animation sequences to holiday colors to (of course) orange and purple for the Orioles and Ravens.

Along with our partners at Wohlsen Construction, we completed the project on a tight deadline in conjunction with the inaugural Light City festival, which opened on March 31, 2016. The debut was a success, as you can see in this video. We’re glad that the Baltimore Visitor Center had such a great beginning to what is sure to be a long tenure as a centerpiece for the city.

Interior Architecture: Should you do a test fit?

November 5, 2015
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Measure twice, cut once is the telltale saying – and that idea can be applied to interior architecture as well – through test fits. Developers, brokers and potential tenants of interior spaces can use test fits in order to test the feasibility of a potential space before committing to it.

They ask these questions –

  1. Will the tenants’ program fit within the space given?
  2. Will it accommodate all of their needs, like daylighting requirements or space adjacencies?
  3. Will the layouts and sizes of rooms be sufficient (e.g. can it accommodate a conference room for 20 people versus 40 people)?

As interior designers, we consider closed versus open offices layouts as well as miscellaneous program needs such as large workrooms, main reception areas and cafes.

During the test fit process, we assess the program needs with basic square footages and verify these are the current requirements with the future tenant and test if all of the components fit within the space. The test fits verifies that required adjacencies are maintained throughout the space – for examples executive conference rooms located near the executive offices.

Through test fits, developers, brokers and tenants can understand that the program may physically fit into the space but might not produce a well thought out space plan. Other options might need to be explored, or some program pieces modified to respond to specific site conditions.

What’s included in a test fit?
A basic test fit will have rooms, walls, doors, furniture, and a reflected ceiling plan if the concept is warranted.

What value do test fits bring to developers and brokers?
Test fits are extremely fast and require minimal investment in order to ensure tenant programs can efficiently work within the space allotted. A well done test fit will influence the schematic design phase because a space plan is ultimately completed, tested, and vetted through all parties. The test fit allows people to see, react and respond to the space plan and helps guide solutions for their programmatic demands.