AIA Award-Winners: Visions for Veggie Oil and Parking Lots


Last week, I attended the 2008 AIA Seattle Honor Awards for Washington Architecture. The industry event packed Benaroya Hall with representatives from local firms, both established and emerging.

The intimate ceremony was lit up with engaging candor on the part of moderator Susan Szenasy, editor of Metropolis magazine. Szenasy drew insightful commentary from the distinguished panel of judges: Patricia Patkau, Hon. FAIA of Vancouver, BC's Patkau Architects; Nader Tehrani of Boston's Office dA; and David Baker, FAIA, of San Francisco's David Baker + Partners. The theme of the 2008 awards was "perform/TRANSFORM," an artistic combination of concepts: buildings that "perform" to use resources more efficiently and effectively; and the overarching idea that good design can transform the space, the people who use it, and the city itself.

You can read coverage of the awards ceremony, entries and winners in full on the AIA Seattle website. Worldchanging ally Dan Bertolet of HugeAssCity also offered an in-depth look from his urban planner's viewpoint at the collected entries, and also a critique of the selected winners.

I'd like to call attention to two conceptual projects that were awarded commendations for their vision. Though these entries have not been (and may never be) built, they offer a glimpse at what leading designers could contribute to cities of the future:

VO Shed
atelierjones, llc
more info
This conceptual entry is a small mobile shed designed as a storage unit where used vegetable oil from a restaurant could be collected and filtered as part of a distribution center for a Seattle vegetable oil biofuel cooperative. The shed would house several 55-gallon drums for storing the used veggie oil, a domestic hot water heater to be used for filtration, and a 300-gallon storage container for distribution of the filtered vegetable oil.

Renderings of the finished project show it giving off an ethereal glow through its translucent exterior plastic skin (which AtelierJones would make from upcycled gallon milk containers). The mobile shed would spend most of its time stationed behind The Garage, a popular nightspot in Capitol Hill. According to the design team,

The highly visible location and the mobility of the VO SHED make it a beacon for the transformation of waste into energy… The slight undulations in the wall recall the nature of the fluid inside the shed while the translucent character of the plastic sheets provide additional luminosity.

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Bumper Crop
The Miller Hull Partnership
more info

With this concept, the design team asks themselves a question that we've heard a lot about in recent years: as we pursue smart growth and livable, walkable development, what will become of American malls? This concept specifically addresses strip malls -- vast expanses of pavement with a deadening effect on surrounding pedestrian activity.

How can heat-trapping surface parking associated with the strip mall be reclaimed for urban agriculture, returning soil-based farmland to nature? How can strip malls be reoriented to become walkable community gathering spaces as well as centers of diverse commercial enterprise?

Their drawings show a parking lot shaded by a green roof, which grows edible plants like corn, flax and grapeseed. Also included in the design are a biodigestor and a system of tanks and pumps devoted to water reclamation to the elevated crop.

The judging panel wasn't in full consensus on this one: Patkau thought that the idea of a green roof on a parking lot, though good, didn't stretch the imagination far enough. But Tehrani brought up the point that "this is important, because we've taken for granted that the suburban landscape is untransformable." Concepts like Miller Hull's help transform thinking, which is a vital step toward building the bright green future that we need.



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