Friday, November 04, 2011

American Institute of Architects Opens New DC Center Tomorrow

How stressful is it for the architect chosen to design a new center for architects? According to the winning team at Hickok Cole, not that stressful. Hundreds of architects will have their chance to judge the design tonight as the DC chapter of the American Institute of Architects unveils the District Architecture Center. The new Penn Quarter showroom, an 11,000 s.f. retail space for architects and public education of architecture, will offer free admission to the public beginning tomorrow to "learn more about the importance and impact of architecture design and the profession," and will kick off the week with a series of public lectures throughout the week.

Hickok Cole won the design competition from 16 submissions to design the architecture headquarters, beginning a full renovation this May that is still wrapping up in advance of tonight's private unveiling. The remake transforms the two-story retail space on 7th Street - once the Obama souvenir shop - into offices, classrooms, and instructional space that serves to educate AIA members while pulling in foot traffic to engage and instruct with videos and links to DC's better examples of architectural design. The AIA wants you to appreciate the sense of transparency:
[the space has] two distinct volumes: a wood room that signifies solidity, and a glass room that suggests openness. Together, the two rooms produce a sense of warmth and openness. The use of glass walls and a glass ‘bridge’ for the center classroom in the heart of the building extends the feeling of openness and makes the building appear more spacious, while connecting it to the lower level. Natural daylight flows through the street storefront into the glass volume, and down to the lower level.
With interior walls composed almost entirely of glass, most of ground floor is visible from the street, back to the rear board room, filled in between with polished concrete and walnut floors and a two-story glass box that serves as offices (below) and a meeting room above. A floating glass bridge serves to connect the two meeting spaces while illuminating the subterranean office space. Exposed I-beams lend a design motif to the center, with railing stanchions and desks imitating the shape and color of the original beams. "We tried to create as much transparency as possible," said Tom Corrado, an architect with Hickok Cole that was responsible for executing the design vision.

The $1.9m makeover (about $400,000 over budget, alas) was contrived to achieve a LEED Gold ranking within the 1917 Oddfellows Building, and precedes, just barely, the 125th anniversary of the AIA that will be celebrated in Washington D.C. next year, drawing architects from around the country for the convention.

While conspiracy minded architects might note that Hickok Cole was not only the winning bidder, but also on the AIA DC board and judged the competition (and a major donor to the center), Michael Hickok assures DCMud that the competition was blind and - really, truly - judged as anonymous bids.

Hickok shrugged off the pressure from being judged on his work by the many architects that will use the space, saying the design was routine. "You do what you do. We didn't give this more attention" than other projects. Hundreds of architects are likely to be on hand tonight to judge for themselves if the inspiration was worthy of DC's public face of architecture. For those that can't make it to the center, check out the DC architecture app for your phone.


Mary Fitch on Nov 7, 2011, 4:05:00 PM said...

A small correction to your article -- while a member of Hickok Cole is on our board of directors -- it was not the board of directors that decided on the the design. An independent jury was set up which included 2 members of our board (it was a requirement that they could not be on the jury if they submitted to the competition, two members of our Foundation Board and me -- representing the staff. Thanks for letting me clarify. Mary Fitch Executive Director AIA|DC

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