In the Public Realm

In the Public Realm

Design Flash

A broad spectrum of design ideologies distinguish a new National Building Museum exhibit that explores excellence in federal design and construction.

A new exhibit at the National Building Museum illustrates how regional heritage can be integrated with the latest building technology to create dynamic, functional and attractive structures, spaces and artworks. The common denominator of all these 21st-century contemporary architecture and artworks projects: they were all commissioned by the U.S. government and have been awarded a U.S. General Services Administration's (GSA) Design Award, acknowledging their outstanding contributions to federal design and construction. Through models, drawings and photographs, "Of Our Time: 2002 GSA Design Awards" documents the 24 public projects that received this honor last year. Taken as a whole, the Design Award winners for 2002 reflect the broad spectrum of design ideologies and project types that are creating a reinvigorated public realm.

In recent years, America's most notable architects, artists and designers have brought fresh and innovative ideas to federal projects through the GSA's Design Excellence Program. GSA has overseen the design and construction of civilian federal facilities for more than 50 years, and since 1994 the Design Excellence Program has provided a vehicle for recognizing and encouraging quality and creativity in federal building projects. Through this program, GSA has commissioned striking public spaces, remarkable examples of engineering and stunning public art.

The award-winning projects in this exhibition, all completed or proposed within the last five years, were selected by a jury of distinguished private practitioners for their exceptional contributions to federal design in the areas of architecture, interior design, preservation, art, graphic design, engineering, sustainability and construction.

The jury recognized many exciting new structures that incorporate attractive design with the latest technology, while addressing concerns such as sustainability and security. For the U.S. Port of Entry in Blaine, WA, Thomas Hacker Architects Inc. responded to Pacific Rim influences in the Northwest by using elements such as steel siding and wall panels to evoke vernacular Japanese farmhouses and create a welcoming image to people entering the country. Another winner, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Research and Administration Facility in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, designed by Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, Inc. (HOK), demonstrates that environmental performance can be significantly improved without raising costs. The campus, which used products with recycled content in its construction, uses 40 percent less energy and conserves approximately 250,000 gallons of water per month compared to similar facilities.

The 2002 GSA awards also recognized projects that use good design and construction techniques to revitalize existing federal structures—preserving the beauty of the older structure while offering improved facilities for today's tenants and visitors. For example, Finegold Alexander + Associates Inc. skillfully restored and renovated the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. This project contained a number of challenges, including preserving two historic buildings from different time periods, 1914 and 1940, and providing a system for integrating the two buildings to improve functionality.

In some cases, the projects required providing for new uses from existing spaces. One example of this is the interior design of the Poste Restaurant, located in the recently opened Hotel Monaco in Washington, DC. Converting what was originally the mail sorting room of the 19th-century General Post Office, the design team from Adamstein & Demetriou Architects created a 21st-century restaurant that respects the building's architectural character and history.

Finally, the GSA Design Awards also recognize excellence in the field of graphic design, and this year included an Honor Award to the New York firm of Chermayeff & Geismar Inc. for a series of monographs documenting public buildings recognized in GSA's Design Excellence Program. The designers employed outstanding photography and elegant typography that allows the award-winning architecture to predominate.

"Of Our Time" celebrates the achievements of designers such as these and the patronage of the U.S. Government, which has made this outstanding series of public works possible. Jury members who selected the exhibit's 24 projects included: Moshe Safdie (chair), Moshe Safdie & Associates, Somerville, MA; Deborah Berke, Deborah Berke Architect PC, New York, NY; Richard Brayton, Brayton & Hughes, San Francisco, CA; Susan Child, Child Associates, Inc., Boston, MA; Wendy Feuer, Public Art Consultant, Brooklyn, NY; Ethel Kessler, Kessler Design Group Ltd., Bethesda, MD; Raymond Messer, Walter P. Moore & Associates, Houston, TX; Elizabeth Moule; Moule & Polyzoides/ Pasadena, CA; Mary Oehrlein, Oehrlein & Associates Architects, Washington, DC; William J. Stanley III, Stanley, Love-Stanley Architects, Atlanta, GA; Joe Valerio, Valerio Dewalt Train, Chicago, IL; Gerald Anderson; Anderson Construction Co., Fort Gaines, GA; Tracy Hart, Tarlton Corp., St. Louis, MO; and Ralph W. Johnson, Turner Construction Co., New York, NY.

The National Building Museum, Washington, DC, is America's premier cultural institution dedicated to exploring and celebrating architecture, design, engineering, construction and urban planning. "Of Our Time" is on view through October 19, 2003. For more information, call (202) 272-2448 or visit