Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Hammurabi Design Awards

University of Portland Bell Tower by Soderstrom Architects, recipient of the 2011 Hammurabi Excellence Award (this and all other photos in this post courtesy of the Masonry & Ceramic Tile Insitute of Oregon)

The common materials of masonry—brick, stone, and concrete block—are at once both humble and brimming with potential. When assembled artfully by skilled masons in accordance with designs by talented architects and engineers, these materials are as rich and expressive as any others.

Builders have exploited masonry’s timeless attributes—its durability, human scale, varied textures and colors—throughout the entire history of civilization to powerful effect. Masonry’s relevance as a construction material has not waned in the 21st century; if anything, the durability, strength, and thermal mass of brick, stone, and block often render them materials of first choice when designing with sustainability in mind. 

I had the great honor to serve as a juror for the 2011 Hammurabi Awards Program produced by the Masonry & Ceramic TileInstitute of Oregon.(1) The biennial program honors innovative and unique building projects that feature the prominent use of masonry. My fellow jurors were Joe Van Lom, AIA of Architects Van Lom Group, and Kathy Dietrich, AIA, LEED AP of Architects Associative, Inc. All three of our firms are past recipients of Hammurabi awards.(2) The Institute presented the latest award winners this past Thursday during a posh luncheon at the Governor Hotel in downtown Portland.

Joe, Kathy, and I actually convened last November at the Institute’s Portland office to review the 2011 entries. The quality of the submissions was uniformly excellent, so it was definitely a challenge for us to narrow the field. Nevertheless, we quickly arrived at a consensus regarding what we considered the attributes of outstanding masonry projects.

Our attention was drawn to projects in which masonry’s inherent properties were clearly understood and used to the greatest effect. We were attracted to obvious displays of skillful construction and reverence for the materials. We checked our aesthetic biases at the door and directed our focus upon the appropriate application of masonry to the design problems posed by each project.

We ultimately selected four Merit Award winners, three Honor Award recipients, and one outstanding project worthy of recognition with the Excellence Award. The winning projects (accompanied by our jury comments) are:

Excellence Award:

University of Portland Bell Tower, Portland - Soderstrom Architects
The University of Portland Bell Tower, completed in September 2009, is located at the spiritual and academic center of the university. The jury found the level of craftsmanship to be outstanding. The integration of brick and precast concrete elements, and the application of the Flemish bond patterning are particularly successful. The texture, coursing, and brick patterns all complement one another in the service of creating a unified whole. The result is a complete, finished little jewel.

Honor Awards:

(photo by Josh Partee)

Oregon State Hospital, Kirkbride Building, Salem - SRG Partnership/HOK
The Oregon State Hospital is the oldest continuously operating psychiatric hospital building on the west coast. The project team completely rehabilitated the facility, restoring the historic building to its former glory while meeting Secretary of the Interior standards for historic district designation. The jury was impressed with the extensive restoration of the dilapidated hand-fabricated brick, an elaborate process that involved both delicate repairs to the mortar joints and more extensive repairs to its structural integrity. The completed project extends the life of an irreplaceable landmark so that it meets modern patient care standards. It stands as a testament to the timeless virtues of brick masonry.

Keizer City Hall & Police Facility - Group Mackenzie
The new Keizer City Hall & Police Facility provides a strong, new civic presence for the community. The jury admired the continuation of the ashlar-coursed block used at both the exterior and interior to unify the project. The contrast of the CMU with the exposed wood framing and decking was likewise effective and complementary. Overall, the jury regarded the Keizer City Hall & Police Facility as “a complete project,” well-conceived from start to finish.

St. Francis of Assisi Church, Bend - Becker Architects
The jury was attracted to the new St. Francis of Assisi Church because of the use of humble materials and its understated design. The contemplative aesthetic showcases the structural and expressive qualities of concrete masonry. The play of light across the exposed, textural block surfaces makes a particularly apt use of the material in this house of worship.

Merit Awards:

Verne A. Duncan Elementary School, Happy Valley - BBL Architects
This state-of-the-art, LEED Silver-certified project impressed the jury because of its high level of design for a budget-driven public facility. The City of Happy Valley’s design guidelines mandated a mixture of low-maintenance, natural building materials on the exterior of this new 61,000 s.f. elementary school. The client’s emphasis upon economical, high-performance building products was addressed by the architect’s use of both concrete masonry and brick. The result is a pleasing juxtaposition of colors and textures, one that appears richer than the budget would suggest.

Oxford Hotel, Bend - BLRB Architects
Despite being the tallest building in downtown Bend, the Oxford Hotel effectively reduces its scale by employing a variety of masonry products across various levels. The jury admired the way the building engages the streetscape while not overwhelming its neighbors. This feat was particularly impressive given the internal exigencies of hotel planning, which typically would have favored a looming tower rather than this modestly-scaled horizontal design.

Ramona Apartments, Portland - Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects
The Ramona Apartments caught the jurors’ eyes as a noteworthy example of the possibilities of brick masonry when applied to affordable housing. Located in Portland’s Pearl District, the project’s street level detailing provides a pedestrian scale that fits in well with this neighborhood context. Brick is a particularly suitable building product for use in an urban context because of its maintenance-free durability and rich appearance. This is a “fabric building” of the type that could easily bear repeated emulation throughout the city.

Hood River Middle School – Music & Science Building, Hood River - Opsis Architecture
This net-zero, LEED Platinum Music & Science Building complements an existing historic landmark main school building. Jury members noted how seamlessly the designers integrated the various “green” features (including photo-voltaic panels) into a historically sympathetic building. The selection of the harmonizing brick color blend and texture was particularly successful. The project stands as a model for future developments seeking to couple both traditional building methods with the latest sustainable design strategies.

Congratulations to all of the winners in the 2011 Hammurabi Awards program!

The Masonry & Ceramic Tile Institute of Oregon does a marvelous job of recognizing all of the parties who contributed to award-winning projects. These include not only the architects and masons, but also the structural engineers, general contractors, building owners, and others. Many were on hand at the Governor Hotel, making the luncheon an unqualified success. Kudos to Institute executive director Carl Lee and his assistant Jen Horace for orchestrating the 2011 Hammurabi Awards program. And thanks too for allowing me to play a part by participating as a juror. It was a blast!

(1)  Hammurabi was the sixth king of Babylon from 1792 BC to 1750 BC. He is known for the set of laws called Hammurabi's Code, one of the first written codes of law. His edicts included several pertaining to construction. Here’s an example: “If a builder builds a house for a man and does not make its construction firm and the house collapses and causes the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be put to death.”

(2)  Robertson/Sherwood/Architects received a 2003 Hammurabi Excellence Award for the Eugene Public Library.

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