Commercial Design Awards: 2010 Winners

In Business magazine’s annual Commercial Design Awards produced more than a few surprises this year, including a bit of an upset “Project of the Year” winner. The University of Wisconsin Madison Hillel program’s new Barbara Hochberg Center for Jewish Student Life won out over the impressive refurbishing of the U.S. Bank Building, as our panel of CDA judges couldn’t take their eyes off the photos of the Center.

Then again, that’s the point of this annual competition — to bring out the best in developers, architects, and engineers that are designing Madison’s stock of commercial buildings. Inside the following pages, you’ll hear judges Bob Greenstreet (UW-Milwaukee), UW-Madison graduate Mark Fenton (Leopardo Companies), and Madison native Geoffrey Hurtado (Irgens Development) extol the work of companies like J.H. Findorff & Son, Engberg Anderson (architects), and Pierce Engineers.

In addition to selecting our Project of the Year, they evaluated and scored projects in seven categories, selecting an overall winner and a merit award in the following: Best New Development — Office or Retail; Best Renovation — Office or Retail; Best New Development or Renovation — Health Care; Best New Development or Renovation — Hospitality; Best New Development or Renovation — Other; Best New Development or Renovation — Residential (Multi-Unit); and Best Green-Built Project. To be eligible, projects had to be completed in the 2009 calendar year.

Given the declining state of the commercial construction industry, we were pleasantly surprised by the number of projects that entered the contest. Whether there were enough projects in the pipeline before the recession hit will determine whether we have a similar response in 2011. Even with some spectacular projects like the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery opening in 2010, the hard times in commercial development may limit the size and scope of future CDA competitions. We’ll see.

For now, IB invites its readers to sample these short vignettes about the overall and the merit winners in each category. The competition was very stiff in most categories, and we think you’ll come away impressed by the improving array of commercial projects that will help shape Madison’s architectural character for years and years to come.

Project of the Year

Winner: Best New Development or Renovation — Other

UW-Madison Hillel — The Barbara Hochberg Center for Jewish Student Life

Owner/Developer: University of Wisconsin Hillel

General Contractor: J.H. Findorff & Son, Inc.

Architect/Engineers: Engberg Anderson/Affiliated Engineers, Pierce Engineers, Burse Survey & Engineering

Consultants: Huffman Facility Development, Ken Saiki Design, Inc., Stewart Design Associates

Completion Date: May 2009

The photogenic UW Hillel-Barbara Hochberg Center for Jewish Student Life could easily have won in several categories, but it took home the most important prize of all, 2010 “Project of the Year” in IB’s annual Commercial Design Awards, and outpolled other finalists in the CDAs’ “Best New Development or Renovation — Other” category.

More than 5,000 Jewish students attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison, helping to make the UW Hillel one of the largest and most active programs of its kind. In the view of CDA judges, the new 41,000-square-foot facility that serves the Hillel program is absolutely outstanding in its design, green features, and the completeness of its design solution. They praised its varied use of materials and its engaging and distinctive look, and they appreciated the way project designers used sustainability to enhance the building’s attractiveness.

Like the 2009 Project of the Year, the University Square facility developed by Executive Management, Inc., our judges feel the Center, which replaced a much smaller facility that could no longer support UW Hillel’s growth, is an extraordinary structure. The building, anchored by a metal clad tower, is designed to provide students with a home away from home, and comes complete with Shabbat and kosher dining programs, worship areas, and space to host a variety of cultural and social events. “It extraordinarily met its mission of supporting all aspects of Jewish life,” stated one judge. “They just nailed it.”

Said another, who was frankly shocked by what he called the Center’s radical departure from other buildings: “I’m a big fan of this building and its radical interplay of modern forms. It’s also an exciting addition to the streetscape.”

Hillel also scored big in another facet of modern design — judges felt that architects introduced sustainable elements into the Center without making it obvious that it’s a “green” building. “There was a push for awhile to make a building green just to look green,” observed one judge. “They did a good job of making it green naturally.”

Winner: Best New Development — Office or Retail

Strand Associates’ Headquarters Expansion

Owner/Developer: Strand Associates, Inc.

General Contractor: Design Structures, LLC

Architect and Engineer: Strand Associates

The expansion of Strand Associates’s corporate headquarters represents the latest evolution in a building the engineering firm has occupied since the 1970s, but the 34,000-square-foot addition was transformative for reasons other than the video conferencing capability that will allow it to connect with distant locations.

Undertaken primarily to improve workplace efficiency for various engineering departments, the expansion will serve 180 employees who work in the Madison office. While the exterior drew praise for its well-ordered facade and “green” roof system, one judge noted the project saves its best work for the interior. Great views that take advantage of the elevation, rich materials, and a “Winter Garden” atrium space helped put the urban-infill project over the top.

“You look at Strand from the outside and think, ‘Okay,’ but then you walk inside and say ‘Wow!’ It’s a well-crafted building that saves its surprises for the inside,” noted one judge.

Added another: “I like the extent to which the architects and owners went to make this a pleasant space. It speaks to their humanity for the people who work inside.”

Since the facility is situated on the north side of Wingra Creek, architects and engineers had to address several site issues, including a high groundwater table and soil stabilization. They also maintained a line of mature trees along the nearby Fish Hatchery Road corridor.

Winner: Best Renovation — Office or Retail

U.S. Bank Plaza

Owner/Developer: Urban Land Interests

General Contractor: J.H. Findorff & Son, Inc.

Architect/Engineer: Valerio Dewalt Train Architects/Enviro. Systems Design

Completion Date: March 2009

In one sense, the public perception of the U.S. Bank Plaza, the winner in the category of “Best Renovation — Office or Retail” (and Best Green-Built Project), has come full circle. Built in the early 1970s to be the headquarters for First Wisconsin National Bank, the iconic steel and transparent glass structure is known for its coveted Capitol views, but it wasn’t the darling of everyone.

“I can remember when it opened during the oil crisis, and people went nuts,” said one judge. “All that glass, and we can’t get oil.”

This time, all that glass is not viewed as an energy handicap, but we’ll focus on the sustainability aspects of this project later on. The engineering work behind the 19,000-square-foot addition and the renovation — including the replacement of nearly all of its mechanical systems — is what earned it first place in Best Renovation.

With 328,000 square feet, U.S. Bank Plaza is one of Madison’s largest office buildings, but it had experienced a long decline due to a lack of capital investment necessary for a Class A structure. Judges found the sheer magnitude of its renovation astounding. “What struck me is they put an addition onto an iconic building that looks like it fits right in,” said one. “The addition does not compete with or contrast to what was already there.”

Added another judge: “They took the best parts of the old building and put on an addition that looks like it belongs. They fixed a lot of serious problems with the original building. It’s a real tribute to the engineers.”

Winner: Best New Development or Renovation — Health Care

UW Health – Stoughton

Owner/Developer: University of Wisconsin Medical Foundation

General Contractor: Tri-North Builders

Architect/Engineer: Kahler Slater/Arnold and O’Sheridan

Completion Date: July 2009

Needing a larger health clinic for a growing community and future physician expansion, the University of Wisconsin Medical Foundation decided not to settle for the standard design that UW Health Clinics had become accustomed to when designing its Stoughton Clinic.

The newer, more creative design of the Foundation’s first LEED candidate — it has a silver LEED certification pending with the U.S. Green Building Council — not only better serves the Stoughton community, it enabled UW Health-Stoughton Clinic to beat out other entries in the category of “Best New Development or Renovation — Health Care.”

Judges praised the clinic for its warm use of stone and wood that serves to de-institutionalize the environment. That has been an important consideration in past CDA judging because most health care facilities focus solely on design practicality, not ambiance.

“Great use of materials and light to de-institutionalize what can be a very imposing building,” commented one judge. “People are going in there to get well, and this is something that makes you feel comfortable to be in.”

“You can tell from the outside coming in that this is going to be a very nice building,” noted another judge. “It makes you feel welcome. You know it’s going to be kind of cool inside.”

Winner: Best New Development or Renovation — Hospitality

Bonfyre American Grille

Owner/Developer: Mortenson Investment Group

General Contractor: Ideal Builders, Inc.

Architect: Destree Design Architects, Inc.

Completion Date: October 2009

What is it about restaurants with fiery themes and success in the CDA Awards? Last year, Hu Hot Mongolian Grill bested all comers to win “Best New Development or Renovation” among restaurants, and this year Bonfyre American Grille’s rich colors and materials lit the judges fire, and stoked their appetites.

Thanks in large measure to its superior craftsmanship and detailing, from furniture to flooring, Bonfyre was tops in the “Best New Development or Renovation — Hospitality” category. The restaurant, located in the new Arbor Gate development, will seat 210 for indoor dining, and seat 60 outdoors.

It is considered a key piece of Arbor Gate’s revitalization of Madison’s central Beltline corridor, but our judges were more interested in the detailing. “There is fantastic detail in there,” crowed one. “The [forged] metal work, combined with the stone work, was really inspired.”

Another judge cited its “chunky detailing,” with “wood slamming into stone” to produce a warm, cozy environment.

A third judge couldn’t help but make a food analogy about what he called Bonfyre’s “cave-like” space. “A lumps-of-red-meat kind of space,” he remarked.

Hearing the word cave, another judge concurred and offered a bit more. “An atmospheric, cave-like environment,” he noted, “and I mean that with love.”

Winner: Best New Development or Renovation — Residential

Grand Central Apartments

Owner/Developer: LZ Ventures

General Contractor: Stevens Construction Corp.

Architect/Engineer: Knothe & Bruce Architects/Pierce Engineering

Completion Date: August 2009

Grand Central may represent student housing, but these units are not your father’s collegiate digs. Father, in fact, would be somewhat envious, if our CDA judges are any indication. The high quality of internal finishes, solid surface tops, and quality of the lighting made them wish they were college students again, and produced jocular comments about valet service. “It’s nicer than anything I’ve ever lived in,” sighed one, meaning any housing, not just student housing.

And that was precisely the point. The building’s purpose is provide the kind of environment — safe, secure, and professionally managed — that accommodates a student’s ability to focus on his or her studies and college experience without worrying about housing issues. A secondary purpose, to offer a luxurious yet affordable living experience in the middle of the UW-Madison campus, certainly supports the first. This mission was accomplished for 500 students, who will occupy a total of 155 units.

To our judges, it wasn’t really the size that mattered. “It’s like our bathrooms are nicer than your living room,” remarked one judge, continuing their “life-isn’t-fair” discussion.

“The exterior also has an aura of elegance about it, as though you are going into a high-quality hotel,” said another.

“In its neighborhood, it will be an iconic building,” predicted another.

Winner: Best Green-Built Project

U.S. Bank Plaza

Owner/Developer: Urban Land Interests

General Contractor: J.H. Findorff & Son, Inc.

Architect/Engineer: Valerio Dewalt Train Architects/Environmental Systems Design

Interior Design Architect: Valerio Dewalt Train Architects

Completion Date: October 2009

At one time, the U.S. Bank Plaza was known in architectural circles for maintaining the energy-wasting ethos of the 1970s, but what a difference one renovation project can make. The same renovation/addition that earned the plaza project first place in the “Best Renovation — Office or Retail” category, also earned it the distinction as “Best Green Built Project.”

In many ways, the building’s transformation is a morality tale. Had its decline been left unchecked, the subsequent loss of tenants might have contributed to urban sprawl, but its energy curtailing prowess is the most important green aspect of its refurbishing. “This is a good story of taking an energy guzzler and turning it around and achieving staggering energy savings,” noted one judge.

While the glass facade promotes natural daylighting coveted by sustainability experts, the real energy savings value is what was done with the interior. Even with 19,000 additional rentable square feet, peak kilowatt consumption has declined by 44 to 48% (helped by the removal of the three-story atrium that was responsible for 11% of the building’s cooling load) and water use has declined by 85%. “Tremendous kudos to the engineers who figured out how to stop this building from being such an energy guzzler. It’s a great role model for 1970s-era buildings and what you can be when you grow up.”

Said another: “I think it’s a compelling narrative, and laudable to integrate a new building and make the whole building one that reflects energy awareness. It’s a lesson for other big, glass buildings.”

Merit Award: Best New Development or Renovation — Other

Filament Marketing Offices

Owner/Developer: Filament Marketing/The Rifken Group

General Contractor: RG Harriman

Interior Design Architect/Engineer: RG Harriman/Severn Engineering

Completion Date: January 2009

Demonstrating what our judges called “skillful and adaptive reuse on a tight budget,” the home of Filament Marketing earned a CDA merit award.

The marketing firm now occupies part of the historic McCormick-International Harvester Branch House, which has been refurbished to office space. The building, constructed in 1898, now houses businesses of tomorrow like the Google Madison office and Requisite Video, and represents the regentrification of the downtown Madison business community.

Filament Marketing’s office suites were designed to match the architectural interest and integrity of the original tractor branch office and warehouse, which once was part of Madison’s “Implement Row.” CDA judges appreciated the preserved wood, reclaimed windows, and the retention of agricultural mementos. Said one: “They should get credit for taking a 100-year-old building, built for a totally different purpose, and making it functional for office and commercial utilization.”

Merit: Best New Development — Office or Retail

Broadway Station

Owner/Developer: Broadway Station, LLC

General Contractor: Wingra Construction

Architects/Engineers: Shulfer Architects/MP-Squared Structural Engineers

Completion Date: March 2009

Broadway Station actually is a two-building development for mixed-use purposes (retail and office), but it’s solid construction and contributions to the revitalization of an important business corridor on Madison’s south side carried the day with CDA judges. The hope is that the so-called “catalytic” project will set a standard for future development in the area.

The 40,000-square-foot station combines first-floor storefronts with space for retail and restaurant functions. Designed to evoke images of old train stations while accentuating new retail and office features, its mix of conventional and contemporary materials impressed the judges.

“Good material palette, well-detailed and constructed,” commented one judge.

“Rich materials and good depth of the facade,” offered another, “which suggests a solidness and a well-constructed building.”

Merit Award: Best Renovation — Office or Retail

Rowland Reading Foundation

Owner/Developer: Rowland Reading Foundation

General Contractor: J.H. Findorff & Son, Inc.

Architects/Structural Engineer: Potter Lawson, Inc./Arnold & O’Sheridan

Completion Date: January 2009

To say that our judges were wowed by the “night-and-day” difference in the Rowland Reading Foundation would be understating things. Throughout their discussion of this renovation, words and phrases like “extraordinary” and “radical transformation of a utilitarian building,” were uttered.

The Foundation was launched by Pleasant Rowland, founder of American Girl, to help children acquire a love for reading. If the Foundation hadn’t been competing against the U.S. Bank Plaza, it would have won this category hands down. Said one judge: “They turned an old 1970s building, a perfect example of not very good architecture, into something really special.”

Judges also thought the architect’s ability to bring natural light plunging inside gave the building a modern, cheerful — dare we say pleasant? — vibe. “That skylight is stunning,” said one. “That really makes this building.”

Merit Award: Best New Development or Renovation — Health Care

St. Mary’s Emergency Center

Owner/Developer: SSM Healthcare of Wisconsin

General Contractor: J.H. Findorff & Son, Inc.

Architect/Engineer: Flad Architects/Flad & Henneman Engineering

Completion Date: June 2009

Billed as Wisconsin’s only satellite emergency care facility, the St. Mary’s Sun Prairie Emergency Center drew praise from CDA judges for its welcoming environment, which includes handsome interior walls, and a warm use of natural materials like stone and wood.

SSM Healthcare, the parent of St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, needed a facility to serve the fast-growing community of Sun Prairie, whose population has grown by a stunning 93% since 1993. Not to be confused with an urgent care center, the new emergency center expects to treat 14,000 people annually.

With its ample natural lighting that beams into the 13 exam rooms, especially nice and less threatening for patient care, our judges believe the Center achieves a calming affect without sacrificing privacy. “The bands of natural light into the exam rooms is nice, especially for pediatrics.”

Added another judge: “An efficient, attractive interior layout.”

Merit Award: Best New Development or Renovation — Hospitality

The Great Dane Billiards Lounge

Owner/Developer: GD3, LLC

General Contractor: KSW Construction Corp.

Architect/Engineer: Martinson Architects/Kilen Engineering

Completion Date: February 2009

Whereas the first-place winner in this category got high marks for its detailing, the expansion of the Great Dane Billiards Lounge (Hilldale location) got our judge’s attention for having many of the same qualitative features, particularly rich colors and the “sparkle” effect of the lights.

The expansion added 5,300 square feet of new floor space. While the restaurant connected to the billiards space is known for its dining atmosphere, the CDA judges also appreciated the attempt to detract from the dinginess of a typical pool hall with what one judge called a “sumptuous environment.”

“This did not rise as high on the detailing, but it is a nice building where you can go and have fun,” noted one judge.

“Nice that they spent some money on lighting,” added another.

“Not cheaply done,” said a third. “Good budget for decor, services, and furniture.”

Merit Award: Best New Development or Renovation — Residential

Lake Park Apartments

Owner/Developer: Lance T. McGrath

General Contractor: Krupp General Contractors

Architect/Engineer: Bruce Simonson (ARTECH)/Pierce Engineers

Completion Date: June 2009

The Lake Park Apartments may be, in the word of one CDA judge, understated, but its qualities didn’t escape their notice.

Lake Park, part of the Bassett Neighborhood, carries 40 residential units with its four-story frame. In addition to tackling differences in elevation on its site, its large window and sliding door openings and balconies take advantage of lake views, it has ample green features (most notably, Energy Star windows, appliances, and light fixtures), and warm colors that fit nicely into the neighborhood.

Its goal was to attract younger professionals, but it also had to complement the adjacent Dowling Apartments.

“It’s a handsome brick building, understated but well proportioned,” noted one judge. “It’s attractively sighted with some interesting internal spaces.”

“I like the balconies,” offered another. “Purists will chafe at things like this, but people can actually use them.”

Merit Award: Best Green-Built Project

UW Hillel — The Barbara Hochberg Center for Jewish Student Life

Owner/Developer: University of Wisconsin Hillel

General Contractor: J.H. Findorff & Son, Inc.

Architect/Engineers: Engberg Anderson/Affiliated Engineers, Pierce Engineers, Burse Survey & Engineering

Consultants: Huffman Facility Development, Ken Saiki Design, Inc., Stewart Design Associates

Completion Date: May 2009

When you are judged to be Project of the Year, you shine in a number of categories. In the view of our judges, the UW Hillel-Barbara Hochberg Center for Jewish Student Life does more than make university life more attractive to Jewish students. As a LEED silver building, it sets a sustainable example for all urban infill projects.

CDA judges were taken by its sublime sustainable design, the fact that 97% of the construction waste was recycled, its extensive use of sustainable materials, and the high level of building efficiency typified by programmed lighting.

“They have a good story to tell,” offered one judge.

“It’s a whole new building, and the reuse of the existing site promoted sustainability,” remarked another.

Given the emphasis on conserving natural resources, a third judge felt UW Hillel was shortchanging itself. “I’m surprised this is only [LEED] silver, given what they have done.”

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