California Academy of Sciences
Alison Brown, Chief of Staff and chief financial officer
The California Academy of Sciences spent a reported $488 million on its LEED-Platinum building, designed by Renzo Piano, Hon. FAIA, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. A big return on this big investment is important to the institution, and CFO Alison Brown uses visitorship and membership as primary measurement tools.

The museum projected that first-year attendance in the new building, which opened in 2008, would be about 1.6 million. Instead, it drew 2.3 million. And at the time that the academy moved into the new building, Brown says, “We were at about 15,000 member households.” The opening year peak was closer to 115,000. “We think our steady state is closer to 60,000 member households,” she says, still above the projected 40,000.

Brown also uses another, softer metric: multiple engagements with people, especially what she calls the “doughnut hole” demographic of teenagers and young adults without children. According to the Morey Group, a consultancy, 60 percent of groups visiting cultural institutions include children. At the academy, the figure is 40 percent. “We’re drawing a lot more adults,” Brown says. It’s hard to quantify the reason why, but she credits Piano’s design. The old building, Brown says, “looked like a chemical factory.” 

Chickasaw Nation Medical Center
Bill Anoatubby, Governor of the Chickasaw Nation

The old medical center serving the Chickasaw Nation in Ada, Okla., was designed to cover 20,500 annual patient visits, less than one-tenth of the actual number of visits. The new PageSoutherlandPage-designed center, which opened in 2010, is three times the size and cost $148 million. To determine the benefit of the Chickasaw Nation’s investment in design, Gov. Bill Anoatubby looks at financial return, community response, and user satisfaction.

Anoatubby credits the design with helping to secure a spot in the 2007 Indian Health Service Joint Venture program, which provides “up to $25 million per year [for the next 20 years] in additional funds for staffing and operation costs,” he says. The Chickasaw was one of two tribes selected out of a pool of 71.

To build community support, lead designer Lawrence W. Speck, FAIA, met with tribal elders “to ensure that the design incorporated all the cultural elements important to our community,” Anoatubby says. He adds that patients and caregivers say the “design creates an environment that is conducive to healing.”

Though some benefits of the design are hard to quantify, the numbers of patient beds, dental chairs, doctors, and services are more concrete, and they have all increased. “We think the facility will have a significant positive impact on the overall quality of care and health outcomes,” he says.

Los Angeles Trade-Technical College
Roland Chapdelaine, president
Los Angeles Trade-Technical College is located in an inner-city neighborhood that president Roland Chapdelaine characterizes as “probably the most economically challenged community not only in the city, but the country.” So when planning the first new campus buildings in 45 years, it was “critical that we demonstrate to our community that we are willing to provide them the best,” he says.

MDA Johnson Favaro came on board to develop a master plan and then to design new student services and technology buildings. Funded as part of a $3.5 billion bond measure—split among nine community colleges—the new structures opened in January 2010.

The expected surge in admissions during the financial crisis, coupled with the recent completion date, make it difficult to quantify a return on investment. But softer metrics speak plainly enough. “Since we are a downtown inner city, graffiti is a challenge for us. And I can say that with these new buildings, it has been absolutely minimal,” Chapdelaine says, “which I think is a powerful statement about how the community looks at these buildings.” The first facilities survey isn’t until spring, but anecdotal evidence suggests the students, also, are “really pleased,” he says.