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2018 AIA Seattle Honor Awards celebrate adaptability

The annual awards celebrate the best of Seattle’s design community

This week, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Seattle chapter distributed its honor awards to exceptional projects to come out of Seattle’s design community. The biggest winners—the Honor Award and Energy in Design recipients—all have an eye for long-term adaptability. They also come from a variety of different sectors: a public school, a private home, and an office building.

The first of two Honor Awards went to Arlington Elementary School in Tacoma, designed by Mahlum. The firm was tasked with the first school to be constructed from the ground up after Tacoma Public Schools released new construction guidelines for elementary schools, prioritizing innovative approaches that help children interact with the built environment. At the same time, the south Tacoma school was grappling with population growth and displacement—and the district was experiencing declining graduation rates. The result was a colorful facility that blends indoor and outdoor learning and collaborative spaces for large and small groups.

Arlington Elementary School.
Benjamin Benschneider Photography

“The planning process revealed that 77 percent of the time, learning ideally occurred with groups of 15 students or less,” read Mahlum’s submission. “This challenges a spacial program assigned as groups of [about] 30 students in a single classroom, geared toward direct instruction. For Arlington, we utilized a functional programming process to understand their spatial needs. This led to an agile learning model, where each learner/teacher is given a core instruction space, a shared learning project lab, a flexible shared learning area, multiple small group rooms, and a secure outdoor learning space, a shared learning project lab, a flexible shared learning area, multiple small group rooms, and a secure outdoor learning space, in the same (or less) square foot per student as the traditional models.”

“Its use of light and color, gradients of space, and thinking about flexibility and adaptation over time are what captivated the jury,” said AIA Seattle of the award, “as well as it rising to the challenge for schools to be an agent of community change.”

The project also received a national AIA Award of Merit for education facility design.

“Sawmill” by Olson Kundig.
Kevin Scott/Olson Kundig

The other Honor Award went to a project that’s not local, but is by one of Seattle’s more prestigious local firms: Olson Kundig designed “Sawmill,” a single-family home in the California high desert that operates completely off the grid—with net-zero energy.

Since the home is also located pretty far off the grid—five miles off the nearest paved road—the home was carefully sited and landscaped, so the same amount of site area supported vegetation before and after construction. The entirety of the site’s landscaped area is filled with native or climate-appropriate plants.

Inside, a central hearth is surrounded by three wings, or four if you include the outside patio. Olson Kundig compares the design concept to “tents around a campfire.” The home was constructed largely from salvaged materials, including a wheel and gear salvaged from the site itself that operates a sliding window wall between the living room and the patio.

“The extreme attention to detail, its transformability, and the ambitious sustainability story were what made this an Award of Honor to the jury, as well as the restraint and clear conceptual organization of the plan elements connected by to the central hearth,” noted the AIA Seattle jury. The tents-around-a-campfire concept, the jury said, “balanc[es] expansive views and internal gazes.”

The Helen Sommers Building.
Benjamin Benschneider Photography

The Energy in Design Award, which specifically honors a project that demonstrates high-level energy performance, went to ZGF Architects for the Helen Sommers Building in Olympia, Washington, facing the Olmsted-designed lawn of the Washington State Capitol. The office space currently houses the Washington State Patrol, the state treasurer’s office, and legislative staff.

The lawn side was designed to emulate a sense of both community and formality that plays with the landscaping, with a wide portico leading into a central atrium. On the side facing downtown Olympia, it’s a more standard and “approachable” office building, with a transparent façade to, as ZGF puts it, “[reveal] an open and accessible government.” Construction prioritized Washington-made materials, all designed to be functional: solar shades, a PV glass canopy, reclaimed wood, concrete, and steel. It’s LEED Platinum certified, the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest standard of energy efficiency.

“The jury felt this project embodied design and performance, with an interior experience and spatial organization that captivated them in particular in how it encouraged interaction, incorporated public art, and maximized flexibility,” noted AIA Seattle.

WSU Troy Hall by Perkins + Will.
Benjamin Benschneider Photography
Fire Station 22 by Weinstein A+U.
Lara Swimmer Photography
Granny Pad by Best Practice Architecture.
Ed Sozinho

Other projects honored include WSU’s Troy Hall by Perkins + Will, Fire Station 22 by Weinstein A+U, and Post-Occupancy Data Devices, a sensor designed by LMN Architects to help architects measure the performance of their buildings. The Young Voices Selection, which exists to engage young designers, was Best Practice Architecture’s Granny Pad, a backyard cottage created from a garage for housing an aging family member—a granny flat for a literal granny.