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2014 Commercial Design Awards

(page 1 of 7)

In the words of one of our CDA judges, Madison is a town that’s “on fire” when it comes to quality commercial developments. As the local commercial construction industry continues to recover from a devastating recession, the quality of projects in this, the seventh annual Commercial Design Awards program, is representative of a healthier and more creative industry.

Once again, our panel of judges was impressed with the quality and value of local projects that continue to boost the local housing stock, commercial office inventory, and tax base. While fewer projects were submitted this year, one judge felt the overall quality of the projects was the strongest in the seven-year history of the CDA program. “I think it is evidence that clients know and understand that good design matters and are challenging their architects to give them the best design and value possible for their budgets,” he noted. “The architects, for their part, are responding most elegantly.”

In this CDA presentation, we introduce the “Project of the Year” winner and various category winners chosen by a panel of three judges: Bob Greenstreet (UW-Milwaukee), Mark Fenton (Leopardo Companies), and Geoffrey Hurtado (UW-Milwaukee). 

Their choices and laudatory evaluations indicate the future of architecture and commercial development in Madison and Wisconsin is in good hands. Remarked another CDA judge, “The larger projects surpass those of developments in the largest cities in the country in size, financial commitment, complexity,
and design innovation.”

We couldn’t have said it better. With that, we present the 2014 Commercial Design Awards. — Joe Vanden Plas

Wisconsin Energy Institute

Project of the Year and Best Green-Built Project

Yet another UW campus icon could be in the making with the 107,000-sq.-ft. Wisconsin Energy Institute, not just because of its stunning design, but also because of its sustainable purpose. It could well be the place for discoveries that foster greater energy independence while making it possible for alternative forms of energy to displace fossil fuels.

The energy counterpart to the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, the WEI encourages chance encounters, not to mention collaboration and knowledge transfer, between roughly 220 energy researchers, cross-disciplinary teams, and staff. Needless to say, the building gave our judges an eyeful, which is why it took home both Project of the Year and Best
Green-Built Project. 

Divided into two wings — offices and labs — that are connected by a central light well, the building relies on deft use of glass to deeply draw in natural light and provides areas for researchers to interact at bridges and other connection points. A generous use of glazing provides a visual connection across the atrium, from the offices to most labs, allowing researchers to see colleagues and foster impromptu discussions. 

On the east end, the light well is visible from the street, giving motorists on Campus Drive a glimpse into the heart of the building. Since daily visitors will engage in bioenergy education and outreach programs, this view is intended to encourage the public to learn more about the WEI’s alternative energy research and educational opportunities.

“A beautiful incorporation of building design and functionality,” stated one CDA judge. “On the exterior, a beautiful blend of materials and design lines, and on the interior, a unique blend of office space, educational space, and lab space. The design is clean, crisp, and inviting. While intended to be very ‘high-tech,’ it is a very user-friendly environment.”

The design also placed labs and tall mechanical spaces to the north, away from nearby residential neighborhoods. Meanwhile, fifth-floor office space was set back from the street to provide a lower profile in deference to residences and a landmark church.

Another judge called the WEI’s design “an elegant response” to a somewhat challenged site, which is shaped sort of like the state of Indiana. “The building fits the site and does not look like it was planted on that site,” he said. “The creative use of form and materials almost makes it look like it lightly touched down on the site.”

Sustainable Sustenance

Since sustainability is the facility’s driving ambition, perhaps the WEI had an unfair advantage in the Best Green-Built category, but the building, on track for a LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Gold certification, carried the day with a projected 52.5% energy-use reduction. Sustainable features include a chilled beam system for the office wing and a more conventional variable air volume (VAV) system for the labs. The fluid-cooled chilled beam system provided an opportunity to enhance the heat-recovery system with an efficient heat reclaim chiller, resulting in a projected annual energy savings of 85,880 therms. 

With installed daylight and motion sensors, the building’s lighting and ventilation are tied directly to occupancy. The sheer volume of labs and the number of fume hoods compelled designers to identify ventilation as a key factor in energy reduction, so even the efficient, low-flow fume hoods are equipped with proximity sensors.

To fine-tune the central light well and provide the best balance between daylight and energy conservation, five different massing strategies were studied for the project’s energy model. By grouping similar program types together and creating a separate mechanical system for each section, the design team was able to achieve better efficiencies in the mechanical design.

Sustainability aside, it was the institute’s collaborative functionality that most inspired our judges. “A powerful building that is architecturally striking, providing a great symbol for sustainability,” noted one judge.

Another added, “My favorite feature, besides the energy efficiency, is the versatility of the interior spaces and the flexibility to do many different things inside. What a wonderful place to do research!”

Project Credits

Location: 1552 University Ave., Madison, WI 53726
Owner/Developer: State of Wisconsin
General Contractor: Mortenson Construction
Architects: Potter Lawson, Inc., HOK (St. Louis, Mo.)
Interior Design Architect: HOK
Engineer: Affiliated Engineers, Inc.
Consultants: Potter Lawson (lighting design), Arnold & O’Sheridan (structural), Ken Saiki Design (landscape), The Weidt Group (energy modeling), PSJ Engineering (plumbing)
Photography: Nels Akerlund (Rockford, Ill.)
Completion Date: April 2013


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