Architects Build Careers with Unbuilt Work: 2010 Design Awards

Event: 2010 AIANY Design Awards Panel: Unbuilt Work
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.10.10
Speakers: Garrick Jones — Associate, Della Valle Bernheimer; Megumi Tamanaha — Associate, Architecture Research Office; Jeeyong An, AIA — Principal, Ginseng Chicken Architecture; Pablo Castro, AIA — Principal, OBRA Architects; Victor Agran, RA — Senior Associate, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects; Rona Easton, AIA, LEED AP — EASTON+COMBS; Hangman Zo, KIRA — Principal, H Associates; Craig Konyk, AIA — Principal, konyk; Audrey Choi — Associate Principal, Kohn Pedersen Fox
Moderator: Susanna Sirefman — President, Dovetail Design Strategists
Organizers: AIANY
Sponsors: Chair’s Circle: F+P Architects New York Inc.; Benefactor: STUDIOS Architecture; Patrons: Mancini Duffy; Peter Marino Architect; Studio Daniel Libeskind; Trespa; Lead Sponsors: A. E. Greyson + Company; Dagher Engineering; F.J. Sciame Construction Co. Inc.; Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson; FXFOWLE Architects; Gensler; Ingram Yuzek Gainen Carroll & Bertolotti; Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates; MechoShade Systems Inc.; New York University; Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Rudin Management Company Inc.; Structure Tone Inc.; Syska Hennessy Group; Toshiko Mori Architect; VJ Associates


Clockwise: Open Paradox by Ginseng Chicken Architecture; Chung-Nam Government Complex by H Associates and Haeahn Architecture; Lux Nova by EASTON+COMBS; R-House by Della Valle Bernheimer and Architectural Research Office.

Courtesy AIANY

“To win a competition is the wrong reason to do a competition,” said Craig Konyk, AIA, principal at konyk; rather, he said, competitions and unbuilt commissions should be seen as a chance to test new ideas. The Unbuilt category of the AIANY Design Awards specifically honored those ideas, and ultimately the jury bestowed 11 Merit Awards.

As one might expect, many of the winners incorporated sustainable features, but two sought to re-conceptualize sustainability by investigating new material properties. “Lux Nova,” EASTON+COMBS’ submission to P.S.1’s annual Young Architects Program, is a colorful canopied environment using lightweight polycarbonate fins; plastic doesn’t usually come to mind when people think of sustainability, stated Rona Easton, AIA, a principal at the firm, but the installation is fully recyclable. In a competition to redevelop a Dallas city block, konyk designed “Urban Aeration,” an architectural landscape inspired by “microporosity at a molecular level,” which maximizes surface area for air filtration and water absorption.

Other award winners had more social goals. The R-House, designed by Della Valle Bernheimer and Architectural Research Office, introduced affordable, energy-efficient, contemporary housing to an economically disadvantaged neighborhood in Syracuse, NY. Ginseng Chicken Architecture reorganized the typical research program in “Open Paradox,” a new facility for the South Korean technical university KAIST, by adjoining diverse disciplines to encourage interdepartmental collaboration. And the Chung-Nam Government Complex, designed by H Associates and Haeahn Architecture, splits a large government center into three separate buildings, interwoven with open plazas that privilege public access and use.

OBRA Architects took home two Unbuilt awards for the Korean Cultural Center in NYC and the Great Hall at Grace Farms in New Canaan, CT. The former solves the problem of a dark, narrow site in Midtown with a reflecting pool to bounce sunlight through an overhanging, faceted rear curtain wall. The latter answers the client’s brief for a building that would “almost disappear” with a dome-shaped structure, covered by a green roof that resembles a hill in the landscape.

Finally, AIANY recognized two in-progress urban-scale projects. Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects’ Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco will provide a massive multimodal transportation hub, with a five-block-long public park on the roof when it opens in 2017. In China, Tianjin Hang Lung Plaza unifies 1.6 million square feet of retail within a sleek “carapace;” here, Kohn Pedersen Fox located the main pedestrian corridor at the top level, so shoppers filter down through the complex, rather than up.

(Two additional Design Award winners were not presented: the Medeu Sports Center, designed by Audrey Matlock Architect; and “On the Water: Palisade Bay,” from the team of Guy Nordenson and Associates with Catherine Seavitt Studio and Architecture Research Office.)

In the panel discussion that followed, the presenters debated the value of their unbuilt projects. Though many acknowledged the great effort and expense that goes into a competition submission, all for uncertain reward, most agreed it’s an excellent opportunity for research and development, and that the lessons learned influence later designs. And, as Garrick Jones of Della Valle Bernheimer encouraged, if you don’t see any competitions or speculative work that fits your firm’s interests, “make up your own. What did you do for your thesis? What is the next project? What are people not thinking about?”