Business Dictionary.com defines architectural design as “Concept that focuses on the components or elements of a structure or system and unifies them into a coherent and functional whole, according to a particular approach in achieving the objective(s) under the given constraints or limitations.” It’s a pretty sterile definition and, depending on those “objectives,” and “limitations,” excellence may be difficult to attain. But just what is design excellence?
It’s a concept that the American Institute of Architects attempted to explain in 2012 when their committee produced a 79 page paper on the topic. The nutshell paragraph included these statements from some of the participants:
In an excellent work, said Bruder, “All the senses are alerted and nourished.” “A building should encourage us to look at the world from a different point of view.” Feiner defined excellent architecture as “an exemplary advancement for its time, with perceived lasting value for the ages.” Weinzapfel characterized excellent design as expressing “pride of place” and offering “a sense of delight.” A excellent work should not be “just an individual icon,” but show a connection with its place. The architect’s initial question, she said, should be “What does the place deserve?” For Wilson, fine architecture should be “multivalent, which is different from ambivalent.” The more you
see it, the more of its qualities you can “tease out.” Excellent architecture, he observed, takes “banal” requirements as a basis for something “momentous.” Feiner concluded that the final criterion should be “What is a keeper?”—not “What is acceptable?”
It’s the kind of thing that we generally know when we see it, but most of us who aren’t designers or architects would have a hard time articulating. We’d all agree the world needs more good design and our city needs more good design. The AIA distributes annual awards for design excellence. One example that caught my attention in the “urban” category was Denver’s adaptation of their rail yards to make it usable space. Sound familiar? It’s sometimes discouraging that projects other cities somehow make happen are considered too crazy for suggesting in our city.
There are some obvious local examples of good design we could point to, such as the Transit Center. We’d likely agree that most apartment complexes in the city suffer in the design department. But design includes small interior spaces and projects as well as the large eye-catching structures.
By at least one measure, Knoxville rocks the design world. Last summer the Tennessee chapter of the AIA distributed awards at a gathering of the organization in Nashville. A New Orleans-based jury studied the projects submitted from across the state and distributed fourteen awards. One might expect Memphis to carry the day, based on its size. Perhaps Nashville firms would have an advantage given they are the second largest city and the capital. Those theories would not be borne out in reality.
Knoxville firms won seven of the awards, Nashville won three and Memphis firms won four. How’s that for your Scruffy Little City? I was very curious just what these winning designs were and I suspect you are, too. The link above will give you great detail, but I’m going to give you the short version here. I’m using photographs from their site which, I suspect, were submitted from the local firms.
You may have seen the first winning design tooling down the highway. It’s a vehicle which doubles as a store, called the Vagabond Mobile Boutique and it won a Merit Award for Interior Design. I first saw it at Rhythm and Blooms and I have seen it several times in the massive surface parking lot beside the Bijou. The jury liked the “attention to detail in the design and fabrication,” as well as the concept itself. The winning design team is ForK Design, LLC.
The Award of Excellence in Renovation went to BarberMcMurray architects for their transformation of two floors of the Arnstein Building into their new work space. Praise from the jury came for the color design which includes a blue ribbon connector, green collaborative spaces and yellow spaces for studio areas. They also like the unifying impact of the added stairwell. Generally they liked the clean lines, sense of openness and sense of light. This is a space I’d appreciate an invitation to see. Anyone?
A Merit Award for New Construction also went to BarberMcMurray in conjunction with Blankenship and Partners for their joint project in the planning and construction of the Natalie Haslam Music Center at the University of Tennessee. The jury noted that the project had “strong technical demands, a limited budget . . . and a challenging site.” They were “impressed that this design achieved LEED Gold.” They praised the facades and the contrast with the interior, plus the use of light. I need to ride the bike over to see this one.
An Award of Excellence in New Construction went to Curb architects for their work on the Frugal Farmhouse. The jury noted that, “every design move had multiple rationales: functional, cost-effective and compositional,” saying, “this presentation made a compelling conceptual argument for frugal design. . .”
Sanders Pace Architecture one an Award of Excellence in New Construction for a project located on Florida’s Intercoastal Highway called the Barrier Island House. The jury was impressed with, “the sense of tranquility and the way the interior spaces seemed to relate to the exterior.” They said, “Overall, this house demonstrated excellence in its response to its site, in its functionality, and in its sense of scale and details.”
Sanders Pace hit again with another Award of Excellence in New Construction for a home built in east Tennessee. The Holston River House was commended for, “the sensitivity in the way the architects responded to this unique site in East Tennessee. . . the building form seems to embrace the landscape, its views and orientation.” In praising the relationship of the interior to the exterior, the noted its “remarkable sense of place.”
Finally, Applied Research won an Award of Excellence for New Construction for their design of “Old Briar,” a new home on an eighty acre farm in west Tennessee. The jury noted that the new home, “consistently respects the landscape and the specific sense of place.” They were, “impressed with the sense of character in this design, which reinterprets elements of a farm vernacular.” They also noted that it is sustainable, “with details retained from reclaimed items.”
Last night the East Tennessee Chapter of the AIA held its own annual awards. John Thurman, the current president of the group handled most of the duties and awards and recognition were given to a number of architects, several for the same projects that won them state awards. The Gold Medal Award went to John McRae for exhibiting a high degree of competence and integrity throughout his career. It’s their highest award.
A number of projects displayed on the wall had been voted on online for the Online People’s Choice Award and the assembled architects voted among them for the Chapter Choice Award. These awards provided the suspense for the night. I’ve pictured here a three others that I thought were pretty spectacular. The Shelton Group work space in the Jackson Central Building has been pictured on this blog before and I have to say it is amazing. It turns out, however, that the online voting and the chapter voting lined up behind the same project: Hicks Orthodonic in Lenoir City designed by Barber McMurray.