Food for Thought: Dining Hall Typologies and Design Drivers

February 15, 2019
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Today’s students and administrators are increasingly conscientious about nutrition, wellness, and sustainability. Campus dining programs are expected to cater to an ever more sophisticated and health-conscious palette. They must deliver diverse and nutritious cuisines in a dynamic and sensory place. Students want to know where their food comes from and how it is made; food allergies and specialized diets require sensitivity in food handling, storage, preparation to prevent cross-contamination. Likewise, administrators recognize the benefits to classroom performance and overall satisfaction that this holistic view of dining options brings.

To meet today’s expectations, many colleges and universities are stepping up their food service capabilities through the construction of facilities that not only raise the competitive bar for campus dining but also reimagine how spatial design can support learning paradigms of group study and socialization.

Good design celebrates and supports these objectives. There are many spatial models that can address the experiential and functional elements that drive a campus dining project. We have seen these trends evolve over time, from cafeteria-style models to spaces that promote the level of quality today’s students demand. Most dining halls can be grouped into one of the three following typologies:

Corralled

• Corralled. A corralled dining model describes what most remember as a cafeteria or a food court. Food is stored and prepared in bulk quantities in large back-of-house kitchens, servers present options to diners along a tray line, and seating is separate from the main servery. These facilities are designed to serve the singular essential functions of food service, three times per day, with the greatest efficiency.

A popular typology from the 1950s through the late 1990s, some larger facilities of this type present a vast sea of tables that lack a sense of character, scale and intimacy. We are often confronted with this when asked to evaluate possible futures for existing facilities. This typology, however, remains a great option for smaller dining areas where there is still a high level of intimacy and the efficiency benefits can have the greatest impact. In these cases, aesthetic improvements and modernizations are best to appeal to today’s students.

Fully Dispersed

• Fully Dispersed. In the mid 2000s, concern about the student experience came to the forefront of discussion among university decision-makers. Design thinking shifted away from corralled models to just the opposite: a fully dispersed model that exploded the back of house kitchen. In this dining typology, multiple food “platforms,” each containing their own kitchens and storage needs, are dispersed throughout a larger space, interspersed with seating areas.

The experience is one of themed “micro-restaurants” where the action of made-to-order cooking is presented to the customer. This layout results in a greater selection of customized food options and a seating experience that introduces a sense of variety and intimacy. It also establishes a clear connection between students and employees and provides a clear sense of how food is made.

Though this model has the benefit of enhancing the student experience, universities and food service operators realized that the lack of a shared, centralized prep kitchen compromised operational efficiency and increased operational costs.

Hybrid

• Hybrid. More recent food service models combine the operational benefits of a corralled model’s back-of-house kitchen with the experiential benefits of dispersed micro-restaurants. In some hybrid models, shared storage functions and preparation activities can take place in a back-of-house kitchen or even an offsite commissary. Items prepared in the back-of-house kitchen are delivered to semi-dispersed platforms or micro-restaurants as needed for final preparation and finishing. Some food platform concepts may be located immediately adjacent to the back-of-house kitchen, as in a corralled model. Integrating an advantage of the fully dispersed model and fulfilling modern demands, in more recently designed facilities, the kitchen activity is displayed to customers to promote a sense of connection between the students, employees, and the food being provided.

Whatever the typology, operations and aesthetics must be balanced to create the best possible facility.

Let’s first consider operations: sequences of entry and exit, including the location of the dish drop, are critical to flow and function. Everything from sustainable waste management practices, loading dock design, vertical conveyances, interior adjacencies, product flow, and mechanical systems integration must be carefully considered.

As a firm with both architects and campus planners, we have seen that enrollment projections and proximities to student housing and the academic core are key factors in dining demand. The nuances of a dining program can also affect demand models.

Operating hours also influence design decisions, especially as some institutions move toward extended dining hall hours and unlimited meal plans. A facility that provides food all day long will help mitigate demand at peak times, which in turn alleviates the pressure for more dining space overall. A dining hall that serves 5,000 people over the course of 24 hours can be smaller than a dining hall that serves the same number of people in 12 hours. We recommend performing a demand analysis and intensive program verification that takes these considerations into account to “right-size” a design.

Aesthetic values and ambiance are critical to a dining hall’s appeal as a place for people to share a meal, gather, and study. Notions of peak performance via dining drive the design of facilities in both higher education and private sector markets. Indeed, major corporations identify on-site food service experiences as a critical benefit of employment that promotes performance and well-being. Colleges and universities are following suit.

Many administrators now take a holistic view of student performance, satisfaction, and wellness. Good nutrition leads to better classroom performance and better overall satisfaction. Local sourcing can help keep foods free of chemical fertilizers and pesticides often found in industrially farmed produce and improve the town-gown relationship. To convey that the school values nutrition, sustainability, and belonging, foods and ingredients must be displayed attractively. Specialty cooking platforms and demonstration kitchens that promote a healthy and active lifestyle can also be considered learning experiences that contribute directly to student life.

Dining facilities no longer serve a singular function. They should be envisioned as multi-use dining and learning commons that extend the classroom and strengthen academics while meeting the nutrition expectations of a sophisticated student population. Ayers Saint Gross is committed to designing beautiful, functional spaces that enhance student life and classroom performance. We’re excited to see what we can create for clients, and what new and innovative typologies will emerge as more institutions embrace a holistic view of student experience and dining hall design.

Top Blog Posts of 2018

December 26, 2018
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We explored a lot on our blog this year, from floating wetlands to Winston Churchill to equity in design. Here’s a look at our most popular posts of 2018. We look forward to more exploration, discovery, and design in 2019 with the clients, partners, and communities we serve.

  1. National Aquarium Floating Wetland Prototype Wins ASLA Honor Award for Research. This innovative design earned our firm its first ASLA award. The floating wetland was created in collaboration with the National Aquarium and our teammates at Biohabitats, McLaren Engineering Group, and Kovacs, Whitney & Associates as a continuation of Studio Gang’s EcoSlip concept.
  2. A New Model for Floating Wetlands. For a deeper dive (pun intended) on the award-winning floating wetlands, check out this explainer on how the apparatus was designed and how it works.
  3. Renewal of Mid-Century Campus Legacies. As more institutions decide how to handle mid-century buildings, these case studies provide progressive strategies that make investments in current students and future generations.
  4. Legacy and Leadership: Designing the National Churchill Library and Center. Because Winston Churchill was a man of true historic importance, we designed his namesake library at The George Washington University to reflect his august legacy in a new and modern way.
  5. Hack the Block: Notes from the Equity by Design Hackathon. This Equity by Design event brought together designers to tackle how to improve justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the profession of architecture and in the communities we serve.
  6. 30 Years of Embracing Change: Reflecting on Jim Wheeler’s Career at Ayers Saint Gross. 2018 was the first time in three decades that Jim Wheeler was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the firm, although he remains our Chairman of the Board. His professional legacy lives on in our commitment to forward-thinking business and design strategies.
  7. Comparing Campuses: Student Housing. We examined campus living in our 20th annual Comparing Campuses poster. (We also have online archives of all the Comparing Campuses posters and our student life portfolio.)
  8. The Little Gray Bath House and the Great Residence Hall: Adaptive Reuse at VCU. The integration of a Neoclassical façade into a modern building illustrates how a perceived design obstacle can be turned into an opportunity.
  9. Green Week 2018: The Carrot Awards. Projects at The George Washington University and Washington College earned this year’s top sustainability honors.
  10. WELL 101: Creating Healthy Places. The WELL building standard poses a people-centric, rather than planet-centric, question: How can a building support better health, happiness, and well-being for its occupants?

Infographic: Student Life Snapshot

December 20, 2018
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2018 has been a busy year for our firm: 17 student life buildings designed by Ayers Saint Gross have opened on seven campuses in six different states.

To celebrate, we’ve created an infographic that illustrates everything contained in those 15 residence halls and two student commons buildings.

While these buildings geographically stretch from Maine to Florida, a thoughtful and strategic design philosophy unifies them: spaces that support individual students’ academic and personal growth lead to strong, engaged campus communities.

I extend my sincere thanks and congratulations to everyone—clients, designers, and partners—who made these buildings possible. We’re excited to see them in use, and look forward to designing more buildings that promote student success. If you’re interested in these projects and the rest of our firm’s student life portfolio, I hope you’ll reach out to learn more.

Ayers Saint Gross Wins Three AIA Baltimore Awards

December 12, 2018
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Ayers Saint Gross is pleased to announce that three of our recent projects have earned recognition from AIA Baltimore:

The Morgan Business Center, designed in collaboration with Kohn Pedersen Fox, is the home of the Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management. It is situated on a historically significant site that was the location of student protests during the Civil Rights Movement and is the first of three buildings in a new precinct. The jury noted:

This year’s Grand Design Award winner underscores how architecture reinforces the institution’s mission and aspirations, while offering high-quality design that is publicly engaging and of service to the broader community. The design does an admirable job of breaking down what would otherwise be a very large building, while maintaining cohesion with beautifully detailed fenestration and massing. The building and landscape integration is very sophisticated, creating flow between buildings and the outdoors. The composition of the building as a backdrop to the spiraling garden offers a successful publicly engaging space as well as a connection to civil rights history…it is a good example of how to make use of a triangle, opening space in the middle which allows for deeper penetration of light. The green roof, visible from the ground, further integrates the building and plaza landscape, while integrating sustainable design and a wonderful elevated garden place.

The ISB, designed in collaboration with Payto Architects, creates a visible heart of the sciences at the head of Kent State’s Science Mall. It uses standardized modules to create flexibility for open labs, classrooms, and study spaces that overlook the university’s new Student Green. The jury noted:

The project does a good job of being sympathetic to the original brutalist buildings, while bringing them forward into a modern dialogue. It offers wonderful spaces on the interior and a good use of materials as a concept. The design creates a flow through the space and a connection to outside. A consistent use of material creates a seamless transition between old and new. There is restraint with the material palette and a subtle yet transformative symbolic gesture to the university’s blue and yellow colors. The interior environment makes exceptional use of daylighting.

The Sagamore Spirit Distillery combines a sophisticated whiskey production facility with an interactive visitor experience on a five-acre waterfront campus. Its design and materiality reflect two distinct pieces of American history: whiskey making and the prestigious Sagamore Farm. The jury noted:

The project transformed a brownfield industrial site into a cultural destination and brings the Sagamore brand to life…The combination of poetry and purposeful space-planning generates a village environment conducive to learning, connecting, and playing, in addition to the functional necessities of whiskey processing.

The aesthetic and programmatic diversity of these projects reflects the interdisciplinary nature of our firm. Great clients inspire great work, and we are honored that AIA Baltimore recognized our efforts on behalf of two great universities and an innovative company.

Ayers Saint Gross Earns #38 Ranking on the 2018 Architect 50 List

November 7, 2018
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We are so thrilled that ARCHITECT Magazine ranked Ayers Saint Gross as number 38 on its annual list of the top 50 architecture firms in the country. This prestigious industry ranking is not just about being the largest firm; instead it rigorously evaluates the metrics of a firm’s overall business, sustainability, and design portfolios. The business evaluation includes finances, HR benefits, diversity, and pro bono work. Sustainability measures the firm’s internal and external commitments to ecologically responsible building. A trio of judges review a selection of key projects in the design category.

The complexity and thoroughness of the ARCHITECT Magazine process speak to how the industry can and should approach the creation of the built environment. As a multidisciplinary, employee-owned design firm with a focus on mission-driven clients, we believe we have an obligation to leave places better than we found them.

We can make places better financially by building vibrant, successful spaces and creating a lasting, sustainable business where expertise develops, careers grow, and new leaders arise. Responsible green building has a net-positive effect on our clients’ lives and on the planet. And of course aesthetics count too – designs that are beautiful, functional, and inspiring are at the heart of our work.

As 2018 draws to a close, this honor from ARCHITECT Magazine serves as an inspiration for what our designers and our firm can do next to push our business, our sustainability practices, and our designs to the next horizon. I am excited to see what happens next.

Renewal of Mid-Century Campus Legacies

October 11, 2018
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The post-WWII era brought a surge of construction to college campuses, fueled by the GI Bill, the Space Race, increased science research funding, and the demographic tsunami of the Baby Boomers. The building designs from that era demonstrate a range of characteristics: the textured surfaces of mid-century modern, the simplified structure of minimalism, or the stronger, more formalist voice of Brutalism. Often characterized by raw concrete construction of simple blockish forms, the buildings allowed institutions to project a forward-thinking sensibility and build significant structures economically.

The result was a sizeable and often challenging generation of campus development. Some buildings and landscapes from this era have stood the test of time in both beauty and functionality, but many have not.

Additionally, buildings and their infrastructure systems have a cycle of obsolescence, no matter the era of initial construction. They wear out over time, usually requiring reinvestment after about 30 years and certainly around 50. Even when the physical structure is sound, the activities that a building supports will change, as do safety regulations, programmatic best practices, and technological and design innovations.

Today, many universities are at a crossroads regarding what to do with these buildings. Is the wisest choice to reinvest in existing buildings and their infrastructure systems? Are there effective ways to renew or repurpose these structures? Or is the best choice to rebuild?

The first step in answering these questions is to start with an objective assessment of the building: architecture, engineering, cost, land value, campus planning, strategic initiatives, and historic preservation. Information about the building’s existing conditions can be developed in layers, increasing in detail as likely scenarios come into focus. Some key factors to consider are the integrity of the facility’s structural systems, and if its floor-to-floor heights allow for modern mechanical and electric infrastructure. (For a deeper dive on this part of the process, I recommend this recent article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, “How to Make Old Campus Spaces Feel New Again.”)

Once the assessment is complete, options develop: what is possible, what will result in a great building, what implementation strategy works, and how it will be financed.

While no two situations are alike, we do see consistent themes (and solutions) on how to approach challenging decisions about the use of these existing buildings in our practice. As more institutions face decisions about how to handle mid-century buildings, the following case studies provide progressive and forward-leaning strategies that make investments in current students and in future generations.
 


1. Reinventing an icon.

The Hayden Library at Arizona State University was built in 1966. While the geometric lines of its façade give the exterior an enduring aesthetic appeal, its interiors no longer support the needs of a modern library. To transform it from a place primarily for books into a place for people, the interiors needed rethinking and the way the building met the ground externally needed to change.

Previously, a depressed concrete moat surrounded the building tower, separating it from campus and putting a key entrance below grade. Partially filling the moat makes the library more accessible to pedestrians and more connected to its surroundings via a cohesive plaza and accessible entries. The substitution of glazing for granite paneling at grade creates transparency, adding daylight and visibility.

To support a modern, student-focused interior environment, 75% of the books were relocated to other Arizona State facilities. (They are still available to users via special order.) In addition to the reduced number of volumes, the relocation of mechanical systems from inside the library itself to a new annex freed up nearly 6,000 net square feet of space for new programming.

When the renovations are complete in 2020, the library will house a business incubator space, a green-screen studio, innovation labs, and large and small study spaces. The library will be an inclusive interactive hub where people from different disciplines can come together for team-based learning and innovation. From a distance, the changes at Hayden may be less apparent than some other renovations, but the building has been reinvented in a way that better serves the campus.


 

2. Incremental steps in pursuit of a bold vision.

Kent State University has a trio of 1960s Brutalist buildings – Cunningham Hall, Smith Hall, and Williams Hall – on its Science Mall which respectively housed the Biology, Physics, and Chemistry departments. All three structures underwent interventions of varying degrees to address deferred maintenance, improve accessibility, and reflect the school’s commitment to supporting new pedagogies and curricula.

Our carefully phased occupied renovations unite the three buildings as a cohesive precinct that fosters interdisciplinary interaction, in sharp contrast to the previous siloed departments. The renovations added internal and external porosity to the existing Brutalist structures, increasing natural light and users’ ability to see into classrooms and gathering spaces. Interior material choices, including railings, floor materials, signature pops of color, and hickory paneling, create a cohesive and warm environment throughout the three buildings. The consistent use of these materials throughout the renovations creates a seamless transition between old and new within each building and defines the precinct as a science hub.

In addition to reducing the disruption to class and research schedules, the phased occupied construction had a financial benefit. It allowed Kent State to spread the cost of a transformative project over multiple capital investment cycles. The phased occupied construction also caused minimal disruption of classes and prevented any delay in student progression through any required sequential programs.

The integration of old and new at the Integrated Science Building creates a unified platform for chemistry and life sciences research.

The final phase of this renovation was the construction of a new Integrated Science Building. This three-story facility connects to the existing Williams Hall structure, creating an integrated platform for chemistry and life sciences research that also draws non-science majors into an area where they will be exposed to STEM disciplines. The combination of several small, high-impact interventions, and a large addition for new programs transforms the future of the sciences at Kent State, with minimal impact to the student experience.


3. Transforming a gateway façade.

At Washington University in St. Louis, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences had vacated Bryan Hall, creating a practical opportunity to redesign the building’s interior for interdisciplinary chemistry research. It also presented a chance to boldly transform the façade of the building, turning what was a “back door” to campus into an important gateway. It was also a chance to integrate a contemporary structure into the campus’ Collegiate Gothic vernacular.

Inside the building, the central corridor was relocated to the north side of each floor to allow a large flexible layout within the labs and sweeping views from the common spaces. A communal stair connects lab levels, as does a two-level programmed bridge spanning a major campus entry.

Terra cotta fins on a glassy new façade transform Bryan Hall into a feature gateway.

On the exterior, a glass wall replaced the north façade’s existing heaviness to allow daylight into adjacent write-up spaces and common areas and to capitalize on views of the wooded neighborhood beyond. A terracotta fin screen layered over the glass creates a new façade expression. Sustainable features include passive sun-shading and zoned mechanical systems. Although the building is equipment-rich and energy-demanding, Bryan Hall is on track for LEED Gold certification.


4. Scrap the precast, save the frame.

The Zachry Engineering Center, built in 1972, was a design of its time: a concrete box with relatively few windows, sited on a then-remote edge of the Texas A&M University campus. The College of Engineering had a new vision for program delivery and wanted a dramatically changed building to support that vision. In response, the 330,000 gross square feet Zachry Center was gutted down to its (very solid) structural frame, while its mechanical, electric, and plumbing systems were all removed and replaced.

It also received a 200,000 gross square feet addition, which was possible due to the way the building was first built. The original four-story structure was designed to support two additional floors. Contemporary building codes frequently prevent the realization of such intended additions, but in this case the addition of one floor was both possible and desirable. Through extensive site design and building massing, our design team created a more complex and site-responsive building form. Besides the need to add more space, the facility lacked height relative to its neighbors. Post intervention, what is now called the Zachry Education Engineering Complex (EEC) is five stories high and more appropriately scaled to its surroundings.

To further connect the EEC to its neighbors, the design adds three new entries aligned with adjacent buildings, creating an “engineering walk” that ties back to campus and sets up sites for potential new construction. The addition extends out to address a nearby street line, establishing a more consistent campus edge. The exterior now consists of local stone, glass, and metal panels that fit much better into the context of campus than the now-gone precast.

The idea of transparency is apparent in the building’s interior organization as well. The activity of learning and discovery is visible and engaged. The spaces in this new complex include active/collaborative classrooms that allow instructors and teaching teams to reconfigure the space to best fit teaching needs and course design, and common labs with interdisciplinary themes.

The addition of a floor to Zachry Engineering Education Center made the project more appropriately scaled to its surroundings.

Now at more than 500,000 gross square feet, the EEC is the third-largest building on the Texas A&M campus (trailing only the football stadium and the library). Its transformation is a testimony to how structurally solid many Brutalist buildings still are, and how renovations can be a better solution – programmatically, financially, ecologically, and aesthetically – than demolition.


While the heyday of mid-century campus architecture has come and gone, thoughtful and creative interventions can bring these structures into a new age. As higher education seeks ways to philosophically and physically reinvent itself in the 21st century, the renovation and renewal of such buildings serve as both powerful symbols and practical investments.


These designs were completed in partnership with Payto Architects (Kent State University), Trivers (Washington University in St. Louis), and TreanorHL (Texas A&M University).

The Little Gray Bath House and the Great Residence Hall: Adaptive Reuse at VCU

October 1, 2018
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Gladding Residence Center (GRC) at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is one of many Ayers Saint Gross student life projects slated to open in fall 2018. The 12-story, 1518-bed building incorporates a small Neoclassical façade into its base. This unusual feature contains a great story of how a perceived design obstacle can be turned into an opportunity.

Some background: the façade is the last remnant of the historic Branch Public Baths. At the turn of the 20th century, many homes in Richmond lacked indoor plumbing. Residents used a backyard privy as a toilet, and bathed in wash basins or in nearby waterways.

In an effort to improve public health, local philanthropist John Patterson Branch built several public bathhouses as a gift to the city. The one on the VCU site was Branch Public Bath No. 2, erected in 1913 on a small midblock parcel facing Monroe Park.

Photo credit: Cook Collection, The Valentine

By the 1920s, 80,000 people per year were using the Branch Public Baths. A bath cost 5¢ and included a clean towel, a bar of soap, and a 20-minute time limit. Over time, indoor plumbing gradually became more commonplace, and by 1950 the city had closed the bathhouses. In 1979, VCU redeveloped the entire block as Gladding Residence Center, but preserving a portion of its façade as the entry to the complex. The bathhouse had found a new purpose, but was now uncomfortably shoehorned between two wings of the new complex.

Four decades later, GRC was outgrown and outmoded, and VCU needed to replace it. The university engaged Ayers Saint Gross as Design Architect and Clark Nexsen as Architect of Record, along with American Campus Communities, to create a new student housing complex that meets the evolving needs of a 21st-century student population.

But what to do about the bathhouse? It was awkwardly located at not-quite-midblock. Its Renaissance aesthetic contradicted VCU’s image as a forward-looking, innovative institution. But the residents of the adjacent neighborhood saw the bathhouse as a beloved artifact of the district’s history. Any effort to demolish it would be met with stiff community opposition, and relocation costs were prohibitive. The bathhouse had to stay.

Our team grappled with how to incorporate it into the new GRC. Architectural massing is a push-pull of external and internal forces, and student housing is no exception. The need for exterior space-making and articulation must be balanced with the internal scales of the unit module and the RA community. Adding a randomly-sited, 100-year-old architectural folly into the equation only complicated matters still.

In the end, the solution was subtractive. Our design team made space for the bathhouse by carving out a zone of units on one side of the corridor, in the process producing multiple positive outcomes, namely:

  • It created void space in the massing that gave the bathhouse some necessary architectural breathing room.
  • It allowed us to employ a single-loaded corridor for a portion of the upper floors. Double-loaded corridors are the norm with student housing, as they’re more efficient and promote community-building. But with 140 inhabitants per floor, windowless corridors would have been oppressive at this scale. Now, residents walking from the elevators to their rooms are treated to expansive views out to Monroe Park and the city beyond.
  • The exterior wall at the single-loaded corridor was now liberated from the module of the student room. Suddenly the team was free to incorporate floor-to ceiling glass in a lively composition of curtain wall and gray metal panel that forms a backdrop to the bathhouse’s limestone pilasters and entablature, and a counterpoint to the red brick cladding the student rooms.

The bathhouse, which threatened to be a thorn in the side of the project, became an asset. Its limestone exteriors have been cleaned, and its leaky casement windows were replaced with contextually-designed insulated units. Our graphic design studio even faithfully recreated the long-vanished “BRANCH PUBLIC BATHS” engraved signage that adorned the stone entablature.

The bathhouse structure now houses community space for GRC residents on its first floor, and a media lounge on the second story. The full integration of old and new at GRC serves as a reminder that cities, like campuses, are a collage of eras.

Hack the Block: Notes from the Equity by Design Hackathon 4

July 24, 2018
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I recently had the opportunity to attend the Association of Community Design Conference, an event hosted by the Neighborhood Design Center, a Baltimore nonprofit that facilitates the development of healthy, equitable neighborhoods. The conference was two days filled with discussions about the roots and relevance of community design. Over and over again, conversations referred back to Whitney M. Young Jr.’s famous keynote address at the 1968 AIA Convention, in which he called out the architecture profession’s “thunderous silence” in the face of civil rights movements.

I revisited the full speech and was struck by how relevant it still is. In 2018, even though architects have the skills to be strong stewards of equitable communities, we sometimes fall short of our own tremendous potential to have a positive impact on the built environment and on people’s lives.

While the task at hand can seem tremendous, I am interested in how we can change that. This is why I attended the Equity by Design Hackathon 4: ArchitectuREvolution, a terrific event that took place at the Syracuse University Fisher Center in New York City on June 20.  This occasion brought together designers to tackle the ideas of improving justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the architectural practice as well as the communities we serve.

Here are my major takeaways from the event:

  1. We have a lot in common. There were around 40 people at the event, of various ages and backgrounds, but when we broke into small groups for an icebreaker two common threads emerged: bilingualism and urbanism. Almost all of us spoke at least two languages and we either grew up in or currently lived in large cities. Finding emphasized our shared experiences over our differences.That said, another experience we all seemed to share was the sense that architecture is a tough profession for women and people of color. We need to push harder to make ourselves heard in order to avoid being sidelined in our careers. It was both good and bad to hear that other people were struggling with similar issues.
  1. Working fast is fun and useful. I really enjoyed the hackathon experience. It was invigorating to brainstorm and present a transformative idea in a single day. Having to think up and communicate concepts quickly is essential for designers and architects in all stages of their careers.
  1. Data is an essential component of 21st century design. Thanks to our shared experiences of living in urban areas, the members of my hackathon team were familiar with one of the downsides of city life: abandoned and neglected properties. How could architects address this problem systemically as a profession? My experience working with the East Baltimore Revitalization Project made it clear how essential it is for architects and planners to engage with a community. We need to make the design process transparent, teach non-designers important terminology to make discussions understandable, and really listen to what residents want and need. The social benefits extend well beyond any individual project. A community that understands the process of how its physical environment changes, from concept to design to construction, is well-equipped for future challenges or opportunities that arise in its neighborhood.

So, for the hackathon, our team decided we wanted to create a resource that would allow architects to work with people to repurpose or redesign spaces to align with local needs. Our proposed program, dubbed Hack the Block, was a nonprofit that would map both vacancies and needs in underutilized areas with community members.

The data collected would eventually inform community-led construction efforts and be shared with government organizations to build upon what we’d started.

To be truly successful, Hack the Block’s community engagement would be key. Telling people what they want or need is usually far less effective than asking them.

In the end, Hack the Block didn’t win – that honor went to Team Value Menu, which envisioned a Zillow/Yelp-type reviewing system for architecture firms that would allow job applicants to evaluate firms on a variety of metrics like community engagement, office culture, and mentorship opportunities. Often, young architects have only one hard number – salary – to go on when making crucial early career decisions, and a more complex and informative way of comparing employers would be useful.

I did, however, notice that Hack the Block and Team Value Menu shared a common thread. Both teams saw that people want to make well-informed, empowering decisions about their own lives. Top-down thinking from existing power structures doesn’t produce good design or good work environments. I love that Equity by Design is working hard to create a profession that reflects and serves a diverse world.

My hope is that the future of architecture looks more like another passage from Young’s speech: “It took a great deal of skill and creativity and imagination to build the kind of situation we have, and it is going to take skill and imagination and creativity to change it. We are going to have to have people as committed to doing the right thing, to inclusiveness, as we have in the past to exclusiveness.”

WELL 101: Creating Healthy Places

July 23, 2018
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For many people in the AEC industry, sustainability is synonymous with LEED, the world’s most widely used green building rating system.

At Ayers Saint Gross, however, we define sustainability as balancing the unique needs of people and ecological systems with the economic realities inherent in each project. That definition recognizes that there are multiple ways to measure success in sustainability. It also supports the triple bottom line of people, planet, and payback, and acknowledges that LEED may not always be the most appropriate yardstick with which to measure sustainability on every project.

One of the latest green building rating systems to take the AEC industry by storm is the WELL Building Standard. WELL poses a people-centric, rather than planet-centric, question: How can a building support better health, happiness, and well-being for its occupants?

I was inspired to become the first WELL AP at Ayers Saint Gross, earning my certification in June 2018, because we often design buildings for the education of health care professionals, such as our recently completed Howard Community College Science, Engineering, and Technology Building and the University of Pikeville Health Professions Education Building. It’s important to me that these projects more directly support occupants’ well-being and put the environmental factors that influence health outcomes on display. The WELL system was developed over a six-year period and formally launched in October 2014. Now administered by GBCI, WELL provides a pathway for measuring, certifying, and monitoring how buildings support human health and well-being.

Every WELL Precondition or Optimization is substantiated by medical, scientific, or industry research to ensure a data-driven system. WELL also requires ongoing monitoring, annual reporting for some features, and re-certification every three years.

This level of rigor ensures that a building doesn’t just operate as intended on day one, but that it continues to do so on day 1,001 and beyond. It’s an exciting prospect to move beyond how buildings are predicted or intended to function, and to talk about how they do function on an ongoing basis.

The WELL Building Standard v1 sorts its 105 Preconditions and Optimizations into seven concepts: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. Below are more details on these concepts, and some suggestions for how designers and clients can thoughtfully approach the WELL certification process.

  • Air. This concept aims to optimize indoor air quality through the minimization of introduced contaminants, as well as filtration and testing to ensure air quality is conserved throughout occupancy. High indoor air quality has been linked to improved cognitive function, so it makes sense that this concept is the most heavily weighted subject within WELL.
  • Water. The water concept aims to ensure easy access to potable water and to maintain stringent standards regarding inorganic, organic, and agricultural contaminants in water for human consumption. To meet Preconditions and Optimizations, WELL projects incorporate a variety of filtration systems to ensure the purity of water for human consumption.
  • Nourishment. This is my favorite WELL concept because even without owning a commercial or institutional building, there are requirements in here that can change how I go grocery shopping and help me improve my health. Among other standards for projects that provide food service each day (including vending machines), processed foods are held to sugar restrictions and dinnerware must be within prescribed size limits to support portion control.
  • Light. The light concept addresses access to daylight and views, as well as the impact electric lighting can have on circadian rhythms. While energy conservation is not a stated part of the WELL Building Standard, many of the features within this concept help minimize energy use. Designers can develop appropriate building masses that allow for greater levels of daylight penetration to support success in this concept.
  • This concept encourages active transportation both for commuting and within a building. Project owners have multiple policy requirements within this section including activity incentive programs (like those offered at Ayers Saint Gross).
  • Comfort. The comfort concept addresses ergonomics, acoustical comfort, olfactory comfort, and thermal comfort. WELL recognizes that different kinds of work require different kinds of spaces, and create different acoustical and thermal conditions. Building a variety of comfort conditions into a building ensures that everyone can maximize their learning and productivity.
  • Mind. The mind concept addresses biophilic design, adaptability, sleep, business travel, and other subjects that impact mental health. Opportunities for innovation are also recognized within the mind concept.

While LEED is an important tool for talking about sustainability in the built environment, I am excited to engage with newer rating systems that allow us to have more human-centered discussions about sustainable design.

Just as LEED and other codes, standards, and rating systems are updated on a regular basis, WELL has been updated this summer. WELL v2 is a pilot program and it’s unclear how long the pilot period will last. As of this posting, projects can choose to register under either WELL v1 or WELL v2 and IWBI assures project teams that when WELL v2 becomes the dominant WELL Building Standard advance notice will be provided.

Check WELL’s FAQ for more on the transition between WELL v1 and WELL v2. You can also reach out to me to learn more about how WELL might be applicable to a project you’re considering at awilson@asg-architects.com.

Ayers Saint Gross at ACUHO-I 2018

June 27, 2018
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If you’re attending ACUHO-I 2018 in Denver, I hope you’ll visit Ayers Saint Gross at booth 120, and join us for our educational session on the importance of outside-the-unit spaces in student housing.

Customized Spaces Support Engaged Students
In the age of digital communication and social media, student housing communities need spaces outside the unit more than ever to facilitate interaction and connection. Carving out the right amount of space is the first step in connecting students to their institutions; having the right mix of spaces is equally important. Finally, customizing these spaces to the residents’ culture, spirit, and academic pursuits is critical to the community’s vibrancy.

Vibrant communities lead to engaged students, and engaged students achieve more success. Our educational session will review case studies at Ringling College of Art and Design and other institutions to illustrate how allocating and customizing outside-the-unit spaces in student housing fosters strong communities to drive student success.

Participants will gain an overview of outside-the-unit space benchmarks from the Ayers Saint Gross student housing database, including:

  • The application of these concepts at Ringling College of Art and Design, including increasing the vibrancy of a developing campus edge, using outdoor spaces to connect students to the broader campus, and incorporating student art into the design.
  • Cases studies from other campuses including Goucher College, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Colby College.
  • How accounting for de-densification of older residence halls in a housing master plan maximizes the student experience across housing inventory, not just in new construction.

Presenters
Tammy Walsh, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students at Ringling College of Art and Design
Dennis Lynch, Principal, Ayers Saint Gross
Cooper Melton, Senior Associate, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
ACUHO-I 2018
Sunday July 8, 2018
1:30 PM – 2:20 PM
Room MT704
Session 2

In Conversation: Ann Powell and Dan Henderer

May 21, 2018
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Ayers Saint Gross currently counts two AIA chapter presidents in its ranks. Ann Powell serves as the president of AIA Baltimore, leading one of the nation’s largest and oldest AIA chapters in our firm’s hometown. Dan Henderer recently became president of AIA Middle East, a relatively young AIA chapter, as he enters his eighth year of living in Saudi Arabia as the leader of one of the firm’s most ambitious international projects. In this conversation, they discuss current projects, do some trend forecasting, and explain how to get more involved in AIA.

Q: How did you first get involved with your local AIA chapter?

DH: There was a conference in Riyadh in 2012 called Riyadh Design Days organized by the AIA which I attended. Previously I wasn’t aware there was a Middle East chapter, as I was still a member of the AIA DC chapter. I learned more and attended the first AIA ME Year End Conference in Dubai in 2013 which was great. I was encouraged to participate and became the AIA ME Country Representative for Saudi Arabia, and then served as the chapter secretary for two separate terms before becoming the chapter president in January.

AP: I moved from New York to Baltimore in 2004, and wanted to expand my professional network. I joined the Historic Resources Committee and became co-chair of the committee in 2010. I moved onto the Board of Directors in 2013.

Q: What are your goals as chapter president?

AP: Our goal is to help us find a new location where we can establish a Center for Architecture and Design. We have 1,000 members which makes us one of the 20 largest chapters in the country. That puts us in this AIA group called “Big Sibs.” Many of the Big Sibs have been able to elevate their position in their communities with Centers for Architecture and we want to bring this to our community. Most people are familiar with the Washington Design Center and the Center for Architecture in New York City. Right now, AIA Baltimore is in a townhouse in Mt. Vernon, and it’s very introverted. By moving to something that’s more like a storefront, we will have an external presence and hopefully be able to bring partners into a united co-working space for allied organizations like the Urban Land Institute and Baltimore Heritage. I want to be there when we sign that lease. That’s my goal.

DH: To maintain services and engaging activities for the members in our region, and continue the momentum of the chapter in creating awareness of the AIA. The AIA Middle East Year End Conference is our main event, bringing together members of the chapter, and we will focus a lot of energy on holding a successful event. We’ll announce the location soon, either in Lebanon or Bahrain. We are also working toward finalizing a partnership with Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, which will give us a physical address there and enable us to hire staff for the first time. 

Q: What’s unique about your region and chapter

DH: The Middle East chapter is unique first because of its area. We represent all of the Middle East and North Africa, which is a large area to maintain an active presence in all places. We have small membership in some countries, while others, like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have many members.

Secondly, it’s unique in that it can be a transient place for architects who, like myself, move to the region for a specific project or for a limited time.

Parts of the region have been booming for some time, with Saudi Arabia perhaps leading the way from the 1970s and 1980s, and the Gulf States since the 1990s.  When you visit a place like Dubai, it is truly astonishing to realize the amount of development in the past 20 years. There was a significant impact from the last global financial crisis, followed by a successful rebound, which has slowed again in some areas with lower oil and gas prices. It is an interesting place to be an architect because of the scale and ambition of many of the projects. Many projects are built to be landmarks and the clients are keen for signature architecture. Thankfully some of the large projects have been government-led educational and cultural institutions, not solely commercial. 

AP: Baltimore is still a unique city. When you look at the way retail has evolved, you walk into a Gap anywhere in the country and it’s the same merchandise. There’s so much homogenization that’s happened in our culture. But what I like about Baltimore is it’s a little bit understated on the East Coast, overlooked between DC and Philadelphia, and within that is a real opportunity to maintain a sense of place. We embrace that individualistic culture that we have, and you can see that in the projects in the area. We’re a major metropolitan area, and we have great big projects, but we also have lots of quirky little stuff going on and that’s what makes it exciting.

Q: What projects are you working on right now?

AP: I am working on an admissions and financial aid center for Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, which is in construction. Everything else I’m working on is for the Smithsonian. The addition at Udvar Hazy Center is in construction, Pod 6 at Museum Support Center is in design, and we’re doing some planning work at National Museum of American History.

DH: I have been working on the redevelopment of a historic site for over 10 years. The site is called Atturaif, which was the ruling center of the first Saudi era beginning in the 18th century. When we started it was a 58-acre site of ruined mud brick palaces and defensive walls which had been excavated and surveyed, but was largely untouched since the siege of the city in 1818. Atturaif achieved UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2010, and conservation and construction began in late 2010. The plan has been to conserve the archeological finds and remaining architectural heritage, as well as to redevelop the site to promote visitation and education. New, modern museums have been inserted into vacant areas, or integrated with buildings on the site. Ayers Saint Gross has led many of the designs for the visitors’ infrastructure, landscape, lighting, signage, modern museums buildings, and exhibition design.

Q: What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in architecture as a profession in the last 10 years?

DH: The use of BIM and the predominance of sustainability are obvious movements which have become fairly standard in the profession in the past 10 years. There are more material choices and systems than ever.

There are also so many platforms and ways which architects can publish and share their work now. I think it has elevated the level of design everywhere. 

AP: Technology makes start-up costs more expensive, so it’s harder for small firms to get started and to stay afloat. It’s a barrier on many levels, because you need technical expertise in the software in order to do drawings. I think it’s important to keep it real and balanced among the technological piece, communicating with clients, and what we need to do to build a project. Those are the three skills that need to be balanced. Technology gains so much emphasis that you worry that it obliterates those two other components. Using software is an introverted act, but we still need to make sure we can communicate to clients. It’s a tool. It doesn’t replace these other things.

On the upside, there are great things that are coming out of tech improvements that are really awesome. Using the cloud to host software to have multiple offices working on BIM models that are linked together, that is hugely helpful. We do mark-up sessions on Bluebeam Studio, which is cloud-based so all the consultants are using one unified set of drawings. So the advancement in technology is huge, but you can’t lose focus on what it is to be an architect.

Q: What does it mean to you to be an architect?

DH: I think it means many things to many people, and it takes many kinds of architects to make places and buildings. To me, fundamentally, the role of the architect is to design the physical environment to achieve the functionality the users need, while bringing creativity to the process of planning and design. 

AP: We’re problem solvers through a lot of different avenues, and design is just one aspect of it. Contract negotiation is problem solving. Going through construction is all problem solving. It’s balancing your technical understanding and your design knowledge with your communication skills, and using them all together.

Q: What will the biggest change to the architecture profession be in the next 10 years?

DH: The trends I see are the increase in use of the digital modeling assets which architects create to enable a more direct relationship with the fabrication and construction of buildings.

Also, the areas of biophilic design and biomimicry are very interesting to me from material use to larger systems as they become more used and proven.  Sustainability and occupant well-being will continue to increase in profile and value. 

AP: I heard this statistic that really blew my mind. I’m Generation X, and we’ve always been behind the Baby Boomers, who were so much larger than us. And the Millennials are so much bigger than the Gen Xers, coupled with the fact that a whole bunch of people left the profession during the recessions of late 1980s and the late aughts. But effectively within the workplace, because the Boomers are retiring and the Millennials are entering, the Millennials will be larger in number than the Boomers and the Gen Xers really soon. So that’s a huge shift. Culturally, the generations are different and we’re always working to reconcile that in both directions. But the sheer volume of the Millennials is really going to change the culture of the workplace. I don’t know what that’s going to look like. I just know that it’s coming.

Q: What drew you to architecture?

AP: I majored in Economics and English in college, and that was a lot of talking about stuff. Interesting stuff, but I really liked this idea that you started with nothing and end up with a completed project. It’s why I like to cook. I go to the grocery store, I fill up my cart with things that don’t even look like they go together, and we have a delicious meal. And architecture is the same way. And that’s what’s most gratifying to me about it.

As I worked in the profession and figured out what kind of architecture I really liked, because I’ve done a little bit of everything, what I gravitated to at Ayers Saint Gross was two things. One, we’re going to be doing projects that are going to be around for a long time. The decisions being made aren’t for the next five years. We’re building buildings that we expect to be around in 50 years and that is in line with my value system. Secondly, I like that we’re working with professional clients. I like the professionalism of the relationships, and the fact that they are long-term. I like the buildings. I like the long view.

DH: There have been a number of architects in my family so it sort of seemed like a normal profession, but in the end I liked creating things. Architecture combines problem solving with technical and creative aspects in a satisfying way. 

Q: What do you enjoy most about design?

DH: The most enjoyable aspect to me is seeing designs come to fruition as buildings and places. Something that you helped to create at your desk or in your office becomes a massive living, breathing thing that will impact people for many years. 

AP: Agreed. I like sitting back when it’s all over and looking at it. A good design solution, seeing it all come together, is the best.

Q: What’s your favorite building in your current city?

AP: In a previous job, I worked on the American Brewery renovation for the nonprofit Humanim. One, it’s a great building, a crazy Victorian mishmash folly building. It was all designed to wrap the brewing process. The form is really driven out of the original brewing process. But you wouldn’t guess that by looking at it. And it’s in a super-blighted neighborhood, and Humanim moved there to be closer to the people that they served. The idea was that this project, which had been such a blight on the neighborhood, could help it come back and be a catalyst to redevelopment. That’s a perfect story, right? Taking something great and bringing it back and making it relevant in such a powerful way. The best part of a project is taking something that was ignored and making it relevant again. It is no longer an underutilized building – it’s home to a nonprofit in the community that it’s trying to help.

DH: In Riyadh, my favorite building is Tuwaiq Palace. It was executed in the 1980s as a clubhouse for the diplomatic quarter. It is made of sloped Riyadh limestone walls which curve to create courtyards and has lightweight cable suspended tents for function areas. The building is very sculptural and fits into the landscape beautifully. 

Q: What would be your suggestion to somebody who’s thinking about getting involved in their local AIA chapter and doesn’t know where to start?

DH: I would suggest attending events to start, and getting in contact with some of the local leaders. There are always ways to participate or contribute and you will get more out of the AIA if you participate.

AP: That was me in 2004, the person who wanted to get involved. I had no idea but instead of feeling like I had to go find out all the answers I said, “Well, I’m going to look through this list of committees and join one and see what it’s about.” And that’s what I did.

Within that, even if you get to a committee and it’s not working exactly how you want it to be, that’s fine too. The whole idea is that we are a composite of our membership and the important part is to find a way to get engaged. And if you aren’t satisfied with what that picture looks like, change it.

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.