Green Week 2019: The Carrot Awards

April 17, 2019
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Ayers Saint Gross hosts an internal Green Week every year to advance sustainability literacy within our staff so we can provide better high-performance designs to our clients, reflect on our sustainability achievements to date, and plan for the year ahead.

Over the course of next week, we’re sharing information we’ve learned through project (or projects’) certifications, professional certifications, and conference attendance, as well as bringing in invited guests. We’re pleased to host Dr. Christine Sheppard of the American Bird Conservancy who will be speaking to our entire firm about Bird-Friendly Building Design. Anne Greenstone from Steelcase will be teaching our Baltimore office about the Fitwel certification and office wellness, and a representative from CMTA will teach our DC office more about design considerations for net-zero buildings.

Since 2011, we have annually reported the predicted energy use intensity of our whole building projects and the lighting power density of our interiors projects using the AIA 2030 Commitment. This data allows us to recognize and reward the most energy efficient of these projects from the previous calendar year with our annual Carrot Awards to inspire other projects to strive for greater energy efficiency.

We believe sustainable design and great design are the same. Our highest performing projects under design in 2018 illustrate strategies every project in our firm aspires to achieve.

We’re pleased to announce this year’s Carrot Award winners are the Hayden Library Reinvention at Arizona State University and the Brown Advisory Bond Street Office Third Floor Tenant Improvements. Congratulations to the design teams of these projects!

Hayden Library, originally built in 1966, is representative of a design and construction era that was limited by available technology and prioritized considerations for a library differently than today’s campus conditions require. The HVAC, lighting, plumbing, and architectural upgrades included as part of the library’s reinvention result in a significantly more resource-efficient building than the existing construction. The project is predicted to have an energy demand of 55% less than baseline and will offset a portion of its electricity load with a rooftop photovoltaic array. This work would not be possible without the collaboration of an engaged client and our team at Affiliated Engineers.

The Brown Advisory Headquarters Tenant Improvements provides commercial office space in Baltimore for a privately owned investment management company. The space we designed for them reduces lighting power density by 56%, more than twice the current AIA 2030 reduction target for interior spaces, through daylighting and LED lighting.

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.

Ayers Saint Gross at SCUP Mid-Atlantic 2019

March 19, 2019
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The SCUP Mid-Atlantic Conference is March 20 – 22 at the University of Maryland, College Park. As a council member, I’m excited to be attending and hope you will join us. With the conference being so close to our DC and Baltimore offices, Ayers Saint Gross will have great representation, and I am looking forward to seeing many old friends and making new ones! Keep your eye out for Sally Chinnis, Alyson Goff, Adam Gross, Jordan Hawes, and Eric Zahn.

Thursday, March 21 is a big day for the firm, as we have two exciting concurrent sessions and a tour of the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center.

Student Engagement Leads to Thriving Residence Hall
This session will examine the successful process behind planning Trippe Hall, a residence hall at Penn State Behrend. The design process incorporated student input at various stages, from schematic design to furniture selection. Attracting prospective students means providing spaces where they want to cultivate their education and community. You will discover new ways to foster student engagement throughout your building design process, resulting in spaces that are ideal for today’s students.

Learning Outcomes
1. Involve students early in developing the program for your next campus building.
2. Create forums, panels, and surveys to collect end-user data that will inform the programming and design of your new building.
3. Create a student learning experience out of your new building project by giving them ownership over design ideas and allowing them to work through real-life plans and BIM models themselves.
4. Collect occupancy feedback from students after the building has opened; distribute surveys to students and then share your findings.

Presenters
Karen Kreger, Senior Director, Housing and Food Services, Commonwealth Campuses Pennsylvania State University
Michael Lindner, Director of Housing and Food Services,
Penn State Behrend
Jordan Hawes, Interior Designer, Ayers Saint Gross
Eric Zahn, Architect, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
Thursday, March 21, 2019
8:30 AM – 9:30 AM
The Hotel at the University of Maryland, College Park, Calvert D

 

Measuring Classroom Performance: Design Process and Lessons Learned at University of Maryland
This session will explore how TERP (Teach, Engage, Respond, Participate) classrooms perform at the University of Maryland (UMD) Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center. You will learn how evidence-based design research supports budget, design, and utilization of active learning classrooms (ALC) by reviewing the ROI of TERP classroom performance, utilization, and learning outcomes assessment through student surveys. You will also establish criteria to measure ALC effectiveness and justify why increasing square footage and utilization accommodates collaborative learning in diverse disciplinary uses over the classroom’s lifecycle.

Learning Outcomes
1. Describe design attributes and performance criteria to be considered when designing formal and informal collaborative learning environments.
2. Summarize how to measure the impact that collaborative learning environments have on student learning outcomes.
3. Argue why collaborative learning environments are worth the additional funding and space.
4. Implement methods to collect student and faculty feedback in order to evaluate collaborative learning environment effectiveness.

Presenters
Elizabeth Beise, Professor, University of Maryland College Park
Alice Donlan, Director of Research, University of Maryland College Park
Adam Gross, Principal, Ayers Saint Gross
Kristen Ambrose, Principal, Director of Research and Development, Ratio (Former Associate Principal, Ayers Saint Gross)

Details
Thursday, March 21, 2019
9:45 AM – 10:45 AM
The Hotel at the University of Maryland, College Park, Calvert C

 

Tour: Active Learning at the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center
The presentation and tour of the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center at the University of Maryland, College Park will be conducted with a brief presentation of planning, programming, and design concepts for the 187,400 gross square feet LEED Gold academic building. The tour will highlight innovations in active learning classroom design for large enrollment undergraduate courses.

Learning Outcomes
1. Review space guidelines for a teaching and learning center and understand the limitations of regulated state guidelines and standards that influence the design of active learning classrooms.
2. Prioritize space attributes and performance criteria to be considered when designing an active learning environment and describe the process of collecting precedent research and analyzing relevant examples.
3. Identify design criteria for learning environment design that considers universal design principles for diverse pedagogical approaches and access resources to produce a furniture mock-up of a proposed design condition that meets universal accessibility and ADA requirements.
4. Implement methods to collect student and faculty feedback and develop survey questions to create a post-occupancy evaluation survey for occupants to evaluate the effectiveness of learning spaces.

Details
Thursday, March 21, 2019
9:45 AM – 10:45 AM

 

Ayers Saint Gross at SEAHO 2019

February 25, 2019
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If you’re attending SEAHO 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida this week I hope you’ll visit Ayers Saint Gross at booth 319 and join us for our educational session on the importance of designing for both private and communal spaces in student housing.

From Facility to Facilitator: Community, Privacy, and Inclusivity in Shared Spaces
For many first-year students, the residence hall is their first home outside of the family home. The most successful student housing facilities build a strong community among residents, while providing opportunities for the individual to have privacy when needed. Outside-the-unit spaces like lounges and laundry rooms are critical to community-building, while student units, even shared doubles, can be configured to provide moments of seclusion. Bathrooms are unique in that they bridge these two goals. Some daily activities demand privacy, while others confer an opportunity to strengthen the social connections formed through communal living. This program will review case studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and other institutions to illustrate how thoughtfully designed outside-the-unit spaces and bathroom facilities in student housing can accommodate the individual’s need for privacy while building a sense of community and a culture of inclusion.

Presenters
Gavin Roark, Director of Residential Life & Housing,
Virginia Commonwealth University
Megan Becker, Ed.D., Associate Director of Residential Life, Virginia Commonwealth University
Eric Moss, Principal, Ayers Saint Gross
Cooper Melton, Associate Principal, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
SEAHO 2019
Thursday, February 28, 2019
10:15 – 11:15 AM
Session 3
City Terrace Room 8

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.