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November 7, 2018

'Hilarious overabundance of good work' greets AIA awards jury; 13 projects win

Special to the Journal

Photo by Benjamin Benschneider Photography [enlarge]
One of the top awards went to this spare, light-filled, energy-efficient school: Arlington Elementary in South Tacoma by Mahlum Architects.

Take care of the planet. Watch the money. These were the big themes at Monday night's 2018 Seattle AIA architecture awards event.

Two projects won honor awards, and one was a surprise: a spare, light-filled, energy-efficient school — Arlington Elementary in South Tacoma, by Mahlum Architects. The other was no surprise: a ruggedly beautiful small house by Olson Kundig in a California desert.

Every AIA Seattle awards program seems to produce architectural gems in spectacular natural settings. But this time one of the graphics for Olson Kundig's project broke out the cost-per-square-foot for different parts of the house. Also, as if admitting he just can't help falling in love with second homes in pristine settings, one juror expressed hope that the owners are tough enough to bicycle to their retreat.

You can hardly see the buildings for the cranes in downtown Seattle, and many design firms are just trying to keep up with the business cycle. Maybe that's why attendance at the awards ceremony at Benaroya Hall was down a little this year.

But 115 entries were sent in.

It can cost thousands of dollars in staff time to prepare diagrams, drawings, text and images for a submittal, according to Ed Weinstein, whose firm Weinstein A+U received a merit award for Station 22, a fire station project. All those entries show that even when business is good, architects still want respect from other architects, and they want to see exactly what the most ambitious design firms have to show for themselves.

The international jury included Sunil Bald of New York, Will Laufs of Berlin/New York, Andrea Love of Boston and Dan Maginn of Kansas City. Elizabeth Golden of the University of Washington was the moderator.

The jury called the submitted projects a “hilarious overabundance of good work,” and picked 13 for awards.

Almost entirely missing among them were tall mixed-use buildings, the kind that are changing the skyline of Seattle. However, a mixed-use building by The Miller Hull Partnership at Eighth Avenue and Republican Street impressed the jury with its deep balconies and great interaction with landscaping. It got an honorable mention.

Another type almost missing in this year's awards is single-family homes. Significantly, however, a detached garage converted into an accessory dwelling unit won a special award from a panel of young architects. It was designed by Best Practice Architecture.

In what seems to be a trend, some winners were not buildings at all.

LMN got an award of merit for PODDs or Post-Occupancy Data Devices, bundles of software and hardware used to gather information about how buildings are actually working. One honorable mention went to a code development research project for tall wood buildings by atelierjones. Another went to a set of concept drawings by Madeleine Black that amounted to a spooky meditation on water in the city.

Two very high-profile projects were among the entries: the Amazon spheres (no award for them) and the Space Needle renovation. Bingo! The jury loved the Space Needle project by Olson Kundig enough to confer an honorable mention. It adds thrilling downward views without substantially changing the profile of the beloved landmark. “You don't see a single handrail,” noted one juror.

Maybe the spheres will get some love, too, after a few decades.

Overabundance aside, the jury expressed longing for some things they didn't see. One asked the audience to “Tell a story of materials more.”

The jury for the awards changes every year, of course. But one member of this year's panel said: “If you want to win next year, listen now.” He told the assembled architects to think about things like homelessness, and how to live close to where you work.

He also added “carbon neutrality” and “political impact” to their thought homework.

Another jury comment summarized it all: “Architecture is hard.”


Clair Enlow can be reached by e-mail at clair@clairenlow.com.

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