It is the perfect tool for an era of austerity. It can transform aging industrial warehouses into sparkling new offices, use mundane materials to showcase the companies that sell them, build new factories that can produce just as much as older ones twice their size, generate the flexibility and teamwork necessary for global competition, or create brand new identities for traditional businesses--all at a minimal cost.
Architecture, associated in the past with grandiosity and richness, is showing a strong ability to deliver higher productivity and significant cost savings while still surprising with structures and spaces of stunning visual beauty.
This is why, for the second year in a row, the BUSINESS WEEK/Architectural Record Awards, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), celebrate the problem-solving strengths and bottom-line prowess of architecture. (Both BUSINESS WEEK and Architectural Record are owned by The McGraw-Hill Companies; the October issue of Architectural Record has its own write-up of the awards.) The contest focuses on the successful translation of business goals into architectural solutions and includes businesspeople on the contest jury. Olli Kallasvuo, president of Nokia Inc. and corporate executive vice-president of Nokia Americas, and Michael Basserman, chairman and chief executive of Mercedes-Benz of North America, served this year. The trophies go to teams of clients and architects who together solved business problems that are at the heart of today's economy: restructuring, teaming, innovation.
With the global economy facing strong recessionary pressures, the imperative of growth, which was dominant for so many years, is quickly giving way to restraint. Many of the awards this year illustrate how architecture can facilitate that new approach. "Those projects that had budget constraints on them often had the more inventive solutions," says juror Charles Gwathmey, principal of New York-based Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects, a firm known for its high-end, modernist designs.
To ensure impartiality, the AIA chooses the judges and establishes the criteria, which include a business plan as well as architectural renderings. In 1998, there were 213 entries, up from 153 last year, with 186 coming from the private sector and 27 from the public. The largest category--89 entries--was for corporate headquarters and offices; followed by manufacturing, research- and-development, and operations (24); entertainment (18); and education (14). There were 74 new construction projects, 71 interiors, and 38 renovations. Some 45 entries had budgets under $1 million and 69 under $5 million. There were many larger-budget projects as well--42 over $25 million, and 57 between $5 million and $25 million. Entries came from Europe, Asia, Latin America, Canada, and Africa, as well as the U.S.
What were the big trends in this year's contest? Try what one juror called "minimizing materiality," or the clever use of inexpensive, everyday materials to deliver low-budget but high-impact offices and factories. Glass and grass are a major theme. Award-winners QMR Plastics Div. in Wisconsin, the San Francisco-based Gap Inc. headquarters, and The New York Times's new printing plant all emphasize skylights and windows, for instance. The result: lots of natural daylight, a better working environment for employees, and savings on energy.
Grass is where the Green Movement meets the green eyeshade. Both the Regio Twente waste-transfer center in the Netherlands and the QMR Plastics plant in River Falls, Wisc., use native grasses to landscape their buildings, please local communities, and save money. (Indigenous grasses need no irrigation and require little maintenance.) Gap has even put grass on the roof of its headquarters to create a thermal barrier, saving on energy.
AUSTERITY. Award-winner Praxair Inc., an Ankeny (Iowa) distributor of bottled industrial gases such as nitrogen and oxygen, actually celebrates its minimal materialism. By taking an old warehouse and exposing and polishing its metal ductwork and pipes, the architects created a workplace true to the industrial heart of the business, as well as a special place to work in.
Once it was rare for architects to be called in to design industrial facilities; not anymore. "These buildings make a lot of sense from a business point of view," says Bernardo Fort-Brescia, principal of Arquitectonica International of Miami. "Unlike the postmodern ostentation of the '80s, with its expensive, ornate marble and pretension, these winners have a style that makes sense and does not waste money." The New York Times saved $100 million by using basic materials, a simple, rectangular building, and more efficient space in its new printing plant.
Teamwork is the second major theme to emerge from the contest. The new QMR Plastics building houses production, engineering, and management under one roof. Company officials want everyone involved in the manufacture and distribution of plastics to work together. Glass walls separate blue- and white-collar employees while making each visible to the other. Large, open spaces bring people together. The Praxair building, like QMR Plastics', is multiuse: It has a warehouse, offices, and training areas under one roof.
Gap's grassed roof covers what some might think of as a workers' paradise--light, airy spaces, windows that open to the fresh air, a gym with a pool, and a cafeteria with good food. But employees do pay a price: speed. Gap changes clothing lines many times annually, and architects built tremendous flexibility into the new headquarters. Teams assemble, break up, and reassemble to get the work out.
Awards also went to projects where managers wanted their offices to express core company values. Architecture made their buildings and work spaces tell a story about the business within. At Osho, a publisher of media dedicated to a meditative life, Daniel Rowen Architects created a serene yet dynamic Manhattan office space using light and long, uncluttered walls and hallways.
But architecture also can redefine the way a company operates. The award-winning Futures By Temps project remade the business model of the temporary-staffing agency by redefining its applicants as customers rather than job-seeking supplicants. When the company was unable to meet corporate demand for computer-literate temps, its architects built a jazzy kiosk featuring Web-site-design imagery that attracted young, computer-literate people in malls who might be interested in temporary work.
One of the strongest architectural trends that showed up in both the 1997 and 1998 contests was the reuse of older buildings. Usually that involves retrofitting old warehouses or factories to make offices. But a Dutch winner this year goes one step further. Oosterhuis Associates designed an enormous waste-treatment shed that can be transformed into something entirely different in 15 years: a sports stadium. This persuaded the local community to accept a garbage landfill in their backyards.
Two architects won in both the 1997 and 1998 competitions: Julie Snow and William McDonough. Snow is building a reputation for designing light, open spaces that integrate blue-collar and white-collar work. McDonough is well-known for his environmental approach. This is just one of many trends appearing as the BUSINESS WEEK/Architectural Record contest evolves.
A more detailed look at the winners and why they won begins on page 64.
BUSINESS WEEK/ARCHITECTURAL RECORD AWARDS 1998 JURY: MICHAEL BASSERMAN, Chairman and CEO, Mercedes-Benz of North America; BERNARDO FORT-BRESCIA, Principal, Arquitectonica International; SHERRI GELDIN, Director, Wexner Center For The Arts; CHARLES GWATHMEY, Principal, Gwathmey Siegel & Associates; WENDY EVANS JOSEPH, Principal, Wendy Evans Joseph; OLLI KALLASVUO, President, Nokia Inc., and Corporate Executive Vice-President, Nokia Americas; RODOLFO MACHADO, Principal, Machado & Silvetti Associates; JOHN O. NORQUIST, Mayor of Milwaukee; WAYNE M. REHBERGER, Vice-President for Planning, Analysis, & Administration, MCI WorldCom; CHARLES B. ROSE, Principal, Thompson & Rose Architects