AIA Nebraska Announces 2020 Excellence in Design Award Recipients


AIA Nebraska, A Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, is pleased to announce the 2020 Excellence in Design Award winners.  Despite the pandemic, 103 submissions were received this year, the largest number of submissions from Nebraska architects to date. This year AIA Nebraska presented 9 Honor Awards and 1 Merit Award.  

The following distinguished Michigan jury reviewed the submissions and determined this year’s winning entries, Chair, Craig Borum, FAIA, PLY Architecture; Danielle Etzler, AIA, Gensler; Lisa Sauve, AIA, Synecdoche Design Studio.

The Excellence in Design program is an annual event for Nebraska architects who submit built and unbuilt projects for consideration.  Categories for consideration include Architecture, Interior Architecture, Unbuilt, Details, Masonry and a new category, Regional & Urban Design.  

In addition, there are two categories for emerging architects and architecture students, including Built & Unbuilt Design. Projects are judged based on a variety of features, including unique design, originality, extended use attributes, sustainability, budget and use of environmental surroundings.

AIA Nebraska supports architects in fulfilling their commitment to excellence in design and livability in our buildings and communities.

2020 AIA Nebraska Excellence in Design Virtual Awards

View the 2020 AIA Nebraska Excellence in Design Virtual Awards program below or search for AIA Nebraska on YouTube.

Regional & Urban Design Honor Award

Haxtun Hospital District Plan

Location: Haxtun, NE

Owner: Phillips County Economic Development

Firm: HDR

Haxtun, CO is located in the Great Plains Region of the United States in northeast Colorado.  The 2010 Census had the community population at 946 people. 100 of those people are employed by the Haxtun Hospital District. The design challenged proposed by the Haxtun Hospital District and Phillips County Economic Development: Could the medical/skilled nursing element be combined to create a mixed-use community that incorporates the existing main street structures (pharmacy | restaurant) to reduce redundancy and return traditional main street establishments? The intention of this design engagement is to combine uses as a catalyst to transform the community of Haxtun while also providing a thought provoking prototype concept that could be applied to rural communities around the country.

Jury Comments: This is an urban strategy that has both architectural implications while providing a prototype that easily translates to rural Main Streets across the country. The approach reinvigorates threatened urban spaces, while providing critical infrastructure for the community.

Emerging Professional: Built & Unbuilt Honor Award  

Behind Closed Doors

Location: Kingman, AZ

Emerging Professional: Hannah Schafers

The project explores interior-exterior slippages of a mundane roadside motel. In the mid-20th century, motels populated the American hinterland but have disappeared from public imagination. Chain hotels now provide monotonous experiences attempting to replicate features of home, yet signifying a loss of meaningful experience of the everyday. Combating this loss, the project amplifies eerie qualities of the motel by allowing the interior to follow its own logic while preserving the familiar structure of the envelope. Interior walls become doors, programmatic devices merge areas unexpectedly, and private spaces touch public exterior.

Jury Comments: This project reveals a creative emerging professional working through media to create architecture. In limiting themselves to the physical model they are able to develop a wide range of spatial narratives, while pushing the boundaries of representational techniques. We are excited to see this kind of focus and creativity applied to future work from this young professional.

Don Littler Masonry Honor Award Sponsored by the Nebraska Masonry Alliance

Siena Francis Emergency Shelter

Location: Omaha, NE

Owner: Siena Francis House

Firm: HDR

Photographer: Dan Schwalm, HDR

Plans are underway to redevelop the Siena Francis campus, improving and expanding services to Omaha’s homeless population. This new 43,000 square foot facility will lodge roughly 350 single men and 100 single women with dignity in a durable and safe space. The facility consists of readily available, durable materials including a brick exterior, burnished block interior partitions and polished concrete floors. Overall, the durable facility provides a safe and dignified place of shelter for those often finding themselves in the most difficult time of their life. Combined with counseling, rehousing, and social integration services, the Siena Francis Emergency Shelter houses more than just people – it houses a sense of hope.

Jury Comments: This building exhibits a reserved and pragmatic use of masonry that is artfully handled. Here the texture, rhythm and scale of the masonry operated at a human scale, breaking down the scale of the institution while bringing a sense of intimacy to the interior.

Architectural Detail Honor Award

Robert B. Daugherty Education Center

Location: Omaha, NE

Owner: Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

Firm: DLR Group

Photographer: Eric Francis

Located within the world-renowned Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, the Robert B. Education Center exemplifies the Zoo’s education and conservation mission to enhance public knowledge in all areas relating to the natural world. Students connect to the natural world through “adventure education” in collaborative spaces throughout the 42,000 SF Education Center. The design successfully maximized exposure to nature and animals by connecting indoor and outdoor educational areas through massive windows, outdoor balconies, and open spaces.

Jury Comments: The design of the fritting is didactic and encyclopedic as it extends the mission and experience of the museum into the architecture itself. The detail both stands on its own and works with the space to such a degree that it fades away.

Unbuilt Design Honor Award

Sheridan County 4H Fairgrounds  (aka County Fairgrounds in the Sandhills)

Location: Gordon, NE

Owner: Sheridan County 4H Foundation

Firm: FACT

Architect of Record: Actual Architecture Co.

Photographer: Larry Gawel

This project reverses biases towards urban culture as global culture and the rural as a resource primed for extraction proposing instead a new cultural nexus of commoning for the rural. Between two older wooden exhibition structures and an early metal building we arrange three new metal buildings: a Show Barn and two livestock sheds. The complex is linked by dedicated paths for livestock, participants, and visitors at ground level and a catwalk for viewing above. While the livestock sheds and Show Barn are designed for seasonal uses (and winter community storage winter), the repurposed metal building becomes a year-round Community Center. The Community Center will host a wide variety of events from lectures, to dinners, weddings, craft sales, and exhibitions. Casual users can exercise in an open gym or play on the ball courts. The surrounding landscape accommodates community gardens, grazing, camping, carnivals, and other large events.

Jury Comments: The jury was struck by the directness of the scheme. Replicating the figure of the existing metal shed three times across the site but distorting two of them in their plan geometry charges the spaces caught between and and simultaneously elevates the status of the existing structure. Here is a project where attention to program and context produces unexpected architectural results.

Interior Honor Award


Location: Omaha, NE

Owner: Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts

Firm: FACT with Sean Ward and Actual Architecture Co.

Architect of Record: AO*

Photographer: Colin Conces

LOW END is a performance space for sound art + experimental music located in a contemporary art center and part of a unique new residency program for artists pushing the boundaries of sound, composition, voice, and music. Exploring the limits of conventional architectural taste and expectations of design precision, the bold interior environment aims for both longevity and the unexpected. Located in the basement of 19th-century heavy timber warehouse, LOW END comprises a family of discrete elements with independent visual and textural natures forming an interior landscape in stark contrast to the conventional “white cube” galleries above.

Jury Comments: This project, boldly executed, reveals a conviction that interior architecture, at its best, is a space of exploration. What at first seems to be discrete, funky episodes of radically different approaches to color texture and materiality, are artfully stitched together through subtle gestures creating a unified atmosphere.

Architecture Merit Award

Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts

Location: Lincoln, NE

Owner: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Firm: HDR

Photographer: Dan Schwalm, HDR

The Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts is a renovation and adaptive reuse project in Lincoln, Nebraska.  This renovation takes the former University of Nebraska-Lincoln Bookstore and reinvestigates the structure as a new home for the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts.  The Emerging Media Arts program is a new pilot program for the university and is conceptually thought of as a central nervous system of interdisciplinary learning where people join forces, spark ideas, and new paradigms are born.  The building is thought of as a “black box” – in the traditional experimental theater sense, in that it’s a simple, unadorned space.  Staining the brick dark sets up a dialog within its urban context as embracing difference.

Jury Comments: This project showcases the value and power of adaptive reuse. A few simple gestures recast a commercial retail building into a site for experimental interdisciplinary exploration.

Architecture Honor Award

Swanson Elementary

Location: Omaha, NE

Owner: Westside Community Schools

Firm: Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture

Photographer: Dana Damewood

This new elementary grade school takes cues from the midcentury modern architecture of the original building and neighborhood. The form of the new school building was expressly considered during design to allow the maximum amount of daylight through both eye-level and clerestory glazing, while creating a protected courtyard for outdoor play and outdoor learning. Custom wall murals create a unique sense of place.  Forest animals and various tree species are highlighted in the super graphics and give a nod towards the neighboring arboretum and act as wayfinding.  A double-height butterfly roof spans portions of the north and south building facades, creating a clerestory that enables natural light to filter into the building.

Jury Comments: The addition maintains the language of the original building while delivering an entirely new whole. This is a mature evolution of how to design schools for kids. The humble material palate and strategic and limited use of color showcase a careful attention to daylight and proportion. The slope of the courtyard seems to draw the landscape up into the project.

Architecture Honor Award

Nebraska Center for Advanced Professional Studies

Location: Fairfield, NE

Owner: South Central USD 5/Sandy Creek Public Schools

Firm: BVH Architecture

Photographer: Corey Gaffer

Situated among cornfields this rural Nebraska school pairs a progressive pedagogy with an unconventional school design. Challenged with designing a high school the design team traded discrete classrooms for flexible learning environments. Void of siloed classrooms arrayed along anemic corridors this solution embraces an entirely open floor plan with movable furniture and nodal learning environments. Wall surfaces can be written on, access to technology is readily available, furniture is configurable and virtually any space can double as a learning environment. The result is a space that reflects an environment akin to a contemporary workplace rather than a school.

Jury Comments: A landscape of informal learning environments provides structure for varied curricular programs and informal learning environments; this carefully crafted project is reserved but contains layers of complex spatial relationships. The section reveals an unexpected play of varied volumetric spaces and a sectional transparency that ties them together.

Architecture Honor Award

Wanaka Wedge House

Location: Queensbury, Cromwell, New Zealand

Owners: Justine Cormack & Marc Taddei

Firm: Actual Architecture Co.

Architect of Record: Ian Perry, iDesign, Oamaru, New Zealand

Photographer: Dennis Radermacher / Lightforge

Simple form in a dramatic landscape: Wanaka Wedge House complements the dramatic Central Otago landscape. The house responds to the desires of its owners, both professional musicians (a conductor of orchestras at home and abroad and an internationally-touring violinist), for whom refinement and precision in all aspects of design is of critical importance. The geometric-primitive exterior form belies a complex and playful interior. Custom-milled, locally-farmed Eucalyptus wraps certain floors, walls, and ceilings to separate public and private spaces and lend warmth and dimension. White walls with minimal detail highlight a contemporary art collection.

Jury Comments: The simple geometric form and subtle detailing establish a strong relationship to the stunning surroundings; this project operates on a number of scales. The understated exterior conceals the spatial complexity of the interior wrought almost entirely through the section.

Image credits


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