California Architectural Foundation’s 2013 Owings Award Jury Recognizes Three Projects for Environmental Excellence

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SACRAMENTO, CA (July 22, 2013) — The California Architectural Foundation (CAF) and the jurors for the 2013 Owings Award for Environmental Excellence are pleased to recognize three meritorious projects. The University of California, Merced, Phase 1; the Burbank Water and Power EcoCampus and 355 11 Street, San Francisco are projects that represent very different scales with distinctly different lessons that celebrate the stewardship and legacy of Nat Owings.

With a holistic view toward sustainability and the tenacity to take on a large scale challenge within a budget challenged educational system, UC Merced, Phase 1 is honored for adhering to their ideals and for putting the experience and well-being of students first. This project is both a physical and an emotional anchor for the San Joaquin Valley. It responds both to the environmental constraints of two agricultural irrigation canals and adjacent vernal pool grasslands as well as the needs of a community with some of the nation’s poorest economic indicators. The population has the lowest level of college attainment in the state, the highest levels of child poverty, and among the highest unemployment in America. It is also the state’s fastest growing region due to high birth rates. By 2035, it will be 60% Latino. The design challenge was not limited to environmental and economic efficiency. It included a social sustainability target of developing a vibrant, academic space in a region with few opportunities for young people to experience the environment of a college campus – a definite ‘game-changer.’

By transforming the Burbank Water and Power (BWP) Magnolia Power Plant from an industrial complex into a regenerative green EcoCampus, AHBE Landscape Architects and team have created a replicable project with strong educational value. The campus features one of the longest green streets in Southern California. The Lake Street Green Street showcases products and techniques for storm water treatment within a public right-of-way. The hallmark of the new campus is the Centennial Courtyard, a green space within the footprint of a decommissioned electrical substation which serves as a giant super trellis and creates a poignant juxtaposition between industry and nature. By ‘upcycling’ this old infrastructure, the client and the designers took a risk on an often overlooked Brownfield site and created an understated way of dealing with a problem well. The result is a very real and useable, moderate scale project that contributes to the community and serves as a demonstration project for others.

The adaptive reuse of a historic and previously derelict turn-of-the-century industrial building into a three story mixed use project earns Aidlin Darling Design the third Merit Award. By advocating for the inclusion of a restaurant within the building and reinterpreting zoning requirements to convert the parking lot into an exterior courtyard, the design team was able to provide a small scale amenity to the public within a rough industrial neighborhood of San Francisco. The masterful use of materials and the relationships between light, space and movement have resulted in a project with an elegant twist on the ordinary, a ‘magnificent cultural hub’ and a transformational catalyst.

The jury commented on the strong contextual accommodation of each of these projects as well as their important community focus and resulting ability to function as a center of activity. Regrettably, the jury felt that there was not a single project that addressed all of the award’s criteria while presenting a ‘unified idea of timeless greatness.’ Since the purpose of this award is to recognize outstanding accomplishments in the reconciliation of nature and the built environment, the jury chose not to present the award this year. Consideration for the Owings Award is currently restricted to projects built either in California or outside of the state by California professionals. Submitted projects needed to be of a scale large enough to impact the community.

The Owings Award for Environmental Excellence was originally created in 1986 to honor Nathaniel Owings (1903-1984), a founding partner of the firm Skidmore Owings and Merrill. In 2012 the program was refined to capture his core values: Man should live in harmony with nature and he should build “in cooperation with nature—not against it.” Owings believed architecture should contribute to the broader community and the creation of public space in American cities: “Non-architecture—open spaces—will be the objective, and the buildings will simply frame them.”

This year’s Owings Award jury consisted of: Will Bruder, FAIA, Principal, Will Bruder Architects, Phoenix AZ; Kira Gould, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, Director of Communications, William McDonough + Partners, San Francisco; Kurt Hunker, FAIA, Director of Graduate Programs, NewSchool of Architecture and Design, San Diego; Mia Lehrer, FASLA, Principal, Mia Lehrer + Associates, Los Angeles; and Martha Welborne, FAIA, Executive Director of Countywide Planning, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The California Architectural Foundation (CAF) believes that a designed world is a better world. Every day we build bridges between designers, educators and community leaders to promote forward-thinking and pragmatic solution to urban challenges, because the health of California and the future of the built environment depend upon the cultivation of great ideas. CAF serves as the education and research arm of the American Institute of Architects, California Council (AIACC). Focusing on advancing sustainable communities, CAF uses its programs and relationships to explore progressive ideas, honor outstanding accomplishments and inform the public about the many ways in which design can support change.

Please visit cafsite.org and www.owingsaward.cafsite.org.

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Shannon Calder

Shannon Calder, a Sacramento-based writer, joined the AIACC in 2013. She is the author of, “Jack and Abigail Make a Compass,” a novel about people, birds, and orchids. She spends her days both on and off hours, looking for connection, which is a good hobby to have when linking the value of design to public perception.

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