Commercial Design Awards

Given the downcast state of the commercial development industry, In Business magazine wasn't sure there would be enough quality projects for our annual Commercial Design Awards, but area architects, engineers, and other professionals came through once again, and our panel of judges remained impressed with the value and range of products they had to evaluate. We asked them to assess projects completed in 2010 and take a look back at some of the better efforts from the past decade, so IB readers will recognize some of the best new buildings added to the Greater Madison landscape since 2000.

As such, we present both a "Project of the Year" winner, the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, and a "Project of the Decade Winner," the UW Hillel-Barbara Hochberg Center for Jewish Student Life. The quality of both was evident in these categories alone, but each facility also earned first-place honors in two other categories (the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery in "Best New Development – Other" and in "Best Green-Built Project," and UW Hillel in "Best Medium-Sized Project of the Decade" and "Best New Development or Renovation – Private Building" in Projects of the Decade). An endless stream of superlatives about each flowed from our judges: Bob Greenstreet (UW-Milwaukee), Mark Fenton (Leopardo Companies), and Geoffrey Hurtado (Irgens Development).

Their choices were anything but easy because the caliber of the projects said volumes about the state of architecture and development in Madison. Despite industry challenges, our judges felt the competitive bar was set high.

"This was a very impressive series of projects," noted one judge. "The range and diversity, from small restaurants to multimillion-dollar projects, that was produced in this economy was quite a feat."

Another judge also felt the range of projects and thoughtful design principles were comparable to previous years, while a third judge was impressed by what architects did with limited funds. "I don't necessarily think you have to spend enormous amounts of money for good architecture, but you have to spend something," he said. "I think these were value-creating investments that people made in their buildings."

With that, IB presents the best projects of 2010 and the best of the decade.



Winner: Project of the Year & Best New Development or Renovation – Other & Best Green-Built Project

Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery

Owners: Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation; UW-Madison; Wisconsin Dept. of Administration

Construction Managers: Joint venture: J.H. Findorff & Son, Mortenson Const.

Architects/Engineers: Ballinger, Uihlein Wilson Architects/ Affiliated Engineers, GRAEF, PSJ Engineering

Early Trade Involvement Contractors: General Heating A/C, Westphal & Co., Hooper Corp.

Completion Date: December 2010

The wow factor of the WID, the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, blew our judges away as it earned 2010 "Project of the Year" honors. The 303,300-square-foot structure consists of two institutes, one public and one private, in the heart of the UW-Madison campus. Our judges described the five-story facility as a state-of-the-art crown jewel of the campus, one that shatters the traditional boundaries of the "educational box" design.

"You can take it out of its element at the UW and you would never guess it's an educational structure," said one judge, summing up the views of his colleagues.

Comprised of the public Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and the private Morgridge Institute for Research, the facility serves as a hub for interdisciplinary and collaborative research, but the design elements are what impressed the CDA judges. The feeling of openness fostered by high ceilings and full-length glass [and research laboratories on floors two, three, and four – and below the ground floor] seem to create a structure within a structure, and the stunning internal atrium, complete with a ground-floor town center, fountain, and Mesozoic garden, had one judge comparing the look of the powerful interior to that of a resort hotel.

"The internal atrium is just a stunning, breathtaking space," he stated.

That same judge noted that it's not easy to do a good job on big buildings, but he praised the architects for what he called a well-controlled building composition and facades that feature "a wonderful interplay of stone and metal."

The WID also won in the Best Green-Built category, and judges snapped off salutes to the facility's many sustainable elements, particularly the geothermal HVAC system for more efficient heating and cooling, plus the rooftop solar panels, and the groundwater recovery system. Said one judge: "I view it as a stepping stone for future sustainable buildings nationwide."

Winner: Best New Development – Office or Retail

800 University Bay Drive

Owner/Developer: Krupp General Contractors

General Contractor: Krupp General Contractors

Architect/Engineer: Potter Lawson, Inc./Pierce Engineers, Inc.

Completion Date: June 2010

The term "Class A" speaks to the highest-quality office buildings, but the word "beauty" was most often applied by our judges when describing the 800 University Bay Drive structure. Given its attractiveness, and what one judge called its "powerful corner statement," it's a good thing the 74,600-square-foot building is located on a highly visible corner.

The intent of the project was not only to create a four-story, multi-tenant office building, but a Class A office building designed to LEED platinum guidelines. In the minds of our judges, the most impressive thing about its LEED platinum status is that it was done without making it obvious that architects were going for LEED status. Sometimes, they noted, architects literally will use a LEED checklist to design a building, and the structures can become so scripted that a truly creative design is sacrificed. That's not the case here.

"They built a beautiful facility," raved one judge. "You would not be able to tell, by just walking by, that it was LEED platinum. That's hard to achieve."

Judges liked the use of different materials – brick, stone, and glass – and how architects tied them together. "It's a strikingly modern use of materials," noted one. "Crisply detailed with nice attention to sustainability issues."

Another judge appreciated the architect's restraint in not being too ornamental. "Simple, but elegant, and clean, crisp lines," he stated. "Some buildings try too hard. This one did not."

Winner: Best Renovation – Office or Retail

301 Westfield

Owner/Developer: T. Wall Properties

General Contractor: Miron Construction Co., Inc.

Architect/Engineer: Bouril Design Studio/Henneman Engineering

Completion Date: November 2010

With dramatic change that included a new and more robust entranceway, the 301 Westfield building occupies a major commercial site on Madison's west side, directly adjacent to the new MATC expansion and West Towne. With approximately 110,000 square feet of floor space on three levels, the former single-user building required a facelift to become multi-use, attract new tenants, and provide spaces for meetings and general reception.

Judges felt the architects accomplished their goal of bringing a fresh, open, airy look to the building. "It almost looks like a whole new building," said one judge. "That entryway is very dramatic."

Designers not only focused the conversion on the more welcoming entryway, but also on an interior that features a remodeled lobby that serves as a transition space, allowing multi-tenant users access to two main building wings on each level. Judges were quick to point out the detailed metalwork, which is accented with wood wall finishes and comfortable seating areas. "There is no mistaking that entryway, but there is also a pleasant, light-filled atrium," added a second judge. "It's very well detailed and comfortable."

"Very visually striking" offered a third judge. "The entrance, the use of lights around the large, glazed area … it's almost brash, but it doesn't go too far."


Winner: Best New Dev't or Renovation – Health Care

Healing Garden, St. Mary's Hospital

Owner/Developer: St. Mary's Hospital

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

Architect/Consultant: Ken Saiki Design/The Bruce Co.

Completion Date: July 2010

When it comes to fulfilling a mission, the St. Mary's Hospital Healing Garden has accomplished a great deal. The 40,000-square-foot garden was designed to provide patients with a warm place to retreat from disease and illness, and our CDA judges were unanimous in their belief that it hit the mark in terms of providing a setting that offers peace and serenity.

In the view of our judges, the garden displays a combination of skilled craftsmanship and stunning beauty. The adjectives they used to describe the garden include warm, inviting, and stress-free, but they also appreciated the way designers tied an original archway with new flower beds, trees, and other landscaping. They raved about the decorative concrete walks and the introduction of a water feature, and they were struck by its signature feature, a meditation labyrinth. "It's a wonderfully thoughtful design," marveled one judge. "Great use of stone and landscaping, and the labyrinth is nicely executed. It's a very powerful component in the overall garden."

Thousands of patients, volunteers, employees, and visitors will stroll in the garden, and our judges believe they will find a real refuge in the middle of an urban setting. "It is very elegant and peaceful, a place for quiet contemplation," remarked one judge, "whether you are sitting on benches or on rocks, or walking or moving about the garden."


Winner: Best New Dev't or Renovation – Education

Madison Children's Museum

Owner/Developer: Madison Children's Museum

General Contractor/Architect: J.H. Findorff & Son/ Kubala Washatko

Engrs./Consultants/Completion Date: Arnold & O'Sheridan, Affiliated Engrs., Huffman Facility Development/R.A. Smith, Kehl/August 2010

The new Madison Children's Museum has already attracted tens of thousands of visitors, and CDA judges give much of the credit to project designers. The museum, a vision of a group of early childhood specialists, parlayed the generosity of W. Jerome Frautschi, who helped them acquire a new five-story building on Hamilton Street, and a capital campaign helped renovate it into a building that "screams fun," noted one judge.

The renovation produced an accessible "green roof" and colorful new exhibits, enabling the museum to create an educational program that emphasizes the arts (100 Wisconsin artists have contributed permanent art), science, history, culture, health, and civic engagement. The museum has three times the space of its previous facility, and CDA judges believe architects created the total package in terms of visitor experience. "A very comfortable space that shouts 'kid-friendly,'" noted one judge. "It allows kids to interact with the building. It's built to have the kids all over it."

Especially the roof, which our judges view as more interactive than most green roofs. "About 90% of them are just water retention and some grass," another judge opined. "This is an interactive tool that allows kids to understand sustainable construction."

One judge liked this project so much, he strongly advocated for this intellectually stimulative museum to be named as "Project of the Year." "It's a wonderfully playful building," he cheered. "Cheerful inside and out, with enlivened spaces."


Winner: Best New Dev't or Renovation – Residential

Park Regent Apts.

Owner/Developer: Thomas Degen/Degen & Associates, LLC

General Contractor/Architect: Stevens Const./Eppstein Uhen, Interior Motives

Engrs./Consultants/Completion Date: JSD Professional Services, Illingworth Kilgust, Oimoen Electric, Dave Jones Plumbing, H.J. Pertzborn/July 2010

The inviting spaces of the Park Regent Apartments had our judges wishing they were college students again. The project provides off-campus apartment housing for 225 UW-Madison students. As such, it adds to the activity of a prominent intersection near the Greenbush and Vilas neighborhoods, and it has revitalized a property that was destroyed by fire and left vacant for several years.

Architecturally, the apartments attempt to blend into their surroundings with brick and modern glass, and a ground-floor streetscape with direct access to Regent Street retail. Two restaurants on the first floor also serve to link the Park Regent Apartments with the community, including nearby hospital employees. "The detail on the first floor creates great interaction with the neighborhood," observed one judge. "It's not just a standard dorm house."

Regarding the interior spaces, CDA judges not only wanted to turn back the clock, they appreciated the way Park Regent broke out of the dormitory mode with features that give it a comfortable, home-life environment. "In thinking about what some of those dorm rooms look like, these are staggeringly good, hotel-quality spaces for student housing," gushed another judge.

"Very elegant," noted a third. "A lot nicer than the space I lived in when I went to college."


Winner: Best New Dev't or Renovation – Hospitality

Brickhouse BBQ

Owner/Developer: JongYean Lee

General Contractor: Stevens Construction

Architect/Engineer: Destree Design Architects/Cold Spring Design, LLC

Completion Date: February 2010

Brickhouse BBQ isn't just another smoky restaurant and bar, according to our judges. The introduction of varied lighting systems, the deft use of natural materials, rich colors, and the creation of different atmospheres at each level of the facility vaulted it over other entries in "Best New Development or Renovation-Hospitality." With a relatively modest project budget, architects not only produced an 11,430-square-foot destination for residents and sports enthusiasts, they helped to revitalize an under-used building.

Brickhouse BBQ offers three levels of dining and drinking space, introducing new elements like a rooftop outdoor patio with an outstanding view of the Capitol, while maintaining a historic facade. The contrast between a historic facade and modern additions gives Brickhouse a unique feel, but it was the development of a sophisticated urban flair on the interior that impressed our judges. "They took a boring, uninviting interior and transformed it into a warm, inviting atmosphere," stated one judge.

Architects attempted to use three floors to accommodate multiple groups without sacrificing intimacy, and our judges believe that goal was achieved. "This was very skillfully undertaken," added another judge. "The nice use of natural materials with a good integration of lighting makes it a very stylish environment to eat and drink in."

Winner: Project of the Decade & Best New Development or Renovation – Medium Bldg. & Best New Development or Renovation – Private Bldg.

UW Hillel-Barbara Hochberg Center

Owner/Owners Rep: UW Hillel/Huffman Facility Development

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

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

Consultants: Ken Saiki Design, Inc., Stewart Design Associates

Completion Date: May 2009

The UW Hillel-Barbara Hochberg Center for Jewish Student Life was not only last year's CDA "Project of the Year," it took home the top prize in three categories for our Projects of the Decade class, including the actual "Project of the Decade."

The same qualities that impressed judges last year were evident this time around, as the 41,000-square-foot center also was judged the past decade's best medium-sized and private building. Based on our judges' comments, absolutely none of the amount budgeted for this facility was wasted.

"I love the introduction of new architectural elements and material into the existing streetscape, without creating a distraction," lauded one judge. "It blends in really well."

More than 5,000 Jewish students attend UW-Madison, making UW Hillel one of the largest Hillel programs in the world. The facility provides college students a home away from home and the opportunity to experience Jewish life, but it's the use of multiple materials and design features that gives it architectural life. "I visited it a couple of times since last year," related one judge, who called it one of the better examples of 21st century architecture in Madison. "It's a gloriously funky addition to this neighborhood, and a good neighbor to other buildings on the street. "

Its metal facade was cited as the most unique feature, but the warmth of materials used in spaces for worship, cultural, and social events give the center a "coolness factor" without overwhelming the block, according to another judge. "The building meshes well on that street, and it's breathtakingly original without being offending or jarring," observed another judge.

A larger facility was needed to support growth in UW's Hillel program, and UW Hillel wanted a facility with a distinct and progressive presence. Mission accomplished and then some, according to our judges. "It's just a cool building inside and out," stated one judge. "They have created some wonderful spaces."


Winner: Best New Dev't or Renovation – Small Bldg.

First Unitarian Society

Owner/Developer: First Unitarian Society of Madison

General Contractor/Architect: J.H. Findorff & Son/Kubala Washatko

Engineer/Consultants: Arnold & O'Sheridan/Ken Saiki Design, Inc.

Completion Date: September 2008

Imagine the challenge of an architect who is tasked with completing an addition to a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The First Unitarian Society of Madison offered just that scale of challenge as it considered a major new addition to its Wright-designed National Historic Landmark Meeting House. The original meeting house, completed in 1951, has been cited as one of the world's most innovative examples of church architecture, so what's an architect to do?

In the view of our judges, they did right by one of the largest Unitarian congregations in the United States and Wright himself. "The challenge here was not just blending it in, but making a relationship with an iconic building designed by one of the iconic architects of the 20th century," stated one judge. "That's not easy, and the architect did an incredibly skillful job."

Over the years, the growth and the interest in architectural tours placed additional demands on the historic structure, and the congregation was determined to create space for expanded daily needs while maintaining the integrity of Wright's original vision of organic architecture. That involved designing an addition that remains in harmony with the surrounding environment of the former "country church" that originally was sited on a sandy knoll overlooking university farmland and Lake Mendota, but now is surrounded by urban neighborhoods.

The 20,000-sq.-ft. addition, the first LEED Gold religious facility in Wisconsin, includes a 500-seat auditorium, office and meeting space, and music rehearsal space for full-time staff, congregation members, day-care attendees, and tour group visitors.

Judges felt the architects achieved the desired effect by building in the spirit of the original structure. They especially liked the unique palette of building materials and detailing, including red pine columns that were salvaged from trees damaged in windstorms, and touches like the outdoor prairie elements – all incorporated without competing with iconic aspects of the original structure.

The architects also stayed true to Wright's integration of buildings and natural systems with a modern, sustainable approach augmented by a northern building exposure with abundant natural daylight, creating an opportunity for floor-to-ceiling views without adding significant cooling loads; and landscaping that now retains virtually all storm water on site, curtailing the severe storm water runoff that had caused localized flooding of neighboring properties. Noted one judge: "This addition is a worthy complement to a great piece of architecture."

Winner: Best New Dev't or Renovation – Large Bldg.

Electronic Theatre Controls

Owner/Developer: Electronic Theatre Controls

Project design builder: Erdman Development Group

Architect/Engineer/Consultant: Strang, Inc./Strang/Arnold & O'Sheridan

Completion Date: 2003

Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC), the global lighting solutions company, not only brought manufacturing and office employees together under one roof in its 266,000-sq.-ft. corporate facility, it brought our judges together on the merits of this one-of-a-kind building. The facility, which serves as a showcase for the company's entertainment and architectural lighting products, helped ETC create the kind of corporate culture that facilitates

creative collaboration for interdisciplinary problem-solving, but visitors see much more.

Mostly, they see the company's entertainment and architectural lighting products in action because they are featured elements in a theatrical-style environment. The entryway leads to a three-story lobby with colorfully lit scenes of an American-styled town square, almost like a Hollywood back lot or a Broadway stage. Behind the scenes, of course, real business functions take place.

CDA judges cited ETC's theatrical mix of textures and colors. "It comes across as a theme-park atmosphere with multiple themes," marveled one judge. "It's almost like they are selling entertainment to children and bringing them to Disney World."

"Sometimes, architecture can be too straight-laced," noted another, "but this project let 'er rip. The engaging, affectionate nods to buildings of the past just makes you smile."

"Large spaces intersect with each other at interesting angles," noted another judge. "It's a great place to show your craft."

Winner: Best New Dev't or Renovation – Public Bldg.

Overture Center

Owner/General Contractor: Overture Foundation/J.H. Findorff & Son, Inc.

Engineer/Consultants: Thornton-Tomasetti/Theatre Projects, Kirkegaard & Assoc.

Architects: Potter Lawson/Flad & Associates, Cesar Pelli & Assoc.

Completion Date: 2005

With so many stunning features to consider, our CDA judges came away most impressed with the way the Overture Center for the Arts was able to draw the city into its 380,000 square feet. The vision for the Overture Center was to stimulate a downtown Madison renaissance with the creation of a cultural arts district, and our judges found value in the way the architects created an impressive space for local theatrical groups.

Project architects tried to assemble two existing theaters and an art museum into a unified performing arts center, and added the 2,250-seat Overture Hall to the mix along with shops and restaurants. "There are so many unique features to talk about, I don't know where to begin," remarked one judge. "The concert hall's acoustical and aesthetic features, the detailing that was completed to perfection … they did not overlook any detail. There is no boilerplate construction in this building."

Overture also features a glass lobby that serves to connect Overture to downtown neighborhoods. "They did a great job of bringing all of the functions of the building into the heart of the city," noted another judge.

A third judge lauded the way Overture accommodates different theater groups – "A complicated proposition," he noted – and the way it interacts with Fairchild Street.

2012 CDAs are right around the corner

The annual Commercial Design Awards celebrate the best commercial building projects and designs that Greater Madison architects, engineers, and builders have to offer, and IB intends to make the CDAs an annual program.

Our CDA judges have been impressed with some of the new and renovated commercial structures being developed in Madison, and they believe Madison's better projects rank with the best in any part of the country.

The May 2012 CDA presentation, for projects completed in 2011, already is in the works. As we learned again this year, outstanding projects can be developed even in a severely challenged economic climate, and we hope to have plenty of new projects to choose from.

Next year's program will mark the CDAs' fifth year, and once again we will recognize a Project of the Year and a first-place winner in several categories: office or retail, health care, hospitality, residential, and best green-built structure. Worthy projects can be submitted for more than one category, if applicable.

As part of the nomination process, IB will ask for blueprints, floor plans or renderings, and photographs of both the interior and exterior for consideration by our three-person panel of judges.

For entries in the potential "Best Renovation" categories, we ask that photographs be taken at the beginning, during, and at the conclusion of the construction project. This helps our distinguished panel of CDA judges assess the quality of refurbished buildings.

Winners in each award category will be unveiled at an awards dinner in May of 2012 (date and location to be determined), and they will be featured in the May 2012 edition of In Business magazine. The Project of the Year will adorn the May 2012 cover.

To ensure a non-biased evaluation, our CDA judges are professionally based outside of Madison, although (full disclosure) two of our 2011 CDA judges have Madison ties. Geoff Hurtado grew up in Madison, while Mark Fenton attended UW-Madison.

IB encourages companies – architects, general contractor, engineers – with projects due for completions in 2011 to contact Events Manager Jessica Hamm ( to keep their soon-to-be completed projects on our radar screen. IB will provide entry forms, nomination materials, and other information to these firms as soon as they are available.

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