Landscape Arboretum University of Minnesota - Tashjian Bee Discovery Center by MSR Design
Richard Brine Landscape Arboretum University of Minnesota - Tashjian Bee Discovery Center by MSR Design

Each year, AIA’s Committee on the Environment (COTE) honors 10 projects that showcase bold and innovative design while also placing an emphasis on social, economic, and ecological value. Each structure has always been required to meet rigorous standards for performance data and post-occupancy lessons, but since 2017, the “Design for Community” metric has required each winner to benefit the public in an impactful way. We highlight four of our favorites below.

Tashjian Bee Pollinator Discovery Center

As part of the University of Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, Minn., the Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center seeks to educate the surrounding community about the declining health of native pollinator species like honeybees and monarch butterflies. In the center’s honey extraction room, community beekeepers remove honey from honeycombs using specialized equipment. Displays that use macrophotography of bees, butterflies, and flowers offer insights into the roles of pollinators in the larger ecosystem.

Centered around an original-to-the-site red barn, the design team, led by MSR Design, facilitated a series of community listening sessions that engaged arboretum staff, trustees, and neighbors potentially impacted by activity around the new development. A learning lab serves as a space for community and social events like weddings and family reunions, as well as more structured learning activities.

Lakeside Senior Apartments

The AARP estimates that 51 percent of people over the age of 75 live alone, and the effects of isolation can take a serious toll on both mental and physical health. Communities such as Lakeside Senior Apartments in Oakland, Calif., are giving seniors a better alternative.

Located in close proximity to the recently redeveloped and now-thriving Lake Merritt urban park, Lakeside allows seniors to live independently for as long as possible. Designed by David Baker Architects, it provides 92 permanently affordable homes for low-income and special-needs seniors over 55, many of whom have been displaced or adversely affected by ballooning Bay Area housing costs. The design process involved tapping community stakeholders, prioritizing the solutions that would best serve Lakeside’s future residents. Amenities like a rooftop community suite and a communal courtyard help support the social life of the complex. Stoops open to the sidewalk, connecting to the neighborhood.

Daniels Building at One Spadina Crescent

This renovation and expansion of an academic building at the University of Toronto was designed with the goal of transforming a major urban node into a dynamic public space. The design process behind the reinvigoration of One Spadina Crescent, the historic home of the university’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, included the surrounding neighborhood at multiple scales and points in the process. Several public forums, six student forums, and six forums with preservation group Heritage Toronto ensured that the project had its bases covered from both a preservation and community perspective. The larger community is now invited into an internal “street,” a library reading room, and public lecture rooms. The entire renewed circle includes amenities for students and the public, with the intention of making the site pedestrian-friendly and minimizing reliance on cars.

Designed by NADAAA with Adamson Associates Architects and ERA Architects, the public-facing north addition (as well as the restored historic building) will be a critical piece of infrastructure in the years to come.

North Transfer Station

Tasked with the job of processing 750 tons of waste, recycling, and compost per day from both commercial and self-haulers, Seattle’s North Transfer Station meets the city’s goal of lessening environmental impacts by placing waste processing in a north-central location convenient to the majority of the city’s residents and businesses. However, situating the transfer station within an established residential neighborhood was an intricate process.

Project leads Mahlum Architects engaged the Seattle Design Commission, held public workshops, and facilitated open houses throughout the design process. By working with a stakeholder group that included immediate residential neighbors, businesses, and schools, Mahlum Architects was able to ensure that the final product included the four criteria deemed most important: protecting existing view corridors, including accessible gathering spaces like a playground and open lawn space, incorporating sustainable features like green roofs and the protection of existing street trees, site safety and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) and other site safety features, and environmental concerns like odors and dust control. By facilitating an agreement between Seattle Public Utilities and two neighborhood councils, Mahlum Architects was able to ensure the best outcome for the city.