Designing for the Greater Good


Architecture has transformative powers. It can change a physical space, a person’s life, a community’s identity and even the future, depending on material selection and performance expectations from the outset.

The past couple decades have seen significant effort to curb the unintended social, environmental and economic consequences of rapid population growth, economic growth and consumption of our natural resources.

Industry-wide focus on sustainability has given rise to green building rating systems as measurable ways to incorporate sustainable strategies.

More than protecting our natural resources, socially responsible design includes thoughtful approaches to how the built environment is created for human interaction. Purposeful design can enhance user experience, contributing to building’s long-term effectiveness.

Projects featured on these pages use masonry to create high performance, low maintenance, welcoming and comfortable buildings setting a holistic tone with operating efficiencies for their communities and occupants.

They are modestly yet thoughtfully designed, environmentally forward-thinking yet easily assimilated to their surroundings, durable and resilient yet inviting.

Rebuilding Durably, Sustainably In May of 2007, a tornado destroyed more than 90% of Greensburg, Kansas. Following the tornado, BNIM created a comprehensive master plan, which provided a framework for rebuilding the city. And in December 2007, Greensburg’s City Council became the first in the country to adopt a resolution that all City projects would be built to LEED Platinum standards.

A durable and resilient palette of exterior and interior finishes was selected for Greensburg’s City Hall. Reclaimed brick from local buildings affected by the tornado were used as cladding on the floors and walls of the exterior and in council chambers. The City Hall serves as the symbol of the city’s vitality and leadership in becoming a model sustainable community, valuing social, environmental and economic balance.

Located prominently along Main Street, the building’s proximity strengthens the connection between community and government. Reinforcing the corner site, it is organized into two wings – a public wing that houses the council chambers and an administrative wing. As the first LEED Platinum City Hall in the US, this building reduces consumption at every level and generates clean power for the community.

~ Hans Nettelblad, AIA, LEED AP BD+C | BNIM

Uncommon Affordable The Hegeman Residence is a community in Brownsville, Brooklyn providing supportive housing and on-site services for low-income and formerly homeless individuals. The LEED certified-Silver development emphasizes good health and indoor air quality, restorative and biophilic design, with best practices to save tenants money on energy bills.

Addressing local architectural context as well as its natural environment, the six-story building respects the surrounding neighborhood with its restrained planning, height and massing. By encouraging restorative connections to nature, the building provides a comfortable, high-quality living environment. Views to green space and natural daylight are prioritized, even in below-grade office spaces. An inner courtyard provides protected green space with room for urban agriculture. On the roof, 3,400 sf of greenery cools the building and slows stormwater run-off from the site.

The building utilizes an energy efficient, super-insulated (3″ polystyrene for R15) building envelope, rooftop solar panels for on-site power generation, ultra high-efficiency condensing boilers hydronic heating and Energy Star rated appliances.

The Hegeman is a most efficient masonry bearing wall system and concrete plank structure. Ecologically-sensitive concrete masonry units containing postconsumer recycled glass contribute to LEED requirements. Brick is used as a noble unitized façade material. Resourceful techniques add depth and articulation to the brick face, encouraging light and shadows to play over its surface. This thoughtful yet economical masonry detailing yields a minimal, elegant façade of a quality uncommon in affordable housing.

~ Peter Aaron, AIA | COOKFOX Architects

Respect the BLOCK Arizona State Forensic Hospital, located in Phoenix, provides state-of-the art facilities for the housing and treatment of mentally impaired patients who have entered the legal system.An extremely lean budget, stringent security requirements, and a variety of site constraints were major challenges for the design team.

Rigorous safety and security requirements coupled with a minimal budget made concrete masonry units (CMU) an ideal material selection. Serving triple duty as primary structural system, enclosure and interior finish and partitions, the material kept costs far below client expectations allowing construction of two additional units adding 40 beds. Cells of the oversized CMU were fitted with foam insulation further eliminating the need for interior stud walls, and providing a highly durable, virtually indestructible interior finish. Hollow core precast slabs were used for both roof deck and ceiling finish and interfaced well with CMU bearing walls. Block was also an ideal choice given the local availability and abundant pool of well-skilled labor.

The plan is organized in a series of concentric rings with patient rooms forming the majority of perimeter enclosure, minimizing the need for high-security fencing. The lobby, sally port and shared staff support area complete this outer ring. Perimeter program elements are minimally articulated and are intended to read more as walls in the landscape than traditional building elements. The exception is the lobby, expressed with increased verticality and richer articulation. It is clearly identified as the main entry.

Patient activity and treatment areas form the next program layer. Located within the secure boundary, these have direct visual and physical connections to the central courtyard. The innermost ring is a collection of outdoor covered walkways that circle the central courtyard and tie the individual program elements together. At the heart of the campus is the chapel located in the center of the main courtyard and forming the centerpiece of a sunken spiritual garden. The forensic campus is envisioned as a secure, yet tranquil cloister that promotes healing, calmness and order. A minimalist architectural expression with a simple palette of regional materials suggests a Zen-like compound well-suited to the climate of central Arizona, and the mission of the State Hospital. CMU made it possible for a high function driven facility to cost-effectively achieve a level of architectural quality not typically associated with this building typology

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