Crosstown Concourse shines in architecture design awards
USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee
Transforming the blighted and massive Sears building into Crosstown Concourse provided architects a huge canvas and high-profile opportunities.
AIA (American Institute of Architects) Memphis chapter presented 11 design awards Saturday night at the organization's 2018 gala. Four of the awards were given to three firms for their respective projects inside and outside the 1.2 million-square-foot building.
The event was housed in the new Ballet Memphis headquarters, another building that grabbed an award for its architect.
The jury of six Columbus, Ohio, architects judged the submissions. "Not just me, but all the jurors were really impressed with the work,'' chairman Timothy C. Hawk of WSA Studio said. Judges often say such nice things, he noted, "and I think they mean it in a superficial way, but we actually were pleasantly surprised at the care given to many of the projects.''
The AIA Memphis 2018 Design Awards are categorized as Honor Award of Excellence (highest level), Merit Award (second level) or citation (third level).
Following a yearslong trend, archimania won the most in taking six of the 11 awards (archimania won five of seven awards last year).
This year, LRK (Looney Ricks Kiss) won two awards. Taking one each was brg3s, Self + Tucker Architects and Pat Kelley Magruder Jr.
Hawk, a veteran of such juries, said that typically a jury feels half the submissions are worth considering and half are not. "But on the Memphis awards we felt maybe 90 to 95 percent of them were really strong projects and worthy of considering for an award.
"... I think the reason is the work was oftentimes detailed with a lot of care and a lot of the projects had very strong design ideas behind them.''
Honor Awards of Excellence
• LRK's renovation/restoration of Crosstown Concourse. "We were really impressed with how they reinvigorated a crumbling relic of the past,'' Hawk said. "We were particularly fascinated by the focus and the energy that the architect put on developing those vertical shafts,'' or big atriums. "Where all the tenant spaces front that.''
Jurors also liked that the "playful'' parking garage with its midcentury modern look was preserved.
"It's a massive complex and massive building,'' Hawk said. "I think there was a lot of removal and cleanup and several distinct moves that helped create a stronger sense of place.
"I think all those moves help set the table for a future. The building can evolve as time goes on. Before, it was fixed for a certain purpose. These architects helped free the building from a specific purpose and created a building that can be malleable to absorb change,'' he said.
• Archimania's Memphis Teacher Residency headquarters inside Crosstown Concourse. "That was my favorite project,'' Hawk said, noting the "articulation and integration of smart planning.''
For example, when the doors close on the private rooms off MTR's main entry corridor, "there's a really beautiful colored facade that animates the experience in the corridor. And when the doors open they help define the space,'' Hawk said.
• Brg3s architects' University of Tennessee Multidisciplinary Simulation Center in the Medical District.
"The jury was most impressed with the way the building fit the context,'' Hawk said. The new simulation center is flanked on one side by a modern brutalist structure and the other by an ornate early 20th-century building.
While the new building was designed to support all its functions, "the architect took great care to make sure it was integrated with the site very well.''
• Archimania's Ballet Memphis headquarters at Overton Square.
"I think most the jurors felt this was the strongest project,'' Hawk said. "... We liked the way it addressed the urban condition'' fronting the corner of Madison and Cooper, he said. But the jurors even liked the look of the back parking lot.
Some places inside Ballet Memphis give an ethereal quality for visitors thanks in part to a lot of natural light, Hawk said.
• Archimania for Tech901 headquarters inside Crosstown Concourse;
• Archimania for the new I-55 Welcome Center;
• Archimania for the Regional One Courtyard and Lobby;
• Self + Tucker Architects for Memphis Business Academy;
• And LRK for the Nineteenth Century Club renovation/restoration.
• Archimania for the Gutierrez Residence in Germantown;
• And architect Pat Kelley Magruder Jr. for the Crosstown Dental office inside Crosstown Concourse.
The judging is blind; jurors do not know which architect designed the projects they review. And every year, different juries from cities across the nation assess the Memphis submissions. And year after year archimania seems to win a lion's share of the awards.
"I can tell you what it is,'' Hawk, who is an AIA fellow, said of archimania's success. "Other architects can learn from this: It's the integration of the whole.
''... It has to do with proportion and attention to detail and how they are integrating the interiors into the building. They are not just doing a part, but they are orchestrating a whole,'' Hawk said.
"It's much more in the tradition of Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed the whole package.''
It's not that archimania designs have a certain look, Hawk indicated. "I don't think they're stylistic. ... I think they are about the context,'' he said. "They are looking at the building they have or the neighborhood. ... In addition they are integrating all the detail, incorporating the interior.
"(And) I think they have strong ideas.''