Transforming Sustainability at Texas A&M

March 24, 2017
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When Texas A&M decided to update its 2004 campus master plan with a team of Ayers Saint Gross planners, six integrated focus elements guided the work:
  • Campus Development
  • Mobility and Safety
  • Sustainability and Wellness
  • Campus Guidelines
  • Heritage Conservation
  • Wayfinding and Signage
My role on the team was most closely aligned with Sustainability and Wellness, and our firm’s work in this area is the subject of a session I’ll be co-presenting with Texas A&M’s University Architect, Lilia Gonzales, and Director of Sustainability, Kelly Wellman at the Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference on March 27. I’m excited about digging into the integrated approach that Texas A&M has taken in planning its campus. A selection of Texas A&M’s planning work between 2004 and the 2017 Campus Master Plan includes:
  • Sustainability Master Plan
  • Bicycle District Strategic Plan
  • Energy Action Plan
  • Utility and Energy Master Plan
  • Stormwater Management Program
  • District Plans to Direct Physical Development
  • Biennial Sustainability Progress Reports
  • AASHE STARS Report
Each of these elements informed the vision for a sustainable campus that is integrated throughout the 2017 Campus Master Plan to facilitate transformation across the campus community. Coordinating these efforts under a single master plan will clarify Texas A&M’s visions of a sustainable campus and support the transformative ideas the institution has for its campus. Among other subjects, the Sustainability and Wellness portion of the 2017 Campus Mater Plan includes initiatives about:
  • Building on the success of the recent upgrades to the campus central heat and power plant to continue reductions in energy demand and GHG emissions
  • Managing stormwater with green infrastructure
  • Improving pedestrian mobility across the university’s large campus footprint
  • Developing greater connectivity for the bicycle network both on and off campus
  • Continuing the transition from interior surface lots to perimeter parking garages
  • Advancing the institution’s stated objective of designing LEED Silver equivalent buildings to a more A&M-specific set of high-performance design requirements
  • Progressing the deployment of universal recycling containers on campus
  • Celebrating Texas A&M’s historic legacy while furthering diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts
  • Increasing opportunities for education, outreach, and engagement
Hope to see you at Smart and Sustainable!

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2016

December 16, 2016
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It’s been an eventful year for Ayers Saint Gross. As we turn the calendar page, here’s a look at our most popular blog posts of 2016. We’re proud of what we accomplished with our clients, and are excited about what’s to come in 2017. 1. Luanne Greene is Ayers Saint Gross’ New President. Having distinguished herself as head of our Planning studio and as an acknowledged industry leader, Luanne rose to become the President of Ayers Saint Gross. She is the first woman to lead the firm in its 100-year history. 2. Anne Hicks Harney Elevated to AIA College of Fellows. Our Sustainability Director is now one of four FAIAs at Ayers Saint Gross, alongside Glenn Birx, Luanne Greene, and Adam Gross. Anne was also named a LEED Fellow this year. 3. Placemaking for People: How Stormwater Management Can Be a Design Asset. The unglamorous necessity of stormwater management can be a starting point for truly great design in landscape architecture. 4. Place Matters: Cortex Innovation Community Wins SCUP Award. Recognition from the Society of College and University Planning was a huge honor. Innovation Districts like Cortex provide a new paradigm for research, business, and job creation. 5. National Aquarium Waterfront Campus Plan Wins AIA Maryland Award. The National Aquarium is a world-renowned conservation organization, and we are excited to be a part of the revitalization of its campus. 6. 2016 Comparing Campuses Innovation Districts. We did a deep dive on Innovation Districts in our 18th annual Comparing Campuses poster. (We also have an online archive of all the Comparing Campuses posters.) 7. A Brief History of the Ayers Saint Gross ACUHO-I Housing Book. We’ve been creating these tiny but informative books since 2005 for the annual ACUHO-I conference. We’ll see you in Providence in June with the 2017 edition. 8. Telling a Story with Data. Lisa Keith, head of our Space Analytics studio, wowed the KA Connect Conference with her data visualization expertise. 9. Ayers Saint Gross Reaches $1B in LEED Construction. With the LEED Silver certification of Georgetown University’s Ryan and Isaac Halls, our firm crossed the billion-dollar mark in LEED certified construction. To celebrate, we created an infographic that illustrates exactly what $1,000,000,000 in LEED construction looks like. 10. Going Green, Staying Green: How to Create and Enduring, Sustainable Landscape. Align your sustainability goals with available resources, and consider the life cycle costs of your choices.

The Endless Park: PARK(ing) Day 2016

September 21, 2016
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PARK(ing) Day got its start in 2005, and has since become a global celebration of public space in urban contexts. As a firm, Ayers Saint Gross celebrates sustainability and the importance of green spaces as a necessary part of good urban design. This year the DC office was thrilled to tackle a parking space in NoMa and turn it into an “endless park.” The goal was to get passersby from the NoMa community to disrupt their daily routines and immerse themselves in an unexpected retreat while learning about urban sustainability practices. We created our pop-up park out of salvaged wooden pallets from a local construction site, fresh layers of sod, and (most importantly) a series of mirrors. Mirrors have long been a go-to move for making interior spaces seem larger; we figured they could do the same thing for an outdoor space. Thus our mirrors faced each other, creating the illusion of an infinite, endless park. img_7795 We also had a series of posters informing park-goers about urban sustainability. All together it made for a relaxing and informative spot. Of course, the best urban design is not delivered from on high; it is a collaboration between the designers and the community. With that in mind, we wanted to include an interactive element in our park. We asked pedestrians to contribute by writing thoughts, activities, and feelings about parks and sustainability on tags. The tags became petals on flower-like stakes that were laid out on the park’s grass, creating a “endless” field of wildflowers in the mirrored reflection. As we grew our field of flowers throughout the day, it became a beautiful metaphor for the endless benefits of sustainability.
parking-day-flower

Photo courtesy of Laetitia Brock

To support sustainability once more at the conclusion of the day, our team returned the wood pallets to the construction site and planted the sod nearby in NoMa. The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat. While our “endless park” lasted only a day, creativity and a thoughtful approach to urban space are ever-present parts of our firm’s philosophy. img_7811

2016 Comparing Innovation Districts Poster

July 6, 2016
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In 1998, the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) held its annual conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Ayers Saint Gross released our first Comparing Campuses poster. This month, the SCUP Conference is again in Vancouver and we’re releasing our 18th Comparing Campuses poster. It’s fitting that we’ll be in the same city where this project launched, as this year’s edition is a return to the familiar figure-ground diagrams featured on the original poster, albeit with a twist. This year we decided to bring take our attention away from the cores of institutional campuses and focus instead on Innovation Districts. Innovation Districts, and the economic ecosystems they create, are a platform for universities, research institutions, cities, and the private sector to maximize connections and increase proximity between people, ideas, and investors. In contrast to the isolated suburban research parks of the last century, today’s innovation districts are diverse, mixed-use communities that establish a critical mass of economic, research, and social activity in a dense, walkable area typically adjacent to an anchor institution or downtown. Our process started with collecting base information and master plans for eleven existing or emerging Innovation Districts throughout the U.S. We ultimately decided on comparing the following aspects of each district:
  • Physical layout (scaled figure-ground)
  • Governance structure
  • Land area
  • Public open space area
  • Research/office space
  • Retail space
  • Housing units
  • Hotel rooms
  • Transit service
  • Distance to anchor institutions & downtown
We compiled the necessary data and information for each district from local government sources, development plans, master plans and reports, and other partner organizations involved with district planning and oversight. It was a fascinating exercise and successful team effort to put together this poster, and we hope you enjoy exploring it as much as we enjoyed creating it. You can peruse this year's edition, as well as the entire archive of Comparing Campuses here. It’s exciting to see how these districts are evolving and growing, and to imagine the impact they will keep making on our cities, economy, and collective future.

Place Matters: Cortex Innovation Community Wins SCUP Award

June 28, 2016
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In 2002, several major St. Louis institutions had a great idea: they would combine forces to create the Cortex Innovation Community, a mixed-used community that would combine academia, government, and industry. It was a visionary concept that saw how the isolated research parks of decades past didn’t really serve innovation or the innovators. People wanted to live and work in close proximity, and to catalyze and distribute the discoveries that came out of research more efficiently. With a $29 million dollar investment, the institutions set out to transform a decaying area into a center of research and enterprise. There was one problem: the district’s physical environment did not support the vision. The envisioned hub of bioscience and technology innovation was just a loose collection of inwardly-focused buildings surrounded by pavement. The area lacked what one writer calls “collision density,” the rate of interaction between scientists and entrepreneurs. By 2012, the district needed a new vision and significant investment in its physical place. The lead institutions and their developer partner, Wexford Science and Technology, asked the Ayers Saint Gross planning team to create the Cortex Innovation Community Master Plan. The plan was a vision to transform the 200-acre industrial corridor into a vibrant, 24-7, live-work-play-learn innovation community. Transforming Cortex into a thriving innovation ecosystem required getting a diverse set of stakeholders to think and act like a community. Conversations with city officials, entrepreneurs, university and hospital leaders, students, researchers, and local developers revealed a disconnect between the users’ idea of community and its manifestation in the physical environment. The integrated planning strategy brought together the following elements:
  • Program. People and ideas do not come together by chance. We tapped into lessons learned from rigorous study of the anatomy of research environments to envision shared spaces and innovative programming to support emerging companies.
  • Placemaking. Cortex needed an identity and a physical plan that mirrored the community everyone wanted. The new model focused on density and diversity of use, strong transit connections, animated streetscapes, and open space.
  • Investment. Access to capital and financing resources are essential to physical and programmatic transformations. A deliberate mixed-use land use strategy which included a TIF district set Cortex up for success.
Although the master plan is a long-term planning document, it needed to address immediate placemaking challenges, include the creation of a central park, flexible research space, and walkable streets with trees. Prioritizing development around a central node made it easy to envision Cortex a true community. Untitled-1 Just over three years since the completion of the master plan, the rapidly growing district propelled St. Louis to become one of the fastest growing startup cities in the country, averaging 5.6 percent growth between 2014 and 2015. Cortex is now home to a network of 200 companies (nearly 150 are startups), over $500 million in investment and 3,600 new jobs. Two years from now it is projected to have 5,000 jobs and $750 million in investment. The plan initiated a massive neighborhood revitalization. A full build-out of the Cortex Innovation Community is expected to create 13,000 permanent technology-related jobs. A MetroLink (light rail) stop is underway, and a new I-64 interchange serves as a new gateway to the district. I’m so pleased to see SCUP recognize the hard work of Ayers Saint Gross and the Cortex stakeholders with recognition in Excellence in Planning for an Existing Campus. The community is a model for a university-affiliated innovation district that harnesses a single urban location to build a culture of collaboration and discovery. Each building, each lobby, each green space, encourages people to bump into each other, share ideas, and create connections. It’s a wonderful, vibrant place that can serve as a blueprint for other cities and institutions.

Luanne Greene is Ayers Saint Gross’ new president.

January 1, 2016
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"Luanne leads without having to say 'I’m the leader,' but rather by action and understanding." - Hank Webber, Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration, Washington University in St. Louis Having distinguished herself as head of our Planning Studio, building our respected higher education practice, and as an acknowledged industry leader, Luanne has risen to become the next President of Ayers Saint Gross. She is the first woman to lead the firm in its 100-year history. Luanne will guide the management team with a focus on implementing the firm's strategic vision. She will continue to work with clients on projects that connect the art and science of planning on campuses across the country. Firm leaders Adam Gross, Jim Wheeler, and Glenn Birx will continue to play integral roles, while identifying Luanne as the next generation leader. Luanne has long been instrumental in our exceptional higher education practice. With more than 25 years of design and planning experience, Greene has worked on behalf of colleges and universities across the country including Johns Hopkins University; the University of Maryland, Baltimore; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Carnegie Mellon University; and Washington University in St. Louis. Throughout her career, Greene has established new benchmarks in campus planning that have influenced institutions, architects, and planners nationwide by integrating strategic planning, culture, and context into campus design, changing the way American universities and cultural institutions understand the power of their “place” to support a culture of excellence. Her work on more than 14,000 acres of campus open space and development affects the daily experience of more than 260,000 students and 32,000 faculty and staff. Greene’s work also includes mission-driven cultural institutions and the renewal of several high profile, iconic American treasures. She has completed master plans for the Wildlife Conservation Society (including the Bronx Zoo) and interconnected plans for the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History and a Pan-Institutional Collections Space. This work reaches more than 21.5 million visitors annually. Greene was recently named to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) College of Fellows, which honors architects who have made significant contributions to architecture and society and who have achieved a standard of excellence in the profession.

Community Engagement for Planning and Design

October 20, 2015
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As planners and architects, we design the big picture and future long-term visions for our planning sites. In order to identify issues and opportunities, we engage communities with key strategies to understand their needs. Our main goal is to educate and understand the public’s view on their community from their heritage to key planning principles and the impacts of future development in their neighborhood. Community Engagement is not just providing information – it creates a platform to solicit feedback, hear stories and understand the value of the community from those who experience it on a daily basis. For the Southwest Neighborhood Plan completed with the District of Columbia Office of Planning, our team developed a number of engagement tools to educate the public and support the planning discussion. Visioning Session Graphic Recording To capture the vision of the large group – our team engaged a group of 250 community members through a series of questions that were then recorded and illustrated. Graphic recording engages participants and stimulates discussion while providing an ongoing visual record of the discussion. Post-It Comment Boards We have learned that some in the public are not comfortable sharing ideas in a large group setting. To engage those people – a more intimate engagement strategy evolved through Post-It Boards. A series of display boards with large questions allows community members to write their answers, post them and read what their neighbors were saying about the same issue. Interactive Model To understand the larger context, our team created a large scale massing model of the entire site for community members to interact with. A series of color tile chips represented design strategies and community members could place proposed sites for future amenities within their neighborhoods. These tiles help illustrate the connectivity and program elements of a neighborhood and our team documented each scenario as the community built the vision for the future. The most important takeaway from our engagement process – we are planning and designing for the users and we want communities to design with us.

2015 Comparing Campuses Poster

August 29, 2015
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Ayers Saint Gross released the first Comparing Campuses poster at the 1998 Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) Conference in Vancouver, BC. It featured black and white figure-ground drawings of 11 campuses depicted at the same scale. Seventeen years and posters later, the collection exceeds 200 campuses. For the 50th SCUP conference in 2015, we wanted to play up the history of SCUP by incorporating all post-secondary institutions rather than focusing on individual institutional snapshots. While we have historically focused on physical characteristics, we broadened our perspective to look at both physical and statistical data that illustrate the dramatic changes that have occurred over the past 50 years. Where were we in 1965? Where are we going today? Some of these statistics such as enrollment rates are well-known but deserve another look to validate progress. Others such as gender and diversity hint at a shifting societal role of post-secondary education that is evolving. Our process started with researching a dozen or so metrics that could potentially comprise this year’s poster. Many matrices, charts, and spreadsheets of data later, the metrics we decided to include are (roughly) divided into four overarching categories:
  1. Access - Who is attending? Enrollment, Gender, Diversity boxes along the top row
  2. Typology - Where are students going (both by geography and type of institution)? Geography, Largest Institutions, Scale & Quantity along the middle row
  3. Faculty - Are they part-time or full-time? Faculty box in bottom left corner
  4. Money - What does it all cost? Tuition, Room & Board boxes along the bottom row
In our previous posters with figure grounds and space data, we relied on self-reported data from the colleges and universities. One thing we discovered in our research is that there is no standardization of space data reported at a national level. Per Frank Markley at Paulien & Associates, “the national government stopped collecting GSF for US campuses in 1974.” So unfortunately we could not include any space-related metrics at any standardized national level. This data was compiled from multiple sources and we applied our own interpretations and graphics. The majority of the data was provided by The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and The Chronicle for Higher Education (as well as the Census). We not only used the published data from NCES and the Chronicle but contacted each agency and had ongoing dialogue and sharing of data. The poster is the result of a collaborative process. Although the poster comprises nine different boxes, everything in the poster is part of an ecosystem that is tied together.  

2014 Comparing Campuses Poster

January 5, 2015
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Ayers Saint Gross released the first Comparing Campuses poster at the 1998 Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) Conference in Vancouver, BC. It featured black and white figure-ground drawings of 11 campuses at the same scale, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Carnegie Mellon University. Hobart and William Smith Colleges appeared on the poster in 2000. 17 posters later, the collection exceeds 200 campuses. This year’s poster compares physical campus growth at three institutions between 2000 and 2014. Across the firm, we’ve had many reasons to reflect this year: we installed a timeline of the firm’s 100-year history as part of recent office renovations, celebrated the retirement of Lex Schwartz after a 45 year tenure with the firm, and marked 10 years of student life innovation with ACUHO-I in our book for this year’s conference in Washington DC. Insights gained from looking backward offer us a starting point to look toward the future. This year’s research reinforced several themes of our practice: Technology has transformed our relationship with data. Early on, the poster provided information that was not readily available. Google Earth, institutional research websites, and open source Geographic Information Systems data have increased access to information about higher education. People have become more savvy consumers of data as they engage with more and more of it daily. Our research efforts today focus on filtering and interpreting the vast resources available to tell important stories. Every institution has its own story. Nationwide demographic and economic trends led to growth across higher education in the first decade of the new millennium. Growth manifests differently at each institution. At UNC Chapel Hill, for example, the combination of state-sponsored bond bill funding, generous philanthropy, and pressing needs for new facilities created a rare climate supporting redevelopment that was unique to that place and time. Going forward, each institution’s specific culture will impact how the emphasis on greater utilization and efficiency continue to play across the industry. Context matters. Growth is both qualitative and quantitative. Each of the three institutions experienced quantitative growth, particularly in enrollment. The “People” column reveals that growth in one area does not directly translate to equivalent growth in other areas. Values put parameters on growth. Having more students doesn’t necessitate more parking, especially on urban campuses like Carnegie Mellon’s where land comes at a premium. At Hobart and William Smith Colleges, housing expansion intentionally outpaced enrollment growth to strengthen the residential college environment. In a world of slowed quantitative growth, the quest for qualitative growth remains compelling. Campuses change. From day to day the pace of change can feel slow, but looking backward highlights ongoing transformation. Each entry in the Comparing Campuses collection reflects a specific moment in time. While the drawings showcase the enduring qualities of the campus core, that one new building missing from the drawing hints at its age. If only slightly, the place has changed. Each project changes campus in some way. What part does it play in a bigger story? Does it reflect our values? How does it move the ball forward? This year’s effort was a great opportunity to refresh our collection. If your institution is included in our database and you’d like to update your information, send us a note at jwheeler@asg-architects.com. Click here to read more about our Comparing Campuses poster.