Is Your Master Plan This Flexible?

May 28, 2020
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As a result of COVID-19, colleges and universities have experienced an unprecedented mass-move off campus. It is unlikely this was a scenario explored in your master plan. During this moment of crisis, a master plan developed before the COVID-19 outbreak can provide valuable information about how to maintain vibrancy while keeping people safe. Here are four places to look:

  • Analytics as a foundation
  • Applying planning principles in new ways
  • Upholding a sense of place
  • Finding a path forward

Analytics as a Foundation

A clear-eyed, data-driven analysis of the campus forms a strong foundation for a master plan and a back-to-campus strategy. Master plan analytics collect, synthesize, and visualize key data sets to show what assets exist and how they are used. Having a robust understanding of a pre-COVID starting point allows a quick pivot to modeling new scenarios.

Will any longstanding space standards be applicable in the future? To be flexible and forward-looking, space metrics must carefully consider the individual human experience in physical space. Planning to distance students in the classroom illustrates why modular thinking is important. The reality on many campuses is that large swaths of the classroom inventory are quite dense. Space analysis often reveals large lecture halls with about the same square footage per student as a passenger on an airplane – widely agreed upon as a high-risk environment during a pandemic. To hold classes in person, more space must be provided for each student. To determine precisely how much more space, planners and designers must consider each individual rather than work in averages. These sorts of changes to the planning module create ripple effects across campus that can be understood using a data-rich master plan.

Master plans set target metrics, and they also explain why the metrics matter. For many years, higher education classroom design has trended toward more square footage per student and flexible furniture to support student success: research demonstrates that more space per student supports better learning outcomes. While physical distancing and active learning suggest increasing space per student, the goals of each shift are quite different. We can’t lose sight of student success objectives during this time. Will students be spaced so far apart that they can’t reap the benefits of learning from their instructors and peers?

Applying Planning Principles in New Ways

Master plan participants look at the campus using a telescope and a microscope. Detailed “microscope” thinking is fueled by current priorities and assumptions and is subject to change. “Telescope” thinking generates planning principles, enduring values that inform future decision making about the campus, including a COVID-19 back-to-campus strategy.

For example, institutions often choose a principle like “welcome” because it speaks to inclusivity, openness, and partnerships. There is an inherent tension between increased engagement and safety, and never has that tension been more apparent. Visitor experience planning creates carefully choreographed moments that welcome users and clearly describe how they should use a space. With this guidance, many people will comply. As campuses reopen, the community – and visitors to the extent that they’re allowed on campus – may be greeted each day by a temperature check or other screening. The vision of being a welcoming environment suggests that the experience of that new daily ritual matters. In addition to serving an important public health purpose, it is a community building and communication opportunity.

The idea of welcome also reminds us that a campus community is diverse, and the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacts underprivileged communities. Campus facilities are safe places to live and work for many individuals who have few other options. We see clearly in this time the mission-critical nature of that role. How can institutions pursue those aims in a welcoming manner?  

Though they may need to be reinterpreted, planning principles apply in times of crisis.

Upholding a Sense of Place

A master plan identifies unique features of an institution and its campus. Safety is the top priority, but there are many ways to execute a back-to-campus strategy. The master plan can spark creative thinking about safe and appropriate ways to maintain the magic of being on campus as part of a holistic approach.

Leaders are working to identify essential in-person activities and strategies to conduct them safely. Fundamentally, there must be fewer people on campus. Is it possible for the campus to feel alive without a rush of students across the quad at class change?  Even from a distance and with fewer people, a long view of your fellow community members going about their daily lives is poetic and impactful – especially after months in quarantine. 

A master plan celebrates sacred spaces. They may include historic buildings that are harder to maintain and adapt, but making use of these facilities – if practical – ensures vitality in these incredible places and reinforces for students that their education is place-based: the experience they have on campus is distinctive, if different from the experience offered before. It also connects the campus community to previous generations, who endured wars and other global crises. Campus life was radically different during those eras as well; this reminds us that change is constant.

Master plans look both backward and forward. Forward thinking pushes us to establish new sacred spaces. Landscape enhancements can have a powerful impact with modest investment. Outdoor spaces provide a therapeutic and calming escape, and gathering outdoors with appropriate distancing practices may offer reduced risk. Establishing an outdoor classroom or other landscape enhancement envisioned in the master plan might serve the campus well now and become a sacred space in years to come.

Many campuses will have a rare opportunity during the transitional period: lower parking demand. This might be an opportunity to experiment with pilot projects suggested in the master plan, like closing a parking lot or road to vehicles and repurposing it for recreational uses like cycling, fitness classes, or outdoor seating for dining.

Finding a Path Forward

While this crisis will impact each individual and institution differently, the need to adapt is universal. This experience will catalyze rapid shifts in growth aspirations, priorities, and access to resources. Demographic trends suggest increased competition for students will persist beyond the COVID-19 threat. Many institutions will need to plan for smaller overall enrollment and decreased revenue. A fundamental long-term physical planning challenge will be scaling down, whether in targeted areas or across the board. This will present different challenges than scaling up. Hard decisions and new ways of thinking and operating will be needed.

Many of the master plan elements that inform back-to-campus strategies will fuel long-term flexibility as well: forward-looking space metrics, principles that speak to small and large investments, a commitment to place. Master plan ideas that optimize current assets will be critical in the long-term: a smaller footprint works best when we embrace what we have and use it well. While distancing requirements will cause low utilization of space in the near-term, comprehensive renovations can enable transformative increases in utilization over time.

As institutions prioritize their areas of strength and respond to market realities, they may realize that some important, specialized spaces cannot be effectively provided through retrofit and renovation. Strategic new construction may still play a role in a plan that shrinks the overall footprint. A limited new construction strategy means new facilities will need to serve the institution holistically in a way that moves beyond silos. Master plan proposals for new interdisciplinary, interdepartmental facilities with shared spaces and strong connections to existing assets are the best candidates to prioritize moving forward. Moreover, plans for new construction will need to be coupled with serious consideration of demolition rather than backfill. There are sustainability implications of abandoning the embodied carbon of an existing facility, but there are resource consumption implications – both environmental and economic – of continuing to maintain and operate an over-scaled portfolio.

Lastly, the master planning process can be more important than the product. Investments in process build consensus and a coalition that supports implementation. The COVID-19 era emphasizes that process also builds flexibility. More engagement in the master planning process means that participants understand the relationships between different elements of the plan as well as the final recommendations. They are more likely to see how adjustments to specific recommendations and priorities are consistent with the vision and values for your campus. Master plan participants may be key contributors to the back-to-campus strategy. Ultimately, master plan investments in your planning community enhance your flexibility to adapt.

ASU Hayden Library: Reinvention
of a Mid-Century Icon

May 20, 2020
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The Arizona State University Hayden Library Reinvention, located in the heart of the main campus in Tempe, AZ, opened in Spring 2020. Originally built in 1966 to serve a population of 20,000 students, Hayden Library had grown to become the anchor institution for one of the largest public universities in the country. Its system consists of nine libraries, serving more than 70,000 on-campus students and encompassing over 5 million volumes.

This extensive renovation reimagines and reinvents Hayden Library for the 21st century. The main drivers for the university were to provide variety of flexible spaces for learning, studying, collaborating, and making; enhance campus connectivity by engaging with the surrounding malls that intersect at a primary campus hub and a newly activated ground floor; and employ a sustainable approach to all aspects of design. The 252,600 GSF interior and exterior renovation transformed a place for books into a place for people, reflecting the diversity, history, sustainable vision, and scholarship of the university and greater Arizona.

Mid-Century Renovation

The original 1966 Weaver and Drover design of Hayden Library allowed for access and approach from the adjacent malls. Later additions, over several decades, removed ground-level entry to the tower. The 2020 Reinvention harkens back to the original design by celebrating the details of the past and highlighting them throughout the project. The mid-century modern shell and unique details, such as wood balustrade with stainless steel inlay on the existing terrazzo central stairs, are all maintained. The ground level is opened to allow for an approachable and welcoming experience for users, and custom profiles and angular geometry found throughout are reinterpreted and repeated in a mix of old and new details that support modern codes while maintaining the sophistication of the past era. A new interconnected vertical stair provides the network link from structured learning on the lower level to informal study and discovery of the upper levels.

21st Century Library Program

Part of a larger system with changing needs, the Hayden Library Reinvention embodies the library’s vision of a hub for inquiry, collaboration, innovation, and encounter by enriching the experience of patrons and supporting a broad range of uses. Traditionally enclosed programs break out and open into each other, blending use and ownership, and creating opportunities for cross-pollination. The design provides for a variety of flexible space types for learning, studying, collaborating, and making. The third level of the tower is dedicated to innovation, bringing together a collection of research centers and interdisciplinary learning labs that take the ASU community beyond book collections and archival materials into other regions of today’s scholarly landscape, in which new platforms for research and data facilitate new means of knowledge creation and dissemination. Collaborative lounges are dispersed throughout the floors to provide more student space and encourage quiet conversation. The fourth level reading room is designed for open reading and collections space. The perimeter is lined with modular shelving with integrated seating and display.

Campus Connections

With no clear entry, the existing tower was disconnected from the adjacent buildings and campus malls. Moreover, the subterranean entrance through the adjacent building addition created wayfinding issues. The new exterior design infills a majority of the surrounding moat on the lower level, creating a ground level plaza to reconnect the tower to campus. The 2020 Reinvention reinforces campus connections at building entries and new canopies mark ground level entries, connecting students from the campus malls to the library. The new entries improve wayfinding and extend campus green spaces and plazas into the heart of the library. The ground level plaza engages the surrounding campus malls, connects library program at ground level to adjacent buildings, and eliminates barriers to entry. Reading Rooms featuring unique, curated collections for active use by students and faculty are arranged along the long west side of the tower, showcasing the reinterpreted library program.

Retain and Renew

A design challenge for the Hayden Library Reinvention was how to reimagine the existing library in place to minimize environmental impact while giving Hayden Library the contemporary amenities it requires to support students. Reinventing the library in lieu of tearing it down allows 95% of the most carbon-intensive elements of the existing construction, the structural system and the opaque portions of the building envelope, to remain in place. Material choices throughout the project’s finish palette encourage the use of products that are regionally available with recycled content. Upgraded glazing and HVAC systems bring the best of contemporary high-performance building practices to the project and energy modeling indicates the new library will reduce energy expenses 47% compared to the existing library. Inside the building, water conservation is supported by efficient plumbing fixtures that are anticipated to decrease potable water use by over 37%. Outside the building, native plantings and a high-efficiency irrigation system reduce potable water consumption by 80%. The project is currently tracking LEED Platinum certification.

Hayden Library’s reuse retains the embodied energy and value of its structure and reveals the character of the building in a new light for a new time. Reinvention allows for a design respectful of context, history, and tradition, while showcasing new and future uses and programs, built around a mix of details that celebrate the past and project the future. By creating welcoming, equitable environments, engaging surrounding malls, and reinforcing physical and visual connections on the site and within the building, the library repositions itself to support students at the heart of campus, reconnecting itself to its place.

Green Week 2020: The Carrot Awards

April 23, 2020
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Since 2013, Ayers Saint Gross has hosted an annual Green Week to elevate sustainability literacy within our staff, advance high-performance designs for our clients, reflect on sustainability achievements, and plan for the year ahead. Our firm continues to energetically advance the diverse interests of our clients and communities. It feels particularly important to celebrate Green Week this year, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

The global scientific community agrees that preserving our way of life requires keeping global warming below 2°C. Past 2°C, climate change will accelerate and become irreversible – the planet will warm until humans can no longer survive. The scientific community has established a carbon budget of 500 GtCO2e. This is the total amount of carbon human activities can emit from this day forward and stay below 2°C. Annual CO2 emissions today are approximately 40 GtCO2 per year. If we maintain the status quo on annual carbon emissions, in about 12 years global warming will accelerate. The time to act is now and as practitioners in the built environment, we play a critical role.

The AEC industry’s discussion of sustainability has historically focused on operational carbon emissions from building operations. Keeping buildings at appropriate temperature and humidity, electric lighting, and powering our plug-in devices are responsible for approximately 30% of annual carbon emissions. Missing from this dialogue, however, has been an appreciation for the embodied carbon of the actual materials from which the built environment is constructed. Industrial activity is responsible for approximately 40% of annual carbon emissions, of which half is tied to the production of concrete, steel, and aluminum alone. Concrete, steel, and aluminum are significant components of our built work as an interdisciplinary design firm, and we need to aggressively reduce the amounts of those materials we design in developing our clients’ built environments.

This week, we’ve been hosting teleconference meetings across our organization to share information that will help us in our quest to reduce embodied and operational carbon emissions from our design portfolio 50% by 2030.

These sessions included Baltimore City’s Sustainability Director, Lisa McNeilly, highlighting the creation of the Baltimore Sustainability Plan and how it’s been implemented and tracked. The Plan is framed to lead with equity and when plans, programs, and policies are implemented at the intersection of equity, economy, and the environment, outcomes are often more relevant, impactful, and longer lasting. FSi Engineers’ Ben Roush broke down the basic concepts and principles behind net-zero buildings and spoke on lessons learned over many net-zero projects. A trio of professionals from Thornton Tomasetti – Alexandra Davis, Christopher Williams, and Paul Becker – addressed why embodied carbon matters, how to identify carbon “hot spots” in a building, whether wood is truly good, and what questions architects should be asking structural engineers from the start to influence positive change and drive progress toward the AIA 2030 Commitment’s goals.

We reflect on our AIA 2030 Commitment results, the predicted energy use intensity of our whole building projects, and the lighting power density of our interiors projects. We’ve recorded this data since 2011, which enables 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 2019 illustrate strategies every project in our firm aspires to achieve.

We’re pleased to announce this year’s Carrot Award winners are the Elon University Engineering and Physics Building and the Denison University Residence Hall Renovations. Congratulations to the design teams of these projects!

Elon University, Engineering and Physics Building
Elon University, Engineering and Physics Building

In collaboration with Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce Architects, Ayers Saint Gross is designing a new Engineering and Physics Building for Elon University that will incorporate design fabrication space, prototyping equipment, and project assembly areas for the program’s engineering students. The project will expand the engineering program’s offerings and create a campus edge that will complete the quadrangle expansion between Moseley Hall and the existing Elon Elementary School. The building is composed of two parts: a three-story building that reflects the Greek Revival style of Elon University’s campus context and a two-story wing with a more modern aesthetic. Associated outdoor spaces will support community-building.

The Denison University Residence Hall Interior Renovations refresh existing residences for primarily first year students. Smith Hall, Shorney Hall, Curtis Hall, and Crawford Hall offer double and triple room options, but had limited space for community-building. For all of the halls, the entry sequence and ground floor common areas are being upgraded to provide a more open and welcoming experience. The renovations provide necessary outside the unit social spaces for residents and meet the needs of contemporary students. The new interior lighting design will reduce lighting power density by 77%, more than three times 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.

A Message from Ayers Saint Gross about COVID-19

March 18, 2020
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With the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), all of us face an evolving challenge. Ayers Saint Gross remains grateful for all of you – our clients and our colleagues – as we adapt to new circumstances in our lives and work.

We are actively monitoring developments, following guidelines issued by the CDC as well as local and state authorities, and frequently communicating with our staff. To do our part to minimize the spread of the virus, Ayers Saint Gross has canceled or postponed non-essential travel and is supporting our staff to work remotely.

Our work on projects with clients and partners has continued without interruption. We have developed innovative tools for virtual engagement to maintain a high level of remote collaboration. To ensure project progress, your primary point of contact at Ayers Saint Gross will continue to be in close communication with you, and we will work together to determine the best path forward for all scheduled meetings, workshops, and deliverables.

In this unprecedented time, we remain vigilant and agile. Ayers Saint Gross is committed to providing the same high level of service and responsiveness you are accustomed to. If there is anything we can do to better serve you, please let us know.

(This is a rapidly changing situation. This message will be updated with additional information or if changes in guidelines arise.)

Announcing New Leaders and Promotions

March 5, 2020
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Join us as we congratulate these outstanding individuals on their well-deserved promotions. As an employee-owned firm, our people are our greatest strength. We are thrilled to recognize the following leaders who engage people and places to create designs that enrich our world.

This year, we have asked our recently promoted employee-owners their thoughts on topics key to our success. Here’s what they have to say.

VICE PRESIDENT

Earl Purdue, Architecture
On engagement: “As a client-focused firm, we achieve success through an engaged process. Leading by example, communicating, and imparting lessons learned to next generation leaders is of the utmost importance with this level of client engagement.”

PRINCIPAL

Joe McNamara, Architecture
On mentoring others: “Being a leader means setting a tone and fostering a culture of excellence, a place where everyone is empowered to speak up in the name of improving the quality of our work.”

ASSOCIATE PRINCIPAL

Michelle Kollmann, Interiors
On teamwork: “I’m an advocate for curiosity and collaboration. Every contribution is valuable and our impact is magnified when we work together to solve a problem. Not a day goes by that I don’t learn something from one of my talented and creative colleagues.”

SENIOR ASSOCIATE

Peter Baker, Architecture
On the mission of the firm: “Engage: take initiative, listen. Create: never sacrifice design and pursue creativity in all aspects of the design process. Enrich: support colleagues and look for interdisciplinary opportunities that build a holistic, sustainable approach to design.”

Justin Dahl-James, Architecture
On inspiration: “Great design inspires me and I’m most excited about historic renovations. It is gratifying to work on a project where the design team can find ways to celebrate or showcase specific elements of historical significance and re-purpose other elements within the new design.”

Mindy Dunn, Graphic Design
On leadership: “Leadership means understanding the benefits and challenges every opportunity presents in a firm-focused context. It means listening, modeling thoughtful co-working, and advocating for your passions with respect. It means taking initiative, digging deep, reporting, and championing efforts that improve projects, teams, processes, and the entire firm.”

Noah Harburger, Building Technology
On embracing change: “You never know where the next great idea will come from, so it’s important to be accessible to everyone, help them do their work better, and make their work easier. It is through this track record of helping others that an environment has been created at Ayers Saint Gross which welcomes positive changes.”

Silvia Hasty, Interiors
On staying challenged: “Positive change and growth can only come by challenging our comfort zone. Staying abreast of trends and sustainable practices, even if it isn’t what we are used to, leads to positive change. Leadership starts with being able to see the big picture and work with others towards a common goal.”

Jordan Hawes, Interiors
On taking risks: “I am a fan of design that takes risks to create or enhance an identity for a client. In interior design, there are so many new and interesting materials and products out there and I’m always thinking about how they can be integrated into the next project to provide that special “design moment.”

Elizabeth McLean, Architecture
On leading positive change: “Each individual in the firm is a leader, and we have a shared value-based vision. Our actions need to be equitable and we must be accountable. To lead positive change at Ayers Saint Gross, I advocate for diverse teams and promote leadership in others.”

Nicole Ostrander, Planning
On motivation: “Ayers Saint Gross’s mission motivates me to embrace each project as an opportunity. I am excited by re-envisioning space; transforming it in unique and inspiring ways. I strive to lead with compassion, as it is our relationships with people above all else that allow us to accomplish great things.”

Margaret Zivkovich, Graphic Design
On creating connections: “Wayfinding is not just a sign here or there, it’s using the full environment – through architecture, through color, through texture – to help people navigate their world safely. And in the design process – watching connections happen between people and ideas – I love seeing kernels of concepts evolve and develop as ideas begin to feed off each other.”

ASSOCIATE

Danielle Bersch, Architecture
On the growth of sustainable opportunities: “I’m inspired most by nature and look forward to working on new standards to assess the performance of our buildings. It’s exciting to see the market availability of new sustainable and regenerative materials in the United States.”

Francisca Bonilla, Architecture
On women in leadership: “Fresh out of college, it was a bit intimidating to sit in meetings as the only woman, but the strides women are making in the field is so empowering. The female leadership at Ayers Saint Gross has inspired me to believe in my experience and knowledge, no matter who is in the room.”

Gina Fernandes, Architecture
On issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion: “I put a voice to issues that lack representation and look for collaborative solutions. Issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) challenge our industry, and I work to engage others in this area – from how we foster professional development and career growth in the firm to how we engage the communities we work with and champion all voices in the design process.”

Russell Holstine, Architecture
On giving support: “I am continually inspired by the amazing and talented people I get to work with every day. Being a leader at Ayers Saint Gross means effectively supporting your colleagues and teammates to produce the best product possible for our clients.”

Ryan Johns, Accounting
On ambition: “Hearing and seeing individuals speak to what they’re striving toward inspires me to work harder. It’s a reminder that everyone needs to push themselves, and it shows me that there are standards being set firm-wide and I like to live up to and lead by those standards.”

Priscilla Korompis, Graphic Design
On timeless design: “I’m most excited about designing with function, longevity, and purpose in mind. Thinking about how something can be around for years, when beauty meets function and the project’s story – nothing excites me more than smart design.”

Stephen Pasquerello, Architecture
On transparency: “Today, people are more conscious of what they buy and where it comes from. Likewise, we need to be transparent and responsible in material selection and sourcing. I look forward to working to fulfill that goal.”

Connor Price, Landscape Architecture
On discovery: “I am inspired by the design process and the discovery of concepts through sketching. Keeping our mission in mind, this process teaches me to think about who we are designing for and how we are changing the built environment for the better.”

Maegan Smith, Graphic Design
On collaboration: “I strive to be a leader who is engaging, creative, and impactful and I look forward to continuing to increase collaboration. I believe that the earlier engagement happens among all involved, the better the outcome of the project and the higher the impact.”

The Modern Learner: Formal and Informal Learning Environments

February 20, 2020
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At Ayers Saint Gross, the design of new learning spaces starts with understanding the mission, vision, and values of the institution for which the project is being planned. Planning and designing successful learning spaces requires an understanding of today’s students: who they are, how they learn, and what their needs are. Learners come from a cross-section of backgrounds, ages, socioeconomic situations, ethnicities, and experiences. The campus learning landscape must be more inclusive of learners from all backgrounds and experiences.

Today’s students are not responsive to passive, row-based lecture methods, they want to learn actively through production and discovery. Integrating human interactions within learning creates connections and fosters retention, comprehension, and motivation. This holistic learning experience is supported through a combination of formal, scheduled learning space and places for informal, student-directed learning experiences.

FORMAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS

Classrooms, laboratories, and lecture halls have traditionally contained rows of desks facing one direction with a fixed lectern and singular teaching wall, but as the method of and behavior of learning is evolving, so too are formal learning environments; they are flexible, engaging environments. A thoughtful and well-designed space sets the expectation for active and collaborative learning. 

Formal learning environments need to have spatial flexibility: environments should be scalable, convertible, fluid, modifiable, and versatile. Flexibility ensures programmatic longevity by building plasticity into the architectural components of the space, thus allowing for the flow of information among faculty, students, and learning tools. A scalable room provides for a variety of student needs, including places for focus, team, sharing, and social connection to align with different work styles and the flow of ideas among peers in a classroom.

Alongside mobile furnishings, thoughtful placement of static architectural features and technology can enhance the fluidity of space. Designing spatial flexibility into a room enables the learner to appropriate the space for their perceived needs and allows for longevity as future needs evolve. When the learner has control over their learning style, it promotes choice and provides for a sense of connection among the students, faculty, and material created in the course.

Technology should be seamless, agile, and user-friendly while also being conducive to collaboration at a variety of scales. Space must be easily adaptable to new equipment and new styles of teaching and learning. Wireless technology allows a seamless connection to remote learners, creating environments that offer various models of engagement for both synchronous and asynchronous learning. Power should be easily accessible and at waist-height and software should allow instructors and students to control classroom technologies without relying on a static IT podium.

To successfully teach every student, the instructor must be able to reach every student. Furniture should be mobile, versatile, durable, and adjustable to accommodate all types of users. The layout and furnishings should champion pedagogical adaptations by the instructor and the students. Seating density should be proportional to room dimensions, and ergonomic furniture supports a range of postures, motions, and physical abilities.

Acoustic quality is a priority when specifying fixtures, furniture, and finishes. Soft surfaces such as carpet and wallcoverings allow sound to be absorbed, whereas angled furniture, such as high-back lounge chairs, contain and direct sound. Technology can enhance the learning experience for those with hearing differences by compensating for less than ideal acoustic conditions; however, the noise associated with powering and utilizing digital tools must factor into the acoustic design of formal learning environments.

Natural daylight and views optimize learning but can often compete with the many digital devices used by students. Operable shades allow user control heat and glare, providing an additional layer of flexibility for users. In addition, overhead lighting should be a mix of direct, indirect, and task lighting to accommodate different means and methods of instruction. Proper design of learning spaces considers sightlines for all participants during discussion-based, presentation-focused, and team-based activities.

INFORMAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS

In informal learning environments, the ownership of learning lies with the individual to design their own experience, create their learning incomes, and self-assess. Informal environments have non-traditional lighting and seating and can incorporate non-learning experiences. Informal learning environments mix private, public, and collaborative spaces to accommodate all learning behaviors. These types of spaces should be available inside and outdoors, in a range of scales, and encourage both planned and impromptu interactions.

Social and study space outside of classrooms and laboratories should have comfortable seating that is durable, ergonomic, and mobile. Whiteboards and access to power provide boosts to these spaces with the tools digital natives use to communicate in support of anywhere and anytime learning.

Rich opportunities for learning and creating exist in research and student project labs, maker spaces, simulation labs, exhibition spaces, pitch platforms, incubator spaces, ideation spaces, and intimate in-between social spaces. Space should be adaptable to new programs and technologies through tensile, versatile, and student-centric design strategies. Informal learning spaces should be designed with the same care and attention to pedagogy as their formal counterparts to create a campus-wide holistic vision for the learning experience.

When locating project labs and innovation studios, an important consideration is access for collaboration across disciplines as well as with outside business and industry partners. For these, special consideration to spots with additional noise, exhaust, and security requirements (such as lockable storage space for student work as well as space for the storage of tools and materials) is necessary. Flooring in work areas needs to be resilient. Writable walls enhance collaboration, however, glass can still sometimes be a barrier so furniture and collaboration spaces should spill from the zoned project lab to add permeability between project and adjacent social and collaboration areas.

Adjacent to student project areas, exhibit and pitch spaces help students to practice oral and visual communication skills. Acoustics and lighting are essential factors in designing these spaces, as students will be showing and describing work to peers as well as faculty and industry mentors. Technology should be available to capture performances and also available to amplify acoustic or visual effects as desired by student presenters. Presentation and exhibit spaces are informal in that they are not usually scheduled but should present as formal spaces that emphasize the importance of creating and sharing new work.

Informal environments allow formal spaces to flex and evolve as new learning needs arise. They allow for connection, invention, and discovery that both enhance formal learning discussions and encourage independent exploration and collaboration. With limited budgets, it is important that all learning spaces are designed with careful research, thought and expertise in support of future-proof and student-centered learning environments inside and outside of the classroom.

How do we determine how much space a student needs in these learning environments? Join us for the next entry in March 2020.

Ayers Saint Gross projects featured throughout this blog:

Presenting Regenerative Design Principles at AASHE

January 14, 2020
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Recently, I presented at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Conference in Spokane, Washington on the opportunity of regenerative design and the circular economy as it relates higher education projects and campuses. At the largest networking and educational event of its kind in North America, my session, titled “Defining the Finish Line: What the Circular Economy for Universities Should Look Like,” helped attendees understand how design principles extracted from the natural world can act as a guiding platform for colleges and universities to develop a circular economy on their campuses.

Sustainability as a concept is laudably a part of everyday discourse now. This prevalence, however, highlights the importance of non-complacency and continuing to think beyond. Sustainability is not an end unto itself, it is a mid-point on the spectrum of performance between degenerative and regenerative. We can do better, and it’s important to look to how our buildings can create a net-positive impact on the environment.

We needn’t look far. Processes occurring in the natural world provide an excellent toolbox. It is the job of architects and designers to translate these thoroughly time-tested concepts into the built environment. Principles outlined in Permaculture, a design practice developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Australia in the late 1970’s, do an excellent job of getting this conversation started. These concepts appear in many of our projects.

Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall, Washington College: Catch and Store Energy
Waste is not a pervasive issue in the natural environment – everything gets used as a resource somehow – nature excels at catching and storing energy to develop itself. With such abundant resources at hand, there is little reason that we can’t apply the same level of resourcefulness to the built environment. To create a circular economy, developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant is absolutely necessary.

Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall is designed to be a net-positive building, meaning it creates more energy than it consumes. Having this be a goal from the outset played a large role in the design. This brought together form, function, and performance beautifully. Rather than attempting to retroactively apply sustainable features late in the design process, extensive analysis at the beginning of the process to figure out the energy needs of the building helped to minimize its impact. By first analyzing energy requirements, then creating opportunities for energy conservation, efficient use of that energy, and optimizing the time of use management allowed for the design to minimize its energy use intensity. Not only did this help the net-positive goal, it also limited the disruption of the environment in the building footprint (originally, solar panels were needed on the landscape; the final design only required them on the roof).

Alfond Commons, Colby College: Use Edges and Value the Marginal
In nature, it is the point at which things meet where the most interesting and diverse interactions take place. These interactions often create the most productive elements in a system, as is observable in estuaries where salt water meets fresh water and mangrove trees thrive in conditions that break expectations for what trees need.

This holds true when exploring the ways in which institutions and their host communities interact. We’ve talked about the successes of Alfond Commons a number of times here, and we remain impressed by the positive results created by embracing the edges of campus with housing. Many institutions and communities struggle with how to interact with one another, but Alfond Commons demonstrates the eagerness of students and residents to interact and solve problems.

Hayden Library, Arizona State University: Creatively Use and Respond to Change
Change is inevitable. Nature excels at adaptation. When it comes to translating this process to the built environment, it is important not just to repurpose a space, but to focus on its historic, current, and future uses.

For this project, it was important to acknowledge the historic legacy of this building as an icon on campus for 50 years, recognize the changing function of a library on a modern university campus, as well as anticipate a similar degree of change for the future. Libraries as a limited function place, with a primary focus on books is no longer true to the way students learn and gather information. Digital resources have largely overtaken that function. With the Hayden Library, the building remains a crucial learning resource, but with open, flexible spaces encouraging collaboration and interaction.

Kyle Ritchie, LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP, is a Sustainable Design Coordinator working across all discipline groups at Ayers Saint Gross.

Awards: 2019 Year in Review

December 19, 2019
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This year, Ayers Saint Gross projects were honored with more than 20 design awards, including eight AIA awards for work spanning across the globe. As a multidisciplinary design firm, it is a tremendous honor to be recognized for work that thoughtfully integrates all our disciplines – architecture, landscape architecture, interiors, planning, space analytics, and graphic design – to create holistic and sustainable environments that provide long-term value for our clients. The awards celebrate our core mission to engage people and places to create designs that enrich the world.

We extend these honors to our incredible clients and collaborators who are vital to the success of each project.

Selected Awards

Eckerd College Helmar and Enole Nielsen Center for Visual Arts
AIA Maryland Excellence in Design Honor Award
AIA Baltimore Excellence in Design Honorable Mention

Atturaif Living Museum and Visitor Reception Center
AIA Baltimore Excellence in Design Grand Design Award
AIA Middle East Merit Award, Built Architecture

Johns Hopkins University San Martin Drive Pedestrian Improvements
SCUP Excellence in Landscape Architecture Honor Award

Providence Innovation District Master Plan and Point225
Providence Preservation Society Award for Leadership In New Construction

National Aquarium Wetlands Pop-Up Poster
Maryland ASLA Communications Award

Clemson University Residential Development and HUB Student Center
AIA South Carolina Chapter & Section Design Award – Merit Award for New Construction

Colby College Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons
IIDA Southwest Chapter PRIDE Awards Design Excellence Mixed-Use Category
The Associated General Contractors of America Build Maine Awards Top Award

Virginia Commonwealth University Gladding Residence Center
Student Housing Business Innovator Award for Best New Development by a University

Auburn University School of Nursing
AIA Montgomery (AL) Merit Award for Institutional Architecture

Morgan State University Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management
AIA Maryland Excellence in Design Awards Citation

Bancroft Elementary School
AIA DC Chapter Design Award
ENR MidAtlantic Best Project: Award of Merit Winner in Renovation/Restoration

Alfond Commons in the News

December 12, 2019
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In the fall of 2018, Colby College opened the Alfond Main Street Commons, realizing Colby’s vision of housing 200 students and faculty-in-residence in the heart of downtown Waterville, Maine. The past year has proven this initiative to be a resounding success. Already the project has been recognized for multiple awards, including:

It is always fulfilling to see our projects advance the student experience within the campus community. Alfond Commons is especially gratifying because of its significant impact on both Colby and the Waterville community at large, which has been highlighted in several articles and publications.

In addition to an interview with Ayers Saint Gross president Luanne Greene, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s special publication, “The Campus as City” featured Alfond Commons and produced this excellent video.

Talking Stick, the publication from the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International (ACUHO-I) wrote about both Alfond Commons’ place in Waterville and the active learning community that has been created there.

Finally, we have been proud to share the success of Alfond Commons at conferences around the country.

Recently, Eric Zahn presented the project with Brian Clark, Vice President of Planning for Colby College, at the ACUHO-I Academic Initiatives Conference. Their talk highlighted the unique synergy of civic, academic, and student life spaces within the building, and the aspects of its design that render it both forward-looking and expressive of its place. Eric also spoke about how our student housing expertise and design build teaming arrangement with Landry/French Construction helped get the project designed and delivered on an aggressive schedule. While of great value to the owner, more significantly, this hall has elevated the Colby student experience and established a compelling template for a community-driven co-curricular living community. The fact that it is already the most popular of Colby’s on-campus housing offerings is a testament to its success

Sustainable Design Coordinator Kyle Ritchie presented at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference, on the principles of permaculture design, a platform that applies the patterns of natural ecosystems to the design of the built environment. Alfond Commons (along with Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall and the Hayden Library Reinvention) was presented as a case study for putting these principles into practice.

All in all, this news adds up to a remarkable year. We can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Sharing and Learning at Tradeline

November 14, 2019
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Recently, Alyson Goff and I presented at the Tradeline Conference in Austin alongside University of Virginia Assistant Campus Planner, Elisa Langille. Themed: “University Facilities for the Sciences and Advanced Technologies,” Tradeline focuses on highly technical facilities for corporate, university, and government campuses. Topics span engineering, health sciences, robotics, artificial intelligence, data sciences, biological and physical sciences, maker spaces, and innovation hubs. These conferences are intimate in scale and feature deep-dive presentations from institutional representatives and sessions from owner-consultant teams.

Conferences of this nature are great opportunities to catch up with clients, share expertise, and stay apprised on the challenges facing institutions. Our presentation, “Translating data and strategic vision into a physical space plan for engineering and applied sciences,” focused on the Integrated Space Plan for UVA Engineering. Together, we demonstrated a process for incremental, strategic renovations that unleash the academic potential of underutilized and outdated buildings; we detailed the shakeup of traditional departmental structures, and illustrated UVA’s road map to align the School’s academic plan and strategic goals with its existing space inventory; and we demonstrated large-scale building opportunities to satisfy goals and provide adequate space to create pedagogical change within UVA Engineering. The concept of “engineering on display” remains a popular driver, but accomplishing it is difficult. We were happy to share the lessons of this great project — a fantastic project team, an excited client, and a powerful story is a great combination.

Beyond our presentation, the Tradeline Conference, as a whole, offered an incredible learning experience from other sessions and through casual conversations. Some of our key takeaways include the importance of developing guiding principles to inform priorities and decision-making. Goals such as flexibility, diversity, adaptability, and connectivity, are particularly important, as learning spaces translate those qualities into the built environment. STEM education remains a priority, but we are now seeing an increasing number of institutions seeking to integrate the arts and sciences into engineering. As interdisciplinary education becomes more widespread, this ensures ethics is part of the STEM curriculum.

Other new concepts include further evolution of active learning environments featuring open, flexible spaces to accommodate a variety of uses such as a math cave or interprofessional education (IPE) simulation and the fusion of physical, digital, and biology technologies.

Good design creates purposeful interaction, and collaboration and engagement makes it possible. Given the importance of data in decision making, visualization and accessibility of data are key pieces to the puzzle in today’s world. We are happy to be on the forefront of this and eager to learn more and help shape the future.

Dana Perzynski and Alyson Goff are associate principals in the Planning and space analytics discipline groups, respectively.

Contact Dana
Contact Alyson

Ayers Saint Gross Earns #29 Ranking on the 2019 Architect 50 List

November 9, 2019
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We are so thrilled that ARCHITECT Magazine ranked Ayers Saint Gross as number 29 on its annual list of the top 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; equity, diversity, and inclusion; and pro bono work. Sustainability measures the firm’s internal and external commitments to ecologically responsible building. A trio of judges reviews a selection of key projects in the design category.

The complexity and thoroughness of the ARCHITECT Magazine process speaks 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 understand that we can make places better financially by building successful, diverse spaces and creating a philanthropic, 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 we move into a new decade, 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’m excited to see what happens next.

The 2019 AIA Women’s Leadership Summit

November 5, 2019
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Equity, diversity, and inclusion are core values at Ayers Saint Gross and are vital to increasing the representation and advancement of women in architecture and design. This September, the AIA Women’s Leadership Summit was held in Minneapolis. Spanning three days and featuring dozens of workshops and speakers, more than 750 women architects and design professionals gathered at this important event, themed “Reframe. Rethink. Refresh.”

I have attended the past Women’s Leadership Summit programs with fellow colleague Elizabeth McLean, AIA; Seattle in 2015, Washington, DC in 2017 (I was fortunate to be on the Mid-Atlantic strategic planning committee) and this recent summit. Reflecting on this year (the largest attendance on record), it was interesting to see a diverse range of attendees in Minneapolis – in age, geographical representation, and many first-time attendees. For me, the summits provide both challenge and encouragement — replenishing my well year after year. The women pioneers around these issues in our industry come; Beverly Willis and Rosa Sheng, among others. And so do the local chapter committees, sole proprietors from rural practices, and the mid-level architect struggling with what’s next for her career. They each have an impactful story, a welcoming spirit, and a wave of commitment to our practice.

The summit was spent unpacking leadership styles, practicing active listening, and uncovering intentional impact areas. The benefits are not only personal but bring into focus the strengths needed to continue to support Ayers Saint Gross’s diverse clients and projects.

The metrics still show small growth for women as they progress through our profession and into leadership or more prominent design roles. The 2019 AIA Women’s Leadership Summit demonstrated a record number of women and firms committed to accelerating progress. It is this level of conversation that our profession deserves and requires to continue the hard work to bring about more equitable architecture. In addition to myself, Ayers Saint Gross was proudly represented by multiple attendees from across our offices. I am happy to share their thoughts and impressions.

Elizabeth McLean, AIA:

The AIA Women’s Leadership Summit strives to raise the profile of leadership in architecture, share and promote the design work of women, explore paths to leadership, and provide women the opportunity to learn from each other. This format crosses boundaries and allows for both strength and humility to shine. Our participation is important, with it we recognize individuals at different levels and support them to engage, learn, and extend the conversation when they each return to their offices and communities. The summit offered a space to share and grow; to reconnect.

This year’s gathering supported the conversation around moving forward and regrouping. I appreciated reframing the conversation. The public acknowledgement that every woman in architecture is a leader is powerful, and it provided the opportunity to be more inclusive and allow the numbers to increase the inspiration and potential for impact. It shifted focus beyond the individual and promoted empathy and generosity, acknowledging that leadership is empathetic and comes with accountability.

There is still a lack of women in leadership positions. We are urged and inspired to be on the forefront of confronting the issue and not only aware of it. The summit operated as a laboratory to test the potential for change across scales. There is an action-based emphasis on commitment and accountability. Considering formal and informal power, and large and small commitments, we challenged – What’s the stance, goal, commitment, and change? With this, there is meaningful purpose to gathering together.

Anya Grant, AIA:

As a first time attendee to the AIA Women’s Leadership Summit, I expected to be impressed by prominent women architects whose experiences paved the way and continue to clear a path for practicing architects like me. I was. What I didn’t expect was to also have the time and space to meaningfully engage with other women at various stages in the profession who are making their own mark as leaders. 

Through the medium of storytelling, we were guided through the personal accounts of women practicing in and reshaping the profession around the issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion. As we grapple with how to maintain a sense of inclusion in our profession, several presenters made a case for how it is not only relevant in our workplace, but also in engaging our clients. They raised the following question – whose voices are considered when design decisions are being made and how can we elevate the voices that are often unheard? One speaker, Malaz Elgemiabby described her efforts to meet community members on an individual basis when designing a community center. She not only learned about global needs that informed the design, but also points of neighborhood pride that were highlighted in murals. Pascale Sablan, in highlighting initiatives that promote diverse representation in architecture, described a community fellow position where a community member impacted by a design project is selected for a paid position to have a voice in regular design meetings. These accounts, among others, challenged us to think of the architect’s ability to engage and empower.

After days of stimulating conversations, we were invited by Pascale at the conclusion of her seminar, to turn to our neighbors and tell our own stories of leadership. This moment, where each woman spoke confidently of her ongoing work to shape our profession, highlighted the collective power of the hundreds of architects in attendance.

Nicole Ostrander, AIA:

Priya Parker, the keynote speaker, immediately set the tone of the summit as a supportive, collaborative, and empowering gathering of women, focused on storytelling. For the first several minutes of her session, we were encouraged to get up from our tables and step from our sphere of comfort to connect with new individuals by sharing a piece of own story with each other. Through this activity, Parker, author of The Art of Gathering:  How We Meet and Why it Matters was creating what she defines in her book as a transformational gathering. The AIA Women’s Leadership Summit was a created space in which attendees could open themselves to each other and forge connections. Parker provides excellent insight on how to give your gatherings purpose – whether a meeting, workshop, or dinner party – to create meaningful encounters.

Many of the sessions at the conference were focused on the topics of leadership, professional and personal development, and time management. With a range of women, all driven individuals at various points in their careers, there was a common narrative of navigating our own professional and personal responsibilities through shared experiences.

Teri Graham, AIA:

This was my first AIA Women’s Leadership Summit. It was powerful experience both in self-discovery and connection with other women with similar journey. We are not alone. The session “How To Set Your Career Path And Lead Authentically” presented by Jill Bergman, Katie Fricke, and Sandy Tkacz focused on self-discovery and connecting with others to advance in our careers. Emphasizing the importance of investing in yourself, the first step is to know thyself. Accomplished by growing your soft skills, assessing your skill gaps, and being resilient and proactive, you can be your own change maker. The next step discussed networking by both giving and receiving through finding an advocate and advocating. Career reflection points combined both know thyself and connecting through discussion on coaching, listening, taking ownership, understanding purpose, leading, and believing you are worth it. The big takeaway was we need to be a BRAT: Being Bold, Being Resourceful, Take Action, Have Tenacity.

Alice Brooks, AIA is an associate principal based out of the Baltimore office. Contact Alice.