2021 AIA Nebraska Excellence in Design Award Recipients

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Regional & Urban Design Honor Award

Omaha Rapid Bus Transit, ORBT

Firm: Leo A Daly

Location: Omaha, NE

Owner: METRO, Transit Authority of the City of Omaha

The transit system links diverse and historic neighborhoods and districts to downtown Omaha. Universally accessible, it is the city’s first fixed transit system in more than 60 years. For individuals with limited mobility, transportation can be a significant barrier that separates them from essential services and opportunities. The stations and vehicles use level boarding, auditory bus stop announcements, visual cues for stop locations, and real-time bus arrival updates — making transit available and convenient for all of Omaha. Level boarding simplifies service for strollers, wheelchairs and bicycles. Highly recognizable stations make them easy to spot, in the urban context, and therefore easier to use. Considered together as a unit, these 24 stations create a more connected region with reduced congestion, accelerating economic development and widening access to educational and employment opportunities.

Jury Comments: Transit is an important regional and urban design problem that is solved comprehensively and appropriately in this project. It is resolved at the scale of the city, offering identifiable figures that act as understated landmarks in the city. These would make the transit system navigable and understandable to the individuals who use it. The prototype appears to adapt well to each site while it is detailed to carefully address the needs of shelter, signage, safety, use, maintenance, accessibility, and public art.

Emerging Professional: Built & Unbuilt Honorable Mention Award

Un-Monument

Emerging Professionals: Allie McAndrews, AIAS & Austin Riggins

Location: Lincoln, NE

The modern American landscape lacks neutral spaces of public discourse that are vital to a democratic society. The library of the 21st century is uniquely poised to fill this void. By rejecting monumentality, the emerging professionals were able to contextualize the building with its surroundings, drawing upon surrounding rural archetypes to strengthen the library programming and encourage engagement. The site expands off the ideas within the building. Hardscapes stretch across the landscape referencing the shadows cast by the library and offer seating and event space. The hardscapes are surrounded by native floras of Nebraska. A community garden and follies placed around the site provide further opportunities for discourse and engagement.

Emerging Professional: Built & Unbuilt Merit Award

Neighbor-Type House

Emerging Professionals: Quinlan McFadden, AIAS & Jamie Schacher

Neighbor-Type House maximizes land use and approaches affordability through densification and the ownership model of a community land trust. Five homes of various sizes share a 100′ x 150′ double lot. Individual families may purchase the homes while the land remains with the trust as a shared resource. The proposal strikes a balance between the security of ownership and the shared values of the community, ultimately providing access to housing in an accelerating market.

Two houses are single-floor accessible ranch-style dwellings but by maintaining equal footprints, the mix of one and two-story homes can be easily adjusted. The houses are simple and iconic with varying proportional window sizes placed according to interior functions and captured views. Roofs and walls of standing seam metal contribute to the monolithic appearance of the houses while bright-colored entry recesses (created by local artists) identify the initial homes.

Jury Comments: The jury appreciated the approach to increase density in existing neighborhoods. This can contribute to neighborhood revitalization and foster community among neighbors. The plans are tight, livable, and well-conceived. The carved porch entries are affective. As this project and this approach are developed, we hope the shared spaces will be developed to be as inviting and livable as the houses themselves.

Don Littler Masonry Honorable Mention Award; Sponsored by the Nebraska Masonry Alliance

Omaha Central High School Addition

Firm: DLR Group

Owner: Omaha Public Schools

Location: Omaha, NE

The design for the Central High School addition enhances the campus without detracting from its historic edifice. Essential to upholding the design intent was the use of actual limestone on the project. Careful attention was paid to the ornate details of the existing façade and how those distinguishing features could be translated into modern construction. Connections were made back to the existing by symmetry, matching profiles, and the re-use of classical geometries found within the architecture.  

Jury Comments: A careful and complimentary reinterpretation of the original stone masonry on the addition.

Architectural Detail Honor Award

Omaha Office Stairs

Firm: RDG Planning & Design

Owner: RDG Planning & Design

Location: Omaha, NE

Building on an existing framework, the design for this staircase uses a variety of materials to create a rhythmic, minimalist cadence. As users ascend or descended, the staircase folds, frames and evolves by transforming alongside the user’s path. The wood slats were crafted from reclaimed red oak that was once the building’s door jams, window frames and millwork. Reuse of the concrete foundation recalls the original staircase framework while offering a contemporary and minimalist approach; this raw concrete contrasted with the precise wood elements create a diversity in material language. The result is a literal and figurative expression of elevated design that grounds the space and offers a unique place for spontaneous collaboration.

Jury Comments: This was the hands-down favorite of all jury members for this category.  Both the detailing and the execution were nearly flawless.  Through tight repetition and disciplined spacing and reveals, these additive components are transformed into engaging and compelling surfaces. Each step is measured and celebrated through the repetition of the pattern and the variation of the grain of each piece. One imagines you might take these stairs more slowly to spend more time in the well-crafted, warm, and rich enclosure.

Unbuilt Architecture Honorable Mention Award

Basketball Training Center

Firm: Actual Architecture Company

Owner: DVLP Basketball

Location: Omaha, NE

Bringing elite level sports training and advising to under resourced communities, urban and rural. The nonprofit, DVLP Basketball, develops young talent in Omaha, building culture, team mindset, and leadership for the future of the sport. The organization combines elite basketball development with a platform for enhanced player recruitment. Having outgrown shared courts with partners around the city, DVLP Basketball envisions a new building in the north downtown area of Omaha, conveniently located for young players and highly visible to the public. This public-face is important to the nonprofit's mission.

Jury Comments: This proposal is a striking and simple celebration of basketball, boldly presented and embedded in its community. The shape and plan are simple, well-organized, and affective. As the project is developed, we hope the realities of structure and enclosure are allowed to be expressed and the path of the rainwater is celebrated.

Unbuilt Architecture Merit Award

Concordia University Music Center

Firm: HDR

Architect of Record: Sinclair Hille Architects

Owner: Concordia University, Nebraska

Location: Seward, NE

Concordia University, Nebraska maintains a long standing nationally recognized music program. However, with the passage of time, a much deeper understanding of acoustic environments, advances in technology, growth in the music program and community engagement, renovation of the existing Music Center and an addition are warranted. The existing facility is a tale of two halves. While designed and constructed as a whole, the floors of the two wings did not align. This misalignment, with only a stair connection, has been a persistent challenge for the movement of instruments and equipment and has kept the facility from being accessible. This proposal will demolish the existing east wing, replacing it with a new addition that aligns with the first and second levels of the west wing and house taller band and choir rooms, providing much need acoustic spatial volume.

Jury Comments: The plan uses poche beautifully to form the interior rooms and to respond to the acoustical needs of music-filled spaces. This project is well-resolved and presented. As an addition to an understated building, it is different but compatible, using the space between new and existing for entry and sectional connection. This is a quiet project designed to support and celebrate the music to come. As this proposal is developed, we hope the details will integrate all the systems of the buildings and bring richness and texture to the spaces while remaining understated.

Interior Architecture Honorable Mention Award

Bridges Trust

Firm: TACKarchitects

Owner: Bridges Trust

Location: Omaha, NE

After being disparately located between multiple floors of their previous building, visual and physical connectedness was a primary concept for the Bridges Trust Tenant Improvement. Spanning two floors of a new midrise structure, the project places intentional focus on client services - one half of the upper level is dedicated to client services while the remaining spaces serve employee needs. A gracious opening in the upper level allows clients to witness the industrious work performed by the Bridges Trust Team. Upon entering the space, clients process across a bridge to enter the main conference room featuring a perforated metal scrim, providing necessary privacy while allowing natural light to filter deeply into the space. The walnut wood slat ceiling feature provides acoustical control while elevating the overall client experience. Decorative metal is featured complementary throughout the space curating natural materials and reinforcing design moves.

Jury Comments: It is hard to tell if the art is integrated with the interior design or the interior design is integrated with the art. Either way, they rise to each other. While the budget was clearly ample, the interior design is restrained and elegant with particularly well-conceived and executed lighting design.

Interior Architecture Merit Award

Surety Hotel by Aparium Hotel Group

Firm: DLR Group

Architect of Record: Slingshot Architecture

Owner: Aparium Hotel Group

Location: Des Moines, IA

The project is a 34,000 SF renovation project that upgrades the existing animal shelter (itself a converted grocery store) to a new, state-of-the-art facility.  The project focused on the use of incredibly resilient materials that can withstand all types of abuse from both human and animal.  The owner challenged the team with one primary goal as we began this renovation: how can design reduce animal stress?  Numerous stressful issues for animals existed with the original design, including prey/predator proximity, poor sound control, undersized housing units, and poor quality lighting.  The design response focused on the concept of humane design, reducing the number of stressors through animal-focused design strategies.

Jury Comments: The historic detailing is faithfully recreated then balanced by a well-composed set of complimentary but modern additions, furnishings, and accessories. The palette of color and materials are restrained but rich, natural colors with subtle but affective variations in material and texture and understated accents of blue and green.

Interior Architecture Honor Award

Judy Varner Adoption and Education Center

Firm: HDR

Owner: Nebraska Humane Society

Location: Omaha, NE

The project is a 34,000 SF renovation project that upgrades the existing animal shelter (itself a converted grocery store) to a new, state-of-the-art facility.  The project focused on the use of incredibly resilient materials that can withstand all types of abuse from both human and animal.  The owner challenged the team with one primary goal as we began this renovation: how can design reduce animal stress?  Numerous stressful issues for animals existed with the original design, including prey/predator proximity, poor sound control, undersized housing units, and poor quality lighting.  The design response focused on the concept of humane design, reducing the number of stressors through animal-focused design strategies.

Jury Comments: This rehabilitation of the public spaces of an animal shelter is a caring and researched response to the nature and behavior of the animals and the needs of the program. The interventions are strategic and apparently economical, yet they transform the character of the space. A straightforward palette of materials addresses the extreme durability requirements of the facility while creating a sense of appreciation and love for the animals.  

Architecture Honorable Mention Award

Siena Francis Miracles Treatment Center

Firm: HDR

Owner: Siena Francis House

Location: Omaha, NE

Continuing to improve and expand services to Omaha’s homeless population, with the recent completion of a new shelter on the Siena Francis House campus, the next phase consisted of the renovation of the adjacent building. The renovation will house the Siena Francis House’s Miracles recovery program for men and women struggling with addiction with dignity in a durable and safe space. Ample daylight floods the interior with a message of hope and optimism.

Jury Comments: The designers were given a ubiquitous, somewhat unlovable building, and with the most strategic and economical moves, made it into something dignified, something more useful and humane. This creation of value from the most mundane is an example of noble stewardship. The jury wondered if the entry could have been more of a welcoming threshold, but they appreciated the simple and bright interiors and the insertion of clerestory windows to form the public gathering spaces.

Architecture Merit Award

Crete Library

Firm: BVH Architecture

Owner: City of Crete, Nebraska

Location: Crete, NE

The Crete Public Library is a 20,000 square foot community center designed to promote lifelong learning, encourage innovation, and facilitate community connections. The building is located on an entire city block with a 20-foot grade change, facilitating the opportunity to nestle a portion of the building into the earth to create unique lawn platforms, learning vistas, and play scape nodes. The interiors were designed to be warm and welcoming, yet timeless to serve the community for years to come. Interactive play spaces were designed to stimulate social, emotional, language, and cognitive development. Outdoor program spaces and a story walk were designed to connect patrons with nature and create a connection between the library and public park system.

Jury Comments: The landscape design is as intentional as the architecture, and they are well-integrated with one another. This makes the building into a world apart, a living metaphor of the activity of reading a favorite book.

Architecture Merit Award

Lexus of Omaha

Firm: Carlson West Povondra Architects

Owner: TKA Properties, LLC

Location: Omaha, NE

This facility was not restricted by “corporate design” standards. The owner desired to create a unique sales environment that reflects the luxury brand image. The facility was envisioned incorporating quality materials and finishes while emphasizing environmental awareness and sustainability.  The main showroom building is sited on a major, busy thoroughfare. At the street frontage a transparent façade highlights the two-story plant wall that forms a backdrop to the sales floor. A canopy roof structure supported by elegant tapered columns shelters the approach and entry structure. Natural shapes including botanical motifs on privacy screening at glass clad sales offices reinforce the biophilic theme of the interior. Other relevant features include a green roof, bamboo tree screen planter, and natural materials such as locally sourced wood and stone.

Jury Comments: This project accepts and elevates its type with simplicity and attention to craft and detail. It is a building that is attractive and inviting from a distance and carefully integrated into its site. Its section makes spaces engaged with the site and with each other. The use of landscape in and through the building successfully makes a scene for the vehicles and engaging spaces for the inhabitants. Every component and surface are refined in their details.

Architecture Honor Award

University of Nebraska - Dinsdale Family Learning Commons

Firm: DLR Group

Owner: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Location: Lincoln, NE

Located in the heart of UNL’s agricultural focused campus the Dinsdale Family Learning Commons turns the traditional heads down 1970’s library inside out. This hub invites students and professionals to collaborate while simultaneously projecting the life and activity outward, energizing the campus at large.  The design embraces the original building’s strict square grid structure creating rules much like the Jeffersonian Grid when laid across the organic landscape of Nebraska. The history of this ag campus further inspires the design through abstraction of macro and micro agrarian patterns familiar to rural Nebraska. Subtle hints of pivot circles and crop rows, natural rich tones of wheat and wood, weathered steel, and corn crib siding tell stories through interior materials.  Flexibility was key throughout the design allowing students to take full ownership of how the space transforms to their needs.  

Jury Comments: The designers rigorously studied the existing architecture, amplified its strengths, corrected its deficiencies, and then strategically intervened with a light but powerful touch to bring natural light all the way to the basement and create visual connections between interior spaces. The exterior and interior interventions transform the building into a celebration of learning for those both in and around it.

Architecture Honor Award

Niobrara River Valley Preserve - Nature Conservancy

Firm: BVH Architecture

Owner: The Nature Conservancy Nebraska Chapter

Location: Johnstown, NE

The Nature Conservancy’s 56,000-acre Niobrara Valley Preserve is one of the largest conservancy preserves in the U.S. and a model for grassland management using bison, cattle, and fire. Approaching from the road, users step onto an elevated cedar pathway that leads to a covered outdoor space. A portion of the deck projects into the landscape as an extension of the outdoor space. Within the interior resides meeting rooms, educational orientation, office space, and servery. The project is designed to amplify the natural environment through sustainable methods and nuanced material choices. Sourced on-site from overgrowth, cedar siding is charred using an ancient Japanese technique to provide durability and resistance to insects. The window system allows views to the landscape, obstructs unwanted solar heat gain during and allows the sun to heat the space during the winter months. The result is a visitor center tailored to compliment the noble goals of The Nature Conservancy.

Jury Comments: This building seems conceived, developed, and detailed as a study of and response to its place. It was a jury favorite, eliciting a desire in all of us to visit the site and explore the spaces of the building. The lantern of the building works as well from the exterior, as a beacon and a landmark, as it does from the interior, as a surprising portrait framing and prospect upon its landscape.  The inventive and careful detailing, the use of rustic, dark, and warm materials balanced with clean, modern lines of metal, engage the building in its place and in its time.

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