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2019 Commercial Design Awards: You've got personality!

Winning commercial building designs reflect the personality of their tenants.

Project of the Year winner Electronic Theatre Controls–North Addition

Project of the Year winner Electronic Theatre Controls–North Addition

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From the pages of In Business magazine.

When asked to pinpoint the most important ingredient in organizational success, investors invariably cite quality management, but there is another quality of successful businesses — a facility that reflects the personality and brand of the venture that operates inside.

According to the building design experts that judged this year’s Commercial Design Awards program, some winning entries and even those that did not win in various categories had that synergistic quality going for them. Leading the way is a Project of the Year that is theatrical in the finest sense, yet operationally practical and in keeping with the company’s mission. “These projects exhibited a great deal of personality, and it was the personality of the clients that were well represented in the winning projects,” admires one CDA judge.

Judges were asked to evaluate projects that were completed in calendar year 2018 and submitted for this year’s program. They came away impressed with the overall quality of this year’s projects and with a Wisconsin architectural community that, in the words of one evaluator, is not skating along in a status-quo position. “They are really experimenting and trying to explore what makes Wisconsin uniquely Wisconsin,” he says.

Categorical clarity

In recent years, sustainability has emerged as a key design factor in this and other architectural design programs. Last year, we replaced the Best Green-Built category with a Most Innovative Green Features category, and we established a Most Innovative Features competition to recognize project elements that really stood out, whether or not the entire project was a category winner, and we continued in that vein for projects completed in 2018.

As has been our practice in recent years, statewide projects were considered along with those in Greater Madison, and one judge was pleased to see one important design element — natural light — being more frequently accommodated in commercial-building projects. “Wisconsin has a climate that is full of contrasts,” he notes. “You might be in the middle of the summer and a thunderstorm comes by, or in the winter it might be cold but totally sunny outside. To take advantage of the moods of the exterior, while still having a comfortable interior space, is something that technology affords.”

Another judge liked the diversity of submissions and their quality, whether they were large or small. “I was impressed by the way both the interior and out-of-ground projects focused on incorporating the outdoor environment.”

Electronic Theatre Controls–North Addition

Project of the Year, Best New Development–Office, Most Innovative Features

Electronic Theatre Controls’ new addition is said to “break from the common,” which makes it perfectly aligned with the Middleton company’s history of theatrical architectural and interior design. The use of lighting and lighting controls is at the core of ETC’s business, so it was imperative that the design solution exhibit its expertise in the industry, and our CDA judges awarded the project with an Oscar.

ETC’s existing theatrical lobby was designed to resemble a Manhattan street scene from a movie set, but the new addition is a way to combine departments — research and development and marketing — in one location as a means of co mingling these sometime disparate groups. Designers wanted a space that fosters the creative spirit necessary for the success of these two departments, but they got much more. They created a unique and artistic expression of ETC’s creative value.

“It’s wonderful that this company made a commitment to do something outside of the box, so to speak,” notes one CDA judge. “It’s both inside and outside the box because they tried to incorporate a visual vocabulary that explores so many ideas. It’s a conceptually rich project.”

Founded in 1976, the Middleton-based company manufactures technology products for visual environments, and with 1,307 people in 12 countries, it’s a growing organization that needed an addition to its existing 328,000 square feet of office, manufacturing, and warehouse space. The 74,500-square-foot, multistory addition, which includes open atrium, spans the first floor, mezzanine level, and second floor.

A key design feature is the utilization of the space in three dimensions, which allows employees to experience a design concept borrowed from the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris. With the goal of providing the best work environment to create innovative products, designers created a new spatial experience at each corner and gave ETC a competitive edge in recruitment and retention. Toward that end, they minimized the perceived hierarchy of a traditional business.

ETC was fascinated with the idea of using shipping containers as means to avoid the dogma associated with traditional office design. The basic concept is a quad system, similar to what’s found on a college campus, and the desired effect was achieved with a layered, multicolored arrangement of 41 used shipping containers retrofitted into a series of private offices and conference spaces. The organization of these containers created departmental “neighborhoods” within the facility, as color groups were selected to represent each neighborhood, and complimentary colors were added to the mix.

“I enjoyed how they used color to create what they call ‘neighborhoods’ and that the color defines function to a certain degree,” states one judge. “They used the grammar of ‘backstage’ and they brought it into the forefront, and I thought that was clever.”

Another design feature, the north-facing, glazed curtainwall, invites in natural light, and it presents a theatrical aesthetic toward adjacent parklands, athletic fields, and bike trails. Peering in through the expansive glass curtainwall, eyes will be focused on the multilevel shipping containers, creating what one judge called a compelling relationship between the exterior and interior. “They are doing a lot with a clean shell there, but it’s sort of monumental,” he states. “The interior, with the shipping containers, provided a unique contrast with the exterior and gave it an innovative and playful attitude.”

Project credits

Location: 3031 N. Pleasant View Road, Middleton, WI 53562
Owner/Developer: Electronic Theatre Controls
General Contractor/Construction Firm: 1848 Construction Inc.
Architect: Sketchworks Architecture LLC
Interior Design: Frank Miller, Electronic Theatre Controls
Engineer: MP-Squared Structural Engineers LLC
Photography: C|R Prints & Photography, Chad Renly
Completion Date: Nov. 21, 2018

(Continued)

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