Ayers Saint Gross at Advanced Building Skins

October 24, 2019
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Sustainability is a core Ayers Saint Gross value and resiliency is a crucial aspect of this goal. With much of the research and technology looking into new construction, it is important not to forget the sustainable possibilities of existing buildings.

On October 28, we will be presenting at the Advanced Building Skins Conference in Bern, Switzerland. This conference brings together Architects, Engineers, and Building Scientists (as well as material scientists and academic researchers from technical universities around the world) to share both the latest theoretical developments in building envelope technology and real-world experience and creative solutions as these advancements are put into practice. We will be presenting on the innovative double-thermal mass skin implemented as part of the Johns Hopkins Hospital Nelson Harvey Building Exterior Over-Cladding and Interior Renovation.

For hospital buildings in particular, where there can be no loss of patient care and the building must remain occupied, maximizing existing resources is paramount. By avoiding the carbon footprint associated with demolition and site work, applying inventive design solutions to existing buildings gains not only the sustainability advantages of new technologies, but also leads to an overall improvement, a substantial cost savings for the owner, and a reduced construction schedule.

For this project, forensic and visual observations of the façade disclosed severe thermal and moisture failures with decomposed flashing and lack of insulation. Similarly, the building was constructed without allowing thermal expansion vertically or horizontally of the building envelope, so areas of the façade were structurally failing, bowing, and delaminating. Like many buildings built over the last several decades, however, the structure was still sound.

Innovative solutions using thin precast concrete panels in combination with existing masonry created a hybrid double-skin envelope. In addition to all of the environmental benefits of ensuring the resiliency of the building, the double-thermal mass wall decreases heat transfer gain/loss through the building envelope for any given season and capitalizes on the high heat capacity of concrete and masonry to delay heat flow through the envelope by an action termed thermal lag. This results in a higher performing building.

We are happy to share these advancements and real-world applications with the world, and look forward to learning all the latest developments.

Renewal of Mid-Century Campus Legacies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


1. Reinventing an icon.

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

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

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

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


 

2. Incremental steps in pursuit of a bold vision.

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

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

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

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

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


3. Transforming a gateway façade.

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

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

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

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


4. Scrap the precast, save the frame.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Cook Collection, The Valentine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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