VJAA Receives 2012 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Architecture Firm Award

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Board of Directors (BOD) voted today for VJAA to receive the 2012 AIA Architecture Firm Award. The Minneapolis based firm, noted for its consistently rigorous approach to research-driven form-making, will be honored at the 2012 AIA National Convention in Washington, D.C.

The AIA Architecture Firm Award, given annually, is the highest honor the AIA bestows on an architecture firm and recognizes a practice that consistently has produced distinguished architecture for at least 10 years.

Charles Hostler Student Center, VJAA

“We are honored to be recognized by the AIA with this important award,” said Vincent James, FAIA, principal at VJAA. “This recognition is due to talented and committed employees, ambitious clients and the strong support we receive from our local design community. With this encouragement, we will continue to build a practice that strives to innovate while creating a responsive architecture that is sensitive to its users and its place.”

Founded in 1995, VJAA has already won acclaim for the way it uses architectural research to create buildings uniquely and empirically attuned to their geography, climate, history, and culture. The firm’s three principals (Vincent James, FAIA, Jennifer Yoos, AIA, and, Nathan Knutson, AIA) have lead VJAA on a wide-ranging search for what they call the “embedded intelligence” of projects: the essential markers of place, function, materiality, and craft which lie beneath each work and serve as an armature for its development.

For a moderately sized firm in a struggling economy, spending time and money on these kinds of open-ended explorations could be a risky gambit, but VJAA has made it an explicit part of their practice. One area this research has focused on are material innovations, including technologies that combine structural and skin elements, surfaces that filter specified amounts of sound and light, and systems that temper the ambient climate. Another area of intensive research for VJAA is its use of digital practice tools, particularly emphasizing integrated design and sustainable features. With these tools, the firm’s latest projects have started their design path with a clear understanding of how they will perform in a real-world environment, and these buildings are frequently cited for their pioneering sustainability. One recent project, The Charles Hostler Student Center at American University in Beirut, Lebanon, received a 2009 COTE Top 10 award, but this isn’t the only honor VJAA has been celebrated with recently: ARCHITECT Magazine named VJAA the top award-winning firm in 2010.

“VJAA creates a place and purpose-specific architecture founded on broad societal, technological, and artistic values,” wrote Andrea Leers, FAIA, of 2007 Firm Award recipient Leers Weinzapfel Associates, in a recommendation letter. “Their work eloquently demonstrates the creative possibilities of joining environmental innovation, material exploration, and a thoughtful and economical response to site and program.”

True to their Midwestern roots, VJAA’s aesthetic is unassuming, clean, subtle, and contextual; their buildings are unfailingly polite and friendly, no matter where in the world they’re located. “In an era frequently characterized by architectural indulgence and excess, VJAA is creating architecture of refinement and restraint,” wrote Leers in her recommendation letter.

A few of VJAA’s most notable projects include:
The Charles Hostler Student Center in Beirut, Lebanon, which organizes a village of contextual masonry and glass student amenity buildings around a radial “street” plan designed for ideal solar orientation, thus creating shaded micro-climates in the Mediterranean climate. The facility uses a multitude of active (as well as passive) sustainability strategies like solar power, green roofs, and geothermal cooling.

The Type Variant House in Wisconsin, a collection of richly textured, wood-framed and copper-clad rectilinear volumes arranged on a rural site asymmetrically, which use their unique geometry to create exterior social spaces.

Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life at Tulane University in New Orleans, a student center addition and renovation that uses layers of porch-like screening and shading to encourage the circulation of daylight and natural ventilation.

The Minneapolis Rowing Club Building in Minneapolis, a simple building that lets light pour in from an angled top corner window, illuminating a parallel and subtly rotated series of interior roof trusses that serve as a visual metaphor for the teamwork and art of movement associated with rowing.

VJAA is the 49th AIA Architecture Firm Award recipient. Previous recipients of the AIA Firm Award include BNIM (2011), Pugh + Scarpa (2010), Kieran Timberlake (2008), Muphy/Jahn (2005), Polshek Partnership (1992), Venturi, Raunch, and Scott Brown (1985), I.M. Pei and Partners (1968), and SOM (1962).

About The American Institute of Architects
For over 150 years, members of the American Institute of Architects have worked with each other and their communities to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings and cityscapes. Members adhere to a code of ethics and professional conduct to ensure the highest standards in professional practice. Embracing their responsibility to serve society, AIA members engage civic and government leaders and the public in helping find needed solutions to pressing issues facing our communities, institutions, nation and world. Visit www.aia.org.

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