• Credit: Davies + Starr; Stylist: Thom Driver for Halley Resources

Research and development may seem like luxuries right now, what with the global economy struggling to right itself. But if the third annual R+D Awards are any indication, the bust is motivating a major boom in architectural technology. Certainly, this year’s jurors—Lauren Crahan, Craig Hodgetts, and John Ronan, profiled on page 73—proved acutely aware that limited resources are inspiring a new trajectory in the building sciences. They spent two days paging through 110 entry binders, selecting 13 winning projects and products that do more with less.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) won four awards and was involved in a fifth; the firm’s well-documented and innovative projects proved so disparate that the jury saw no connection during the blind judging. (Before the architect staff revealed the winners’ identities, the jury extensively praised one SOM entry, the Sustainable Form-Inclusion System, for its indie, “noncorporate” approach.) Manufacturers, too, earned major recognition this year. A recyclable broadloom carpet backing, a new method for installing roofing membranes, and an aluminum joist system for decks all exhibited a level of practicality that was too ingenious to be ignored.

2009 R+D Awards Jury:

John Ronan is the founder of John Ronan Architects, a Chicago firm whose award-winning projects include the Gary Comer Youth Center and the Akiba Schechter Jewish Day School. Ronan has an M.Arch from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and a B.S. from the University of Michigan, and he teaches at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Craig Hodgetts is the co-founder of Hodgetts + Fung Design and Architecture in Los Angeles. Known for its synthesis of architecture, arts, and technology, the firm has worked on projects ranging from exhibitions and master plans to a new bandshell at the Hollywood Bowl. Hodgetts was a founding dean of the California Institute of the Arts and currently teaches at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Lauren Crahan is a partner at Freecell, a design and fabrication practice in Brooklyn, N.Y., that specializes in small-scale commissions. She received her B.Arch and BFA degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design, and has taught at RISD as well as at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Cornell University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

2009 R+D Awards

  • Light is also directed by the curved shape of the fixture's housing, one of the object's distinctive aesthetic features.

    LED Streetlight

    The Office for Visual Interaction designed a prototype LED streetlight for New York to cut down on energy use.

  • The design for the staircase is centered on folded stainless steel. Hung from a structural steel support on the top level of the townhouse, vertical folded pieces create a continuous screen that encloses the two above-grade flights of stairs. Tabs on the bent risers are fitted into slots on the vertical pieces, which created an easy setup for on-site construction and spot-welding.

    Dynamic Descent

    Dean/Wolf Architects designs a folded stainless steel staircase for a Manhattan townhouse.

  • A mock-up of the SFIS with bundled plastic bottles. Most plastic water bottles are discarded with the caps on; capped, empty bottles are airtight and can be placed within a concrete structure to create a void. Hydrostatic pressure from wet concrete will only nominally reduce the air volume inside the bottles.

    Sustainable Form-Inclusion System

    Skidmore, Owings & Merrill design a prototype system that uses plastic bottles, bags, and other compressed waste to lighten and fill spaces in concrete slabs.