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.

Ayers Saint Gross at SCUP Southern 2018

October 23, 2018
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If you’re in Austin next week for SCUP Southern, I hope you’ll join me on Tuesday October 30 for our firm’s session on campus planning. Here are the details.

An Instigator and Path to Crafting a Campus Plan

As institutions continually evolve, students, staff, and faculty must thoughtfully utilize planning resources to strategically guide development towards an exceptional campus experience. This session will illustrate conditions that support the need for a campus master plan, what to incorporate into the effort, and how to adopt a planning continuum on campus. Come learn how to develop and refine skills to critically analyze past and current planning efforts to identify potential process adjustments leading to increased planning impact on your campus. Learning outcomes include:

  1. Identify urban planning and campus design factors that indicate the need for a master plan at your institution.
  2. Determine what elements (examples: new development, mobility and safety, sustainability, wellness, historic preservation, wayfinding, etc.) are most critical to your master planning efforts.
  3. Craft an outline that identifies the “who” and “what” necessary for a successful master planning process.
  4. Define a planning continuum that uses the campus master plan going forward for enduring improvement on your campus.

Presenter
David C. Brown, Planner, Texas A&M University-College Station
Dana Craig Dixon, Senior Associate, Ayers Saint Gross
Corey Rothermel, Associate, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
Tuesday October 30, 2018
9:45 AM – 10:45 AM

Credits
AIA LU 1.0 unit (SCUPS18C21)
AICP CM 1.0 unit

Ayers Saint Gross at ASLA 2018

October 15, 2018
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If you’re in Philadelphia this week, please make time to catch one of the terrific sessions that Ayers Saint Gross will be leading at the 2018 ASLA Annual Meeting and Expo. Here are the details:

Academia in Arcadia: Design, Sustainable Stewardship, and Pedagogy on Swarthmore’s Campus

As Swarthmore’s Scott Arboretum prepares to celebrate its 90th anniversary as an arboretum and home to one of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges, this field session explores the intersection of campus planning, sustainable stewardship, design, pedagogy, and community outreach in the art and science of a public garden. Learning objectives include:

  • Gaining insight into how a large scale and diverse landscape is planned for the 21st century mission of the college with a focus on horticulture, education, sustainability, and public outreach.
  • Learning how specific landscape values and planning strategies have been translated into an environmental framework for stormwater management.
  • Seeing how experimental horticultural and soil strategies are being employed to diversify the landscape while reducing long-term maintenance demands.
  • Discussing how these strategies inform the collaboration among the design professions, particularly landscape architects, engineers, horticulturists, and educators.

Presenters
Richard A. Newton, Partner, Olin
Amelle Schultz, Associate Principal, Ayers Saint Gross
Steve Benz, Founder/Consultant, SITEGreen Solutions
Dennis McGlade, Partner, Olin
Claire Sawyers, Director, The Scott Arboretum
Jeff Jabco, Director of Grounds, Swarthmore College
Rodney Robinson, Founder, Robinson Anderson Summers
Kristen Loughry, Senior Landscape Architect, Olin

Details
Friday, October 19, 2018
7:45 AM – 4:35 PM
Meeting Location: N. 13th Street and Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Note: Preregistration required.

Credits
3.25 PDH, LA CES/HSW, FL, NY/HSW


Where Land Meets Water: Rethinking the Shoreline in Urban Waterfronts

In many cities, the threshold between land and sea is abrupt and impenetrable. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is no exception. A new paradigm is emerging, motivated by aquatic conservation and social justice. This session looks at design interventions that are transforming human and ecological interactions across the divide. Learning objectives include:

  • Identifying key design drivers and factors that contribute to ecological health in sensitive shoreline environments.
  • Sharing strategies designers can use to collaborate with scientists and other non-designers to frame experiments and develop prototypes that test ideas and collect data.
  • Prototyping tests ideas for fine-tuning before scaling up and learning how the design process can be structured to allow adaptation of design concepts in response to discovery.
  • Learning how ecological visioning plays a constructive role in unlocking the transformative potential of existing sites.

Details
Friday, October 19, 2018
10:30 AM – 12:00 PM
Location 120
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Presenters
Jonathan Ceci, former Principal, Ayers Saint Gross
Jacqueline Bershad, Vice President of Planning and Design, National Aquarium
Christopher Streb, Bioworks Practice Leader, Biohabitats

Credits
1.5 PDH, LA CES/HSW, AIA/HSW, AICP, FL, NY/HSW


Designing a Laboratory Landscape on the Chester River

By embracing budget constraints and harnessing the rich landscape history of our site, we are proposing a light but ambitious landscape for Washington College’s Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall, a Living Building Challenge project. We will share the lessons of how you can make the most when your client insists that you do the least. Included in our project are nursery gardens, stormwater management plantings, a novel ecology created by a river flow-through outfall stream, and custom-designed meadows all along the Chester River on two remediated brownfield sites. 

Details
Sunday, October 21, 2018
10:00 AM – 10:45 AM
PPN Live stage, Expo Hall
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Presenter

Margaret Baldwin, Landscape Designer, Ayers Saint Gross

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 engaged Ayers Saint Gross and American Campus Communities to replace it with 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.

Ayers Saint Gross at TCUF 2018

September 13, 2018
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If you’re in San Antonio next week, I hope you’ll join the Ayers Saint Gross team at one of our three TCUF sessions, or visit our display in the Architectural Showcase. Here’s where we’ll be.

A New Era of Sustainability Planning: From Vision to Implementation
Texas A&M’s 2018 Sustainability Master Plan integrates social equity objectives with environmental and economic efforts while balancing the need for long-term vision with action and accountability. Through nine themes that address the physical environment, social sustainability, waste management, and institutional efforts, sustainability initiatives at Texas A&M have been transformed from an environment-heavy focus to an approach that places equal emphasis on all three elements of sustainability’s triple bottom line.

Concurrent to developing the university’s Sustainability Master Plan, Texas A&M’s Department of Residence Life sought ways to evaluate its contribution to institution-wide sustainability efforts and prioritize future endeavors. The Residence Life Sustainability Master Plan seeks to advance the department’s capacity to operate sustainable facilities, support sustainable life skills education, and leverage competitive advantage in the local student housing market.

Presenters
Chareny Rydl, Director of Residence Life, Texas A&M University
Lara Hendrickson, Sustainability Operations Coordinator, Texas A&M University
Allison Wilson, Sustainability Director, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
Friday September 21, 2018
Republic C (4th Floor)
1:00PM – 2:00PM


An Instigator and Path to Crafting a Campus Plan
Campus master plans, both aspirational in vision and realistic in implementation, seek to guide the long-term physical development of institutions in alignment with their vision, mission and goals. The session will evaluate and illustrate conditions supporting the need for a campus master plan, what to incorporate into the effort and how to adopt a continuum of planning on campus.

Texas A&M University’s 2017 Campus Master Plan will serve as a case study, guiding attendees through the process of determining when a plan is needed, where to focus your efforts, what elements might be included, who to engage in the process, how the proposed transformations have impacted the campus experience and why to outline future supporting planning efforts for continuous improvement.

Attendees will develop and refine skills to critically analyze past and current planning efforts to identify potential process adjustments leading to increased planning impacts on your campus.

Presenters
Lilia Y. Gonzales, University Architect, Texas A&M University
Dana Dixon, Senior Associate, Ayers Saint Gross
Corey Rothermel, Associate, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
Friday September 21, 2018
2:10PM – 3:10 PM
Republic B (4th Floor)


Enterprise Planning: A Case for Moving Beyond a Traditional Master Plan
Differing from a traditional master plan which focuses solely on the built environment, enterprise planning touches all areas of an institution to guide strategic direction. The outcome is a shared vision which becomes the framework for policies, programs, and physical space.

Through a highly collaborative process involving hundreds of Tarrant County College stakeholders, a series of charrettes acted as the primary tool for discovery, analysis, and dialogue. The activities sought to create a collective understanding of key concepts, establish big-picture priorities, and discuss stakeholder ideas for the near term and long term. These workshops created a venue to discover and analyze challenges, craft potential solutions, and define the future, all in tandem.

The outcome was the establishment of three overarching goals and a set of eight principles that together serve as the pillars of the college’s vision and guide all areas of the institution.

Presenters
Nina Petty, Vice Chancellor for Real Estate & Facilities, Tarrant County College
Doug Lowe, President, Facility Programming and Consulting
Jack Black, Principal, Ayers Saint Gross
Corey Rothermel, Associate, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
Saturday September 22, 2018
11:15 AM – 12:15PM
Crockett C/D

National Aquarium Floating Wetland Prototype Wins ASLA Honor Award for Research

September 5, 2018
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An innovative, high-performing floating wetland prototype, created by Ayers Saint Gross for the National Aquarium, won a 2018 American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Honor Award for Research.

“I’m so pleased to see our wetland prototype honored by ASLA,” Ayers Saint Gross associate principal Amelle Schultz said. “Reimagining existing technologies with a team of engineers and curators to create a more resilient and functional floating wetland with the ability to improve the biodiversity and water quality of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor was a very rewarding challenge.”

The National Aquarium sits on an urban waterfront. The organization is well positioned to be an agent of change for urban water quality, given its national leadership position in conservation science and restoration. With the ultimate goal of transforming its campus into a living laboratory, the Aquarium teamed with designers, engineers, and researchers to investigate new technologies to produce a better floating wetland.

“The innovative fusion of technology and design in this wetland development, and the collaboration with organizations like Ayers Saint Gross, creates a model for acting on our mission to protect and conserve aquatic treasures,” said Jacqueline Bershad, VP of Planning and Design at the National Aquarium. “We are proud of the success of this prototype and look forward to making continual progress in transforming not only our own waterfront campus, but the health of the harbor and its inhabitants that form our urban ecosystem.”

Over the past decade, the concept of floating wetlands has gained traction in urban areas where native habitats have severely deteriorated as a low-cost opportunity to introduce native species back into aquatic habitats. However, the simple design and short lifespan of typical floating wetlands don’t offer a truly sustainable solution for urban waterfronts.

In collaboration with the Aquarium, our multidisciplinary team of in-house landscape architects, supplemented with scientists and engineers from Biohabitats, McLaren Engineering Group, and Kovacs, Whitney & Associates, designed a new kind of floating wetland. It improves upon the technologies of conventional floating wetlands while remedying their shortcomings in terms of habitat-creation capabilities and the lifespan of the final installation. These new technologies and variables have been prototyped and are currently being tested in the harbor on the Aquarium’s campus.

“We are encouraged by the progress and success this new floating wetland model shows in this prototype stage. We have seen schools of fish, like Atlantic silversides and killifish, and have also had two successful nesting mallard ducks. It is reassuring to see the local wildlife utilize this natural habitat while in an urban city,” said Charmaine Dahlenburg, Chesapeake Bay Program Manager at the National Aquarium. “We continue to work collaboratively to adjust and perfect this model and see a future where more floating wetlands can transform the waterfront and make a true difference in our harbor.”

The floating wetland prototype is one of several collaborations between the National Aquarium and Ayers Saint Gross. The Waterfront Campus Plan, created in collaboration with our teammates at Biohabitats, McLaren Engineering Group, and Kovacs, Whitney & Associates as a continuation of Studio Gang’s EcoSlip concept, is a revitalization project that sets a precedent for waterfront development planning in urban sites. The firm’s landscape architecture studio also worked with our graphic design studio to create a bird-strike prevention graphic applied to the existing architecture in identified trouble areas.

“The National Aquarium’s mission of inspiring conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures is an important one, and the wetlands prototype is an exciting example of how landscape architecture can contribute to that mission,” Schultz said. “We are eager to continue our research, and implement more of the Waterfront Campus Plan in an effort to make the site a true living laboratory.”

Increased Visibility: Branded Installation Prevents Bird Strikes at National Aquarium

September 5, 2018
National Aquarium Wordmark Banner
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The glass triangles of the National Aquarium’s roofline are an iconic part of the Baltimore skyline, but can pose a challenge to migrating birds. As part of our ongoing work with the National Aquarium, we recently engaged in a bird strike prevention study. This study grew into a collaboration between our firm’s graphic design and landscape architecture studios, producing an interdisciplinary design solution that serves two purposes: guiding birds away from the glass without detracting from its distinctive form, and adding a much-needed branded presence in a key area.

Birds sometimes perceive clear surfaces as open space that is safe for flight, or want to reach vegetation that is inside structures but still visible externally. At other times, they confuse reflections of trees in the glass for the real thing and fly into reflective surfaces.

To prevent these outcomes, our team worked closely with a staff of experts at the National Aquarium to design a dot pattern that would be digitally printed on optically clear vinyl film. A 2×4-inch pattern is a standard recommended by the American Bird Conservancy. Birds instinctively know how to fit into tight spaces; they can easily navigate through tree canopies. But they also have a sense where they won’t fit, and thus the tight pattern of the frit guides them away from clear or reflective surfaces and prevents strikes from occurring. Our team took this 2×4-inch recommendation and created a customized branded solution.

This large graphic application, in which the Aquarium’s wordmark appears knocked out of a translucent background, doubles as signage and bird strike prevention. Understanding that many of the bird strikes occur closer to tree canopy height, our team incorporated an additional dot pattern on the back side of the glass closer to the ground for added effectiveness. The incorporation of an interpretive panel within the graphic application highlights the purpose of the design to visitors.

Altogether, the design enhances the architecture and identity of the Aquarium, while providing beneficial changes to protect migrating and native birds. Now the Aquarium is a little more welcoming for everyone – earthbound human visitors and winged animals alike.

See, Understand, Interact, and Plan: Space Analytics at Ayers Saint Gross

August 7, 2018
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At Ayers Saint Gross, we like to start every planning project with space analytics. Space analytics is precisely what it sounds like—a study and quantification of existing space showing existing utilization and a projection of current and future space needs.

This analysis serves as the foundation for our iterative process to identify challenges and opportunities, develop strategies, and build consensus and buy-in. In a world of constrained budgets, space analytics helps institutions achieving the highest and greatest use of capital assets. Without that analysis, the use of capital resources is guesswork—and guesswork can be costly. Recent coverage of our work in The Chronicle of Higher Education put it another way: space analytics takes the emotion out of facilities decisions.

Ayers Saint Gross uses proprietary space analytics tools such as SAMi™, a cloud-based data interactive visualization tool, an integrated planning tool, and GIS mapping, which provides a snapshot of an existing campus’ space use and overlays the data on future projections to determine prospective needs. Robust visualization is key to making data accessible to decision makers, helping them to understand the best ways to manage an institution’s physical assets.

We’ve summarized our approach to space analytics and its relation to the planning process in our most recent discipline book, Telling a Story with Data: Space Analytics at Ayers Saint Gross.

Together with our clients, we address challenges and provide a data-driven framework for decision-making. These resources strengthen an institution’s ability to prioritize investments, resulting in more robust physical resources and greater student success.

 

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.

2018 Comparing Campuses: Student Housing

July 10, 2018
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2018 marks the 20th edition of our firm’s Comparing Campuses poster. Since 1998, we have explored hundreds of campus plans from leading institutions around the world. We assemble this collection as a tool for institutional planners because we believe that understanding campus organization and data will lead to the creation of even better spaces in which we live, learn, and teach. We understand the importance of research, and believe that sharing our research contributes to creating better campuses.

Last year, we turned to the past, exploring historic campus master plans and how they helped shape their respective campuses today.

This year, we’re going home – or more precisely, to the on-campus places that students call home.

Housing plays a central role in students’ lives. The residential experience can be a competitive amenity that contributes to a university’s brand. Well-designed spaces and varied typologies should meet the needs of students as they change and grow throughout their college experiences.

Our 2018 poster compares campus-owned housing typology, density, and distribution across 10 institutions. Each map highlights housing facilities color coded by the predominant unit type, overlaid with a series of circles scaled to represent the number of beds in each building. We hope you enjoy exploring how these different institutions have created places that students can call home.

If you won’t be at SCUP, please email us at comparingcampuses@asg-architects.com and we’ll be happy to send you a copy. Additionally, the entire Comparing Campuses collection is available on our website. Visit us there, or at booth 109 at SCUP 2018 to claim your copy. We’ll see you in Nashville, and look forward to discussing the many ways to help students feel at home on campus.