Sustainability, Technology: Architectural Trends That Are Here to Stay

by Jeanni Brosius ([email protected]) 56 views 

Editor’s note: This article appears in the latest magazine edition of Talk Business & Politics, which you can read here.

Minimizing a negative environmental impact while saving money and living a greener lifestyle are in the headlines, so it only makes sense that new structures are built with these aspects in mind. As architects lead the way to expand the view of safety, health and welfare, the trend of sustainability seems to be sticking around.

Architects across Arkansas are seeing clients who are seeking sustainable designs, especially in schools and other public buildings. Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) is a green building certification program. New building projects are rated and given points for four levels of certification: certified, silver, gold and platinum. LEED certification is globally recognized as the primary award of achievement in green building.

“Architecture is moving away from style for style’s sake,” says Galen Hunter, principal architect at MAHG Architecture, Inc., in Fort Smith. “The design of buildings is being informed by how do you best provide for the function of the building while reducing the initial construction costs, energy consumption and providing a healthier learning or working environment?”

Hunter’s firm is currently working on King Elementary School in Van Buren. This school building has not only achieved the LEED Gold status, but it is helping to teach the next generation to be responsible as well.

“What sets it apart is that the teachers of that school took the sustainable building as a jumping off point to teach the students about how to save on natural resources, grow their own food, save rainwater for irrigation, reduce waste,” Hunter says. “The new building and its design became a way of life for teachers to give students hands-on experience to the concept they had only been teaching before.”

Clients are spending hard-earned money for buildings that will remain significant and responsive for many decades to come.

“In our opinion, first and foremost is a push to make interior environments more flexible and adaptable,” says Eldon Bock, principal and COO at WER Architects/Planners in Little Rock. “We find this true in kindergarten through 12 education facilities, institutional medical and corporate design. Sustainable design only works if your facility can transcend short-term trending. Focus on the building user has never been more intent. Bottom line, users want to be offered choices – choices about how to teach, how to learn, how to work, how to communicate and how to collaborate.”

Bock says the trend toward more contemporary design and use of quality materials, locally sourced products, craftsmanship, natural lighting and connection to exterior space is what WER’s clients are seeking.

“The fun thing about architecture is that we don’t make widgets,” Bock says. “Every project has unique aspects if you listen to your client. Quite a few of our projects involve education or campus student life. … If the environments we help create can enhance the learning experience of a child or help a college freshman become a better citizen in a larger community, we have successes in doing our job.”

Throughout the design process, Bock says, architects grab on to the client’s needs or notions that begin to shape the human experience and meet their individual requirements.

One of WER’s unique projects is Founders Hall, which is student housing on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. The hall is an urban infill project in the middle of the campus that is designed to blend in with adjacent historic collegiate gothic residence halls.

Kyle Cook is a principal architect with Brackett-Krennerich Architects in Jonesboro, and he says he isn’t seeing any particular “trends” in architecture in Northeast Arkansas, but he agrees that sustainability is more than just a passing fancy.

“As a whole, I would say that as this area grows, there has become more interest in sustainable options, contemporary materials and design, and more focus by clients on what is working in other parts of the state or country,” Cook says.

He says technology has become a predominate factor in architecture design as well as sustainability.

“Technology has always played a role in forming architecture to some degree, for example, newer, better, more durable building materials,” Cook says. “But another trend that technology imposes is how individuals use spaces and what their needs are in regards to this new technology.”

An example Cook shares is that the dormitories his firm has designed on college campuses have had less emphasis on group rooming conditions and more emphasis on individual or single room layouts.

“Each room would have all data requirements needed for smartphones, laptops and other devices. Also, younger generations seem to be less likely to desire the layout of older living conditions, which include gang showers, three to four to a room, computer labs, etc.,” Cook says.

In addition to school campuses, churches also cater to technology. The audio/visual, lighting and sound needs are important to many church services.

And one of the more unique designs by the firm is a new corporate office building for Ritter Communications in Jonesboro. This building has LEED Silver certification, and the construction combines sustainability and technology — befitting for a company that delivers technology to its customers.

Fayetteville is steeped in tradition and its architecture reflects that heritage.

“Fayetteville has a rich tradition of interesting architects and buildings, but the state and region in general has a strong establishment of traditional norms in architectural style,” says Chris Baribeau, who is a principal architect with Modus Studio in Fayeteville. “We are at a crossroads of diversity between our university and the nearby headquarters of the largest corporation in the world – both of which inspire a multitude of architectural forms – yet we are easily plagued by a less-than-interesting build environment that all too often is decidedly suburban in nature. Our role in the built environment is to provide new models for walkable, urban and sustainable projects that are rooted in this place.”

One of Modus Studio’s projects is Fayetteville’s Eco Modern Flats, which is the first project in Arkansas to receive the LEED for Homes Multifamily Platinum rating. Baribeau says this project re-imagines space in a palette of steel and cedar to breathe new life into an otherwise ordinary, layered construction system.

The four existing apartment buildings were constructed between 1968 and 1972, and they are located adjacent to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. By creating elegant armatures through smart and low-tech sustainable design solutions, Baribeau says his firm overhauled and enhanced the living spaces of each unit.

“The existing topography and residual spaces between the buildings were optimized into various courtyard spaces as well as public and private terraces, patios and rooftop decks,” Baribeau says. Each space was delineated by a kit-of-parts panel system combining the modern durability of steel with the natural warmth of cedar.

Hunter says the economy also has played a role in the decisions clients are making in architecture, but he says clients are rethinking their design options.

“Before the economic slowdown, a lot of clients made the assumption that sustainable design would cost them more at the time of construction and therefore, the discussion never moved past that point, except with a few forward-thinking clients,” Hunter says. “Since the economy has picked up again, many of these same clients are more willing to talk about and even embrace the idea of designing projects that not only reduce their future energy and operating costs but also provide a healthier environment for their employees.”

Whether by trend or force of economics and society, Baribeau believes there will inevitably continue to be a movement toward more sustainable and urban design.

“In this type of build environment and the demand for ever-increasing speed of design and construction, more streamlined, modern and less fussy architectural styles will evolve,” Baribeau says. “Traditional styling, trimming and detail will give way to raw simplicity and technologically understood ornamentation.”

With ever-changing technology and more clients moving to a greener way of thinking, what were once architectural trends are becoming mainstays in the industry.

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