North Carolina AIA HQ Competition

Lazy, bloated buildings are designed for lazy people. Windows do not operate. Elevators move people vertically. Stairs are only used in emergencies. Monstrous single function spaces are left un-programmed and unused. This is today’s architectural standard. The ‘endless oil fiesta’ is drawing to a close, and with it, the ‘endless building’. The party is nearly over. The music has died and the lights have finally come on. We are left to sweep up the mess: a once verdant landscape littered with planes of asphalt and bloated, endless buildings.

In the history of our culture, the valorization of technology has scarcely been used to solve real problems. In most cases it has been used to create new ones. Technology has been made a slave to our comfort: we spend countless natural and labor resources at catastrophic rates to invent ways to be more comfortable. Design is only flawed due to intent. Today’s buildings are designed to fail. The real challenges, the only important design criteria, are totally ignored, though our ‘art’ is created or our ‘bottom line’ is met. The Lean building plans for regeneration instead of degeneration.

What is North Carolina? How can we respond to its architectural vernacular? Aesthetic contextualism and sense of place is based on arbitrary geopolitical lines drawn on a map. What makes North Carolina different than Nevada or Wisconsin? Every historical vernacular is a direct response to available methods and materials as manipulated, modified, or distorted by climate.

Site Situation: Long North/South axis defining a street frontage to mirror the Blount Street Revitalization Plan’s goal for lofts/lower level retail on the east side of North Wilmington Street. Long North/South axis responds to existing vegetation. Adoption of European code for office buildings requiring a narrow floor plate with operable façade for interior day lighting and cross ventilation. Coffee shop/AIA shop as an anchor at the Northeast corner with adjacency to existing Campus. Southern tray wall as billboard to community entry.

Buildings are ‘enablers’. If our buildings are designed to ask questions, confront the user, and to be interactive, we are forced to respond; we become interactive. If they are designed for comfort, we are enabled to shut off or minds and reduce our awareness of the world around us. Put your money where your mouth is. Are you willing to sweat a little for your future, or to put on a sweater if need be? Can you make do with less space if it’s more flexible? Ditch your tie in summer with pride: you are saving the planet, and with it, our lives.

In today’s high tech world we can buy a fully automated electronically sensored super compact irrigation system to water our ‘farmwall’. Or we could use a recycled 2 liter cola bottle. Low tech solutions require less energy and resources. They require greater communication and organization among building users and community members. High tech is not always better tech. Sure, we don’t want the Cub-Scouts to give us a heart transplant, but I think they can cover watering a few vegetables on Saturday afternoon. They’ll have sweet potatoes for dinner, and a merit badge to boot!

LEED is no longer enough. If an Owner spends the right amount, and checks the right boxes, a building is now a€oesustainablea€. A LEED building is only as sustainable as its inhabitants. Human behavior and an architecture that fosters interaction and awareness not only creates buildings and building- cultures that are ecologically sound; but together create a a€oeSustainable Culturea€. A new appreciation is possible for not only how buildings can be used, but how they can give back as venues for community interaction and exposure to the public about the value and services of the AIA.

This prototypical Lean building grows its own food. The next Lean building could harvest bamboo for flooring, straw for insulation, or wheat for cabinetry. When segregationist zoning laws are repealed, the Lean building that follows will find a cottage industry worker harvesting resources on the roof that will be utilized for light, local industry on the floor below. The AIA headquarters building must be a diagram of, and a billboard for changing cultural values in order to create AWARNESS about the issues confronting both our society and our architecture, becoming an advertisement for good design. This building must outline the future of ‘cultural sustainability’.