AIA winners transcend design challenges

Jurors said this year's winners show a deft use of materials, and are fully realized in their response to site and program.

Journal Staff Reporter

Juror's for this year's AIA Seattle Honor Awards heaped nearly as much praise on clients as they did on architectural firms.

NBBJ took three of 12 awards, winning for the Swedish Cancer Institute, Bremerton Naval Hospital and University of Washington Bothell/Cascadia Community College. Top Honor Awards also went to Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen's Chicken Point cabin; Bohlin Cywinski Jackson's Point House in Montana; and Cutler Anderson Architects' Reeve residence at Salmon Point on Lopez Island.

"We're pleased that this is a public client, and that the design is so well done," said juror Rick Roy, an Arizona architect, referring to Bremerton Naval Hospital.

Fellow juror Reed Kroloff added: "This should deliver a message to architects that quality architecture can be done on state and federal budgets in health care design."

Five residential projects took home awards. Olson Sundberg's Chicken Point cabin -- described by the firm as a little box with a big window that opens to the surrounding landscape -- was irresistible to the jury.

"Every design competition has one of these," said Kroloff. "It's one of those projects that just reaches out and says 'You're gonna love me whether you want to or not.' It's so fetching in every way -- from the rigorous plan to the opening door, which frames the view with deadpan simplicity."

Jurors admitted being awestruck at Cutler Anderson's Reeve residence on Lopez Island. "This is just real architecture," said Joy. "It makes you appreciate the landscape and creates its own internal landscape."

The firm said its intention for the 2,800-square-foot house was to remain unobtrusive in a powerful waterfront landscape, and nestle into a cliff face. To diminish the visual impact of the building, one roof covers three elements of the house -- the bunkhouse, the greatroom and the master suite. Juror Jane Weinzapfel described the home's protection from the elements as "primeval."

Other residential projects that won over jurors were Bohlin Cywinski Jackson's Point House -- a 2,200-square-foot home in Montana. The house, according to BCJ, extends from a rock spine to the edge of dense wetlands, a site calling for "delicate intervention." Cor-ten steel was used to slice through the site and organize the various building elements.

"The integrity of the concept was immediately apparent to us," said Joy. "As we saw more and more images, it became clear to us this was somebody at work with a masterful hand. I liked the strong horizontal line in a vertical forest."

"Everything about it was correct -- and no more than it had to be," said Kroloff. "It was rich without being sickening."

R-b-f architecture's Harrison Street entry screen wall was commended for the richness of its simplicity and holding its own with the neighboring Experience Music Project. "This is a little baby firm taking on Uncle Frank and winning," said Kroloff. "And that's a damn big deal."

The screen wall is composed of 110 30-foot tall steel blades -- dense enough to screen the parking yet open enough to allow pedestrians to slip through, according to the design firm. The blades are thick enough to withstand a windstorm, yet thin enough to gently sway in the breeze.

"I saw people grabbing it and wiggling it," said Weinzapfel. "The whole experience becomes a live one."

Joy said Miller/Hull's Fisher Pavilion also "takes on Frank" while "embodying the civic responsibility to do the right thing."

"To add this to the public realm was really a wonderful move and very restrained -- it showed great restraint for the architect to subordinate this building to a larger public open space," said Weinzapfel. "They've done it with terrific success, while providing light and views to the interior."

The subterranean design called for pushing the building down, and adding new rooftop belvedere/plaza on top, according to Miller/Hull. The northern facade is glazed, and opens onto the new green with a series of roll-up garage doors. The rooftop plaza above serves as a vantage point to the fountain and green.

Selecting from 200 entrants, jurors said they were impressed with the use of materials. "They put together existing materials in ways that are really elegant and evocative, and make you feel like you're in the right place," said Kroloff. "You can feel Northwestern without getting cute."

Along those lines, jurors commended Weinstein Copeland's River Residence in Mount Vernon. "The details show a great deal of refinement, with the use of many materials in a very subtle way," said Weinzapfel.

The 2,600-square-foot main house is located above the sloping banks of the Skagit River. A series of walls follow the contour of the land and organize the site and program, according to the architect. The walls begin as low stone walls that form terraced gardens, and culminate in concrete walls that form the circulation spine and skylit gallery of the main house. The concrete walls provide a transition and an edge between the two environments of the site.

"In the hands of this architect, there is the right insertion of wood and soft surfaces that really renders the whole project absolutely delightful," said Kroloff. "It never tries to be more than it is."

Miller/Hull's Seattle Academy of Arts & Sciences gymnasium was also recognized for its use of materials. Differing exterior materials help reduce the overall mass.

"The skillful manipulation of the exterior rhythm and scale and texture allows for a monolithic building in a small residential neighborhood," said Joy. "This shows clean, sophisticated architecture can fit in any situation if done right.

Taking a top Honor Award, NBBJ's University of Washington Bothell/Cascadia Community College made best use of a complex site, jurors agreed.

"They have made a community college that is intimate yet with openings to the landscape looking outward and down the slope," said Kroloff.

Only half of the 127-acre site is buildable, due to a sensitive wetlands ecosystem, so the master plan called for buildings to be placed on the upland portion of the site. The remaining 60 acres are dedicated to the country’s largest wetlands restoration project. Buildings are sited along a promenade that runs parallel to the contour lines at the edge of the wetlands. The unique site inspired the theme of "academic lodge," with unifying elements of protective overhangs, sloped roofs and brick exteriors.

"It's such a fulfilling feeling to get that link with the interior and landscape design," said Kroloff. "You feel it all the way through, in a way I haven't felt in a lot of projects." Overall, jurors said they searched for projects that were responsive to their site and the client's needs -- including budget.

"We tried to pick projects that transcend the usual problem: in very defined regions of the country the nostalgic re-working of the vernacular," said Joy. "We looked for more depth, and for projects that considered the site and program."

Reed added that winning architects responded to a full range of standards for successful design. "We chose fully realized pieces of architecture -- ones that were spatially correct, made sense in this climate and were correct according to use," he said.

Sam Bennett can be reached at (206) 622-8272 or by e-mail at

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