Sustainability monitoring systems, flexible spaces, a Net Zero Energy lab — see which trend-setting features these AIA Award-winning education facilities feature

by Brianna Crandall — October 4, 2017 — The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on Architecture for Education (CAE) recently announced the selection of 12 projects for this year’s CAE Education Facility Design Awards. The program honors educational facilities that the jury believes should serve as an example of a superb place in which to learn, furthering the client’s mission, goals and educational program while demonstrating excellence in architectural design.

The awards are indicative of trends in education facility architecture and design as well as facilities management, including building monitoring systems to keep track of sustainability; spaces that can be reconfigured for flexible, maximized usage and that promote collaboration and different learning styles; and numerous energy-reducing initiatives such as an impressive Net Zero Energy laboratory. (Some of the FM-related features appear in boldface in the descriptions below.)

AIA describes the winning facilities below.

Awards of Excellence

Bridge for Laboratory Sciences, Vassar College, Integrated Science Commons; Poughkeepsie, NY; Ennead Architects

The new Vassar College Bridge for Laboratory Sciences (VBLS) redefines the sciences at Vassar. Spanning a creek and connecting two sides of campus, the VBLS houses state-of-the-art undergraduate teaching and research laboratories, offices and shared public spaces, and physically connects the sciences with the surrounding wetlands. Consolidating the sciences on Vassar’s campus, in addition to the new VBLS, the Integrated Science Commons includes the renovation of three buildings and ten acres of landscape to create a cohesive science precinct on Vassar’s campus.

Vassar College new building

Northern entry and labs of the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences, in the Integrated Science Commons at Award of Excellence winner Vassar College. Photo: Vassar College/Karl Rabe.

Kohler Environmental Center, Choate Rosemary Hall; Wallingford, CT; Robert A.M. Stern Architects, LLP

This project achieves dual objectives by not only being a high-performance LEED-Platinum building, but also serves as a learning tool for students. The Kohler Environmental Center accommodates cohorts of up to 20 students for a total-immersion environmental living/learning experience. Feedback from the building’s monitoring systems enables students to teach themselves important lessons about how to live sustainably and responsibly.

Music and Arts Center; Wenatchee, WA; Integrus Architecture

The performing arts venues are positioned to welcome and engage the community, while the visual arts spaces allow students to use a preserved northerly grove of trees for artistic inspiration. A single pivot point between artistic disciplines serves as both a gathering space allowing students to continue learning outside the classroom and an area for patrons to gather prior to performances. The design integrates the historic heart of the campus with the existing and future circulation routes while preserving the integrity of the surrounding educational community.

Northwood Elementary School; Mercer Island, WA; Mahlum Architects

Northwood Elementary is located on Mercer Island, positioned directly between the cities of Seattle and Bellevue, and is the first school that the community had built since the 1950s. The project occupies the corner of a large, multi-use campus, adjacent to one of the last remaining stands of Madrona trees on the island, and nestles into a steeply sloped site at the head of a major geological outlet to Lake Washington. The design is an eco-system of flexible and fluidly connected spaces that promote active learning and support the Next Generation Science Standards.

University of Oregon Allan Price Commons Research Library Remodel-Expansion; Eugene, OR; Opsis Architecture

The Price Science Commons and Research Library creates an inviting identity for the Lokey Science Complex as a glass enclosed pavilion containing a social commons café and event space overlooking and connecting to the subterranean research library and landscaped courtyard. A hub of student activity, it is a technologically robust, dynamic learning environment for learning and discovery that reflects a 21st Century paradigm. The student-centered design promotes experimentation, collaboration, and investigation. Spatial flexibility, with classrooms that reconfigure into study groups and informal learning arrangements, promotes collaboration across diverse user groups. Science-specific study rooms support collaboration, tutoring, and hands-on learning.

Awards of Merit

Bates Technical College Advanced Technology Center; Tacoma, WA; McGranahan Architects

The Advanced Technology Center integrates student, faculty, project and instructional areas to provide pedagogical overlap to nurture student growth in STEM and broadcast technologies; attracting a diverse student body and supporting outcomes for a variety of educational capabilities and community benefits. The project inspired an exploration into shared craft and design methodologies that exist between building technologies and information architecture. The campus fosters student success by involving community and industry partners to support the college Foundation, which helps address financial needs of at-risk students. Project-oriented work, educational effectiveness, inquiry and collaboration among faculty and students is heightened through connectivity.

Chengdu International School; Chengdu, China; Perkins Eastman Architects

Born out of a need to accommodate a growing enrollment and expanding curriculum, Chengdu International School (CDIS) transformed a newly constructed structure from its original intended use as an elementary school for Chinese students, to an international school, grades pre-k thru 12, providing a Western-based educational model for foreign nationals living in China. The conversion of the 17,000-square foot, five-story building was extensive and highlighted the spatial, organizational and cultural differences between a Chinese teaching model. Drawing upon the rich use of color and frames in traditional Chinese architecture, a language of wrapping planes enfolds non-programmed and shared community space.

Cherry Crest Elementary School; Bellevue, WA; NAC Architecture

Building and site are woven into each other at Cherry Crest Elementary, making students feel not so much “in the building” as “on the site.” This integrated experiential environment stimulates both the curriculum and student engagement by offering a variety of learning spaces which encourage overlap of formal and informal interaction. Educational environment and physical environment intertwine and are inseparable. The building is a gentle part of the site and the whole site is a teaching tool.

University of California, Berkeley, Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation; Berkeley, CA; Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

Founded on the conviction that design can help address some of society’s most pressing challenges, the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley, is devoted to introducing design innovation at the center of engineering education and university life. The project was conceived by the College of Engineering as an interdisciplinary hub for students and teachers from across the university who “love working at the intersection of design and technology”. It is designed as both a team-based, project-centric educational space and a compelling symbol to the region of the University’s commitment to enlightened, sustainable innovation.

The Winsor School, Lubin O’Donnell Center for Performing Arts and Wellness; Boston, MA; William Rawn Associates, Architects, Inc.

Committed to the school motto, “A sound mind in a sound body,” The Winsor School’s new mixed-use facility serves as the home for the performing arts, athletics, and wellness education at the center of the school’s historic campus. The project features a new 515-seat theater, which serves as the school’s main assembly space, as well as major athletic and recreation facilities, including a two-court gymnasium, five squash courts, and physical education spaces. Other program elements include rehearsal and teaching areas for drama, dance, music, and health and wellness.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Electrical and Computer Engineering Building; Urbana, IL; SmithGroupJJR

The Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign consistently ranks among the top five engineering programs in the country. Known for groundbreaking research and technological innovations, the department needed a new home that reflected the program prestige by becoming the most sustainable laboratory classroom in the world. The 230,000-square foot building was designed with maximum energy efficiency in mind, eventually reaching a Net Zero Energy rating. This is an incredible feat, considering that to date the Department of Energy has classified only 10 U.S. facilities as net-zero energy buildings, each less than 15,000-square foot.

University of Pennsylvania Stephen A. Levin Building; Philadelphia, PA; SmithGroupJJR

The genesis for the new Neural and Behavioral Sciences (NBS) building is the acknowledgment that the study of complex behaviors will be a fundamental focus of life sciences in the 21st century. The NBS building strongly identifies itself as an iconic gateway into campus and celebrates a new life sciences precinct by defining a new academic quadrangle.

The 2017 winners of the Education Facility Design Awards are highlighted with photos and descriptions on the AIA Web site.