The Season of Giving

December 21, 2016

As 2016 draws to a close, we reflect on the Ayers Saint Gross mission statement: “We engage people and places to create designs that enrich the world.”

As a firm, we strive to make the world a better place through our designs and through service in our community. Real change takes real effort, a willingness to get involved and the strength of a team that shares those goals.

One of Ayers Saint Gross’ longest philanthropic relationships, now in its 18th year, is our commitment to Beechfield Elementary/Middle School in West Baltimore. In addition to drives for school supplies, canned goods, and books, our firm participates in a six-week introduction to design seminar with Beechfield students. At the last session, the students come to our office to do design exercises and to receive certificates of completion and “honorary designer” business cards. In 2017, we aim to strengthen this relationship even more, by helping students map out the path from high school to college to real design careers.

Ayers Saint Gross is also a strong supporter of the United Way. In addition to our financial contributions, we sponsored a Day of Action, during which several staffers volunteered at My Sister’s Place serving women and children in need. One of our most beloved firm traditions is the annual Chili Cook-Off – a crossroads of giving back and strengthening our team culture. We are active in the greater Phoenix community, helping to build a playground for Sunshine Acres Children’s Home, making donations to the Tempe Mission, and more. We participate in (PARK)ing Day, celebrating green spaces in the urban environment.

Most recently, we won a Mayor’s Business Recognition Award for planning work in East Baltimore. In partnership with the Southern Baptist Church and other stakeholders, we began with two kick-off workshops in April and continued with a design charrette in September. Ayers Saint Gross designers facilitated these meetings, engaging with community members and teaching the value of thoughtful planning, successful placemaking, and sustainable neighborhood development. A final community meeting will occur in January 2017.

We hope that the successful conclusion of that project is the first of many opportunities we’ll have in 2017 to engage, create, and enrich. The new year will be full of innovative thinking and problem-solving, as well as investment in people and places. We look forward to the many good things that are to come, at our firm and in the communities we serve.

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2016

December 16, 2016

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.

National Library for the Study of George Washington Wins AIA Design Awards

December 6, 2016

Ayers Saint Gross is pleased to announce that the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon recently received two awards: an Excellence in Design honor from AIA Baltimore and a Merit Award for Institutional Architecture from AIA Maryland.

The 45,000 square-foot library, located on 15 acres within walking distance of George Washington’s Mount Vernon home, serves as a national archive for his books and letters and as a center for education and scholarly retreat. The AIA Baltimore jury praised the design as “both traditional and crisp, pared down, and abstracted. It is grand, but also shows humility, appropriately reflecting George Washington.”

Additionally, the AIA Maryland jury called it “a well-conceived project that honors the Washington legacy with a timeless, well-scaled building.”

The design complements the Mount Vernon estate by incorporating qualities that are familiar and appropriate, but without literal form or material reference. It creates a timeless place that is elegant, ordered, and principled. These qualities allow the Library and grounds to be, in subtle ways, both reflective of Washington’s character and connected to the place.

Visitors approach the Library via a gently winding drive through the woodland site. The drive leads to an arrival court inspired by the geometry of the mansion’s gardens and defined by low stone walls. Native deciduous and evergreen plantings supplement the existing forest and drifts of George Washington’s favorite trees, including dogwoods and redbuds, adding spring and fall interest. Visual and physical connections to the land were key design priorities. Preserving open spaces and trees, and generally creating a sustainable site, reflects Washington’s legacy as a landowner and a farmer. The project achieved LEED Gold certification.

The U-shaped building fulfills the dual goals of scholarly study and educational outreach. A sunny, south-facing courtyard is defined on the east by an education wing that provides spaces for seminars, lectures, and training programs on George Washington’s life, times, and leadership. The west wing provides two floors of office space for visiting scholars and staff.

At its core, and the heart of the design, is the light-filled, two-story reading room with paneled walls of American Sycamore, a tree that grows at Mount Vernon.

The Washington family’s collection of books and papers are kept safe in the rare books and manuscripts room, a sequence of three increasingly secure spaces that culminate in an oval vault.

The project’s materials express permanence and dignity. The central portion of the building is clad in sandstone and limestone, and the wings are finished in stucco. Zinc-clad eaves, soffits, and porches accent slate roofs. Windows and doors are made of mahogany and the terraces and porches are paved with sandstone.

From a 1797 letter to his friend James McHenry, we know that George Washington hoped to build a library on his estate for his papers, but that dream was never realized until now. Ayers Saint Gross is proud that we were able to play a role in preserving the legacy of America’s first president, and are honored that AIA Baltimore and AIA Maryland both recognized our efforts.

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

November 29, 2016

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.

National Aquarium Waterfront Campus Plan Wins AIA Maryland Award

October 27, 2016

Ayers Saint Gross is pleased to announce that the Waterfront Campus Plan for the National Aquarium in Baltimore recently won a 2016 AIA Maryland Excellence in Design Honor Award for Urban Design and Master Planning. The jury lauded the design for “creating dynamic, welcoming, educational public space while restoring ecosystems and providing a living lab as a model toward resiliency in the built and natural environment.”

Our team proposed a design for the 2.5 acre space between Piers 3 and 4 in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor that challenges existing urban waterfront models. It merges aquatic and terrestrial communities by softening existing engineered bulkhead barriers, including amphitheaters, vegetation shelves, and an oyster reef that serves as a natural water filtration system.

“Located on the historic piers of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium is ideally situated for demonstrating how its conservation mission can be applied at its own doorstep,” Jonathan Ceci, PLA, Director of Landscape Architecture, said.

Our Waterfront Campus plan also highlights the water’s movement with a network of floating wetlands that return native plants to the Inner Harbor. The design team gave careful analysis to ephemeral conditions like tides and how those conditions affect the user experience. The result is a series of installations that engage visitors and connect them with authentic Chesapeake Bay watershed habitat. The design advances the economic success of the Inner Harbor and of the entire city of Baltimore with renewed civic infrastructure.

The National Aquarium is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures. It welcomes an average of 1.3 million visitors annually. The Waterfront Campus Plan is expected to be fully implemented by 2019.

“Ayers Saint Gross’ work on behalf of the National Aquarium and our waterfront campus is deserving of this award,” said Jacqueline Bershad, National Aquarium Vice President of Planning and Design. “Our vision – one we are diligently working to bring to life with Ayers Saint Gross – is that the Waterfront Campus will be an accessible green space for people of all ages to engage with and enjoy.”

For more on Ayers Saint Gross’ award-winning designs, visit our Awards page.

Vertex Student Apartments Wins AIA Arizona and ENR Southwest Awards

October 19, 2016

Vertex Student Apartments, a mixed-use student housing development in Tempe, AZ adjacent to Arizona State University, recently won two awards, the 2016 AIA Arizona Distinguished Building Merit Award and Best Residential/Hospitality Project from ENR Southwest.

The goal for this project was to develop a vibrant community built within a tight budget that still provides iconic identity and exceptional efficiency. Our team was able to complete a really complex and tightly scheduled project on schedule, and the result gives the student residents both independence and community.


Vertex’s triangular parcel, bordered by a light rail on one side, inspired its striking design with a prominent prow that became central to the project’s identity and branding. The development features 16 different unit plans and generous shared amenities for residents, as well as 6,000 GSF of ground floor civic, retail, and restaurant space. The inclusion of the latter increases visibility and connection to the street and neighborhood.

Sun-shading also influenced the design, including a light-colored shell and roof to reflect the sun and large graphic brise-soleil. A statement band of native desert plants fronts the dark shaded understory, creating an inviting and cool zone in the desert. We created view corridors that allow access-controlled pedestrian ways into the courtyard from the two street frontages. The new design is a welcome change from the fortress-like building on the site before Vertex’s construction.

Vertex was a continuous collaboration among the design team, construction manager, and developer. The project delivers a high-impact design through a minimalist design strategy, thus reducing its environmental impact. We decided to use wood on top of a concrete podium to give the project flexibility, increased construction speed, and greater sustainability. The wood structure was prefabricated off site and brought in by truck and erected via crane, thus minimizing the area needed for a saw yard on site.

Vertex provides 323,000 GSF mixed-use space and 600 beds. The project’s sensitivity to scale and experience emphasizes the owner’s commitment to develop the premier student housing community in the marketplace that incorporates and integrates unique building design, extraordinary amenities, and exceptional unit plans. The project was developed by Peak Campus and Titan Investments and constructed by hardison/downey construction, inc.

For more on Ayers Saint Gross’ award-winning designs, visit our Awards page.





Ayers Saint Gross Reaches $1B in LEED Construction

October 19, 2016

Last month, Ayers Saint Gross reached an important and exciting milestone in our sustainable journey. With the LEED Silver certification of Georgetown University’s Ryan and Isaac Halls, our firm crossed the billion-dollar mark, having produced $1 billion in LEED certified construction.

To celebrate, we’ve created an infographic that illustrates exactly what $1,000,000,000 in LEED construction looks like. Congratulations to everyoneclients, designers, partners, and of course the USGBCwho made this tremendous achievement possible. I’m particularly grateful to Emory University, the University of Maryland system, and the University of Virginia, which collectively make up 14 of our 34 LEED projects. It’s wonderful to see clients build with sustainability in mind, and then come back for more when they see its many benefits. Great clients make for great buildings.

Here’s to the next billion. We’re already on our way with the pending certification of the Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management at Morgan State University.

The Endless Park: PARK(ing) Day 2016

September 21, 2016

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.


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.


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.


Going Green, Staying Green: How to Create an Enduring Sustainable Landscape

August 23, 2016

Sustainable landscapes address a number of environmental concerns: habitat loss, natural resource depletion, air pollution, and waste generation. For those reasons and more, sustainability is an increasingly central part of campus planning.

However, as the methods used to create an ecologically sound site grow, so can the number of maintenance needs and costs.

Creating – and perhaps even more crucially, maintaining – sustainable landscapes is a multi-phase process. Here are a few points of advice that can guide discussions about how to create a sustainable design that will continue to function as originally envisioned.

  • Align your sustainability goals with available resources. Understanding your desired project goals and maintenance routine is paramount to a project’s success. Ask yourself a few questions in the early design process: What are your project’s sustainability goals? What are your long-term maintenance capabilities? What changes could be made to align your practices with your goals? Once both client and landscape architect understand the parameters, you can work together to produce a design that meets the needs of your institution.
  • Consider the life cycle costs of your choices. Evaluate the necessary steps that ensure you can meet your sustainability goals. For example, if you wish to diminish a site’s long-term energy and potable water use, your standard planting palette, hardscape materials, and irrigation technique may need adjustment. Depending on the project’s goals, the design may have unique maintenance needs, such as permeable pavers or a rainwater collection system. If you are unfamiliar with these elements, ask how to maintain them to ensure the design will receive proper care. There’s good news, though: Not every sustainable strategy has a high maintenance cost. In fact, many diminish total costs because more expensive materials provide benefits that offset their initial price. For example, a cistern will reduce your irrigation bill, and selecting native or low-irrigation plants reduces irrigation and labor maintenance costs.
  • Concentrate high-maintenance areas for maximum effect. An elaborate design with ambitious net-zero goals may be beyond your scope. Instead, consider small interventions that make a large impact. Prioritize your goals, and centralize the high-maintenance areas in high-visibility areas to make the biggest impression.
  • Monitor performance. Whether the goal is to achieve a net-zero energy site, reduce stormwater runoff, or provide wildlife habitat, monitoring how the site performs is necessary to ensure the goal is met. Track the site closely, adapting maintenance activities as needed. Recording the effectiveness of various methods will provide a guide for future management actions. With proper care, the benefits of the landscape can continue to function at optimum potential.

LEEDv4 vs. LEED 2009: Design Implications

August 8, 2016

In 85 days, sustainable design will go through a big change.

On October 31, 2016, LEED 2009 will sunset. All projects registered thereafter will be required to meet the more stringent requirements of LEEDv4.

Ayers Saint Gross has long been a standard bearer for sustainable design. This year, that means investing significant resources in educating ourselves about how LEEDv4 will impact the way we build. Understanding the new standards in this depth allows us to be excited about how certifying projects under this system will advance the caliber of high-performance buildings.

At this point, most people in the AEC industry are familiar with the key differences between LEED 2009 and LEEDv4. Major changes in LEEDv4 include:

  • Energy modeling baseline updated from ASHRAE90.1-2007 to ASHRAE 90.1-2010;
  • Increased scope of fixtures addressed by water efficiency credits, including lab equipment among other process fixtures;
  • Restructured Materials and Resources credits that push for transparency in manufacturing;
  • New metrics in daylighting to more accurately account for daily and annual variations.

But the time for general understanding is winding down. Starting soon, designers will need to know specifics.

You have to get in the weeds about LEEDv4 to have confidence in certifying a building under the new standards and to deliver on a promise to certify a project to a certain level. Later this month, I will address the AIA Austin Summer Conference and dive into the nitty-gritty of what designing under this new rating system will mean, including:

  • Transportation Access. LEEDv4’s public transportation access credit counts the number of trips made by public transit infrastructure, whereas LEED 2009 counted the number of public transit lines. Projects that previously may not have qualified for any public transit points under LEED 2009 may be able to access a point under LEEDv4.
  • Covered Bicycle Parking. Under LEEDv4, both institutional and residential buildings require covered bicycle parking. Under the old system, only residential buildings had to meet this requirement.
  • Regional Materials. LEEDv4 does not offer points especially for sourcing materials from within 500 miles of a project as LEED 2009 did. Sourcing materials locally now allows project teams to double the value of local materials when performing building material optimization calculations.

LEED 2009 is the most widely adopted green building rating system on the planet, and it follows that LEEDv4 is likely to command a similar percentage of market share for green building certifications. However, since LEED 2009 debuted, a number of other rating systems, standards, and codes have been established, including the Living Building Challenge, IgCC, and ASHRAE189.1. LEEDv4 is walking into a much more crowded certification marketplace than LEED 2009 did.

Early and mid-range adopters to the sustainability movement are likely to stay with LEED because it carries significant brand recognition. However, LEEDv4 is progressive enough a standard that later adopters to sustainability may be intimidated to attempt it, especially with a whole suite of other rating systems and standards in the marketplace with lower barriers to entry. As professionals, we will be prepared to serve clients at all levels of sustainability, whether new to the party or well-versed and ready to be on the cutting edge.

We are excited to see how the specifics of LEEDv4 will influence design and sustainability, and believe this and other competitive green building rating systems, standards, and codes will push us all to create more efficient high-performance buildings that serve the community and the world.

See you in Austin!

A Brief History of the Ayers Saint Gross ACUHO-I Student Housing Book

July 8, 2016

The ACUHO-I Annual Conference and Exposition is an exceptional gathering, in large part due to how open residence life and design professionals are about sharing their experiences, and what they’ve learned about creating living environments for students.

We put together our annual ACUHO-I student housing book as a way to contribute to that spirit of sharing by providing current, relevant housing project data. We want to give you information you can use. We produced our first ACUHO-I student housing book in 2005, and strive to make it interesting and accessible every year. Last year’s pop-up edition even won a promotions and marketing design award from HOW magazine.


The 2016 edition, entitled “Mission Driven,” focuses on four current residential life themes: recalibrating unit mix, mixed-use, increasing students living on campus, and town gown. Stop by and see us at ACUHO-I at Booth 327 to get your copy.


2016 Comparing Innovation Districts Poster

July 6, 2016

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.