Thomas & Denzinger wins two AIA Charleston Design Awards

November 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

Thomas & Denzinger was honored to receive two design awards from the Charleston Chapter of the American Institute of Architects this past weekend.  Through a lovely awards ceremony held at the recently renovated Memminger Auditorium in Downtown Charleston, we took home two Honor Awards; one was awarded to the Jim Thomas Studio for the Pine Hill Business Campus Windmill Pavilion and the other was awarded to the Hermann Denzinger Studio for an educational project, the Center of Arts and Academics.

While both studios maintain respectively, residential and civic foci on design, these two awards demonstrate the excellence and design rigor that we employ for in our projects, no matter the size, location, or scope.

from crepe myrtle rows

The Windmill Pavilion marks the early stages of East Edisto, a 72,000 acre region of land in Charleston and Dorchester Counties that will be an integral part of the Charleston region’s growth in the development of sustainable communities over the next several decades. For almost 300 years, the area’s land has been used for farming. In the past century it has supplied pine and hardwood trees to local mills. Advances in productivity allow the landowner to grow more wood on less land, making it possible to look at East Edisto in a new way. The continued tradition of stewardship for the land is shifting to sustainable development, growth, and remaining true to the area’s beauty and character.

The challenge of the project was to propose a structure that would complement and be of‐the‐place but not nostalgic, familiar but memorable, abstract but not foreign. We began with the notion of inland coastal plain vernacular architecture and took cues from structures that have dotted the region’s landscape for centuries. Familiar agrarian forms – the windmill, the fire tower, and the shed – have been reinterpreted in a purposeful, sustainable and forward‐looking manner to create a distinctive place of gathering and quiet contemplation that is an ameliorative act with the land, whose primary use was once timber harvesting of the region’s bountiful southern yellow pines.

A wind turbine and solar panels provide off‐the‐grid energy to light the structure and campus entry sign, while a small electrical room within the tower houses all of the electrical components for wind and solar energy production.

courtyard-art rmThe Center of Arts and Academics is a public school campus comprised of several buildings which house two magnet schools.  The nationally-ranked Academic Magnet High School of 500 students has an accelerated academic and science-based curriculum, and the School of the Arts Middle and High School houses 1,000 students with a curriculum based in the visual and performing arts.  Each school has its own core, academic buildings and common facilities, such as a gymnasium, cafeteria, media center, and administration are located in separate buildings.  A central, covered walkway connects the north entrance (bus terminus) and the south entrance (parking lot and car terminus) of the campus.  This walkway or central spine, by connecting all of the buildings, also serves two important purposes:  it provides exterior cover for pedestrian circulation and it provides the infrastructure for distribution of energy between each building and the energy plant.

The composition of this collection of buildings originates from a balancing act: how to provide one campus site for two schools while maintaining the identity of each school.  The creation of separate buildings that are connected by a covered walkway resulted as the solution to this challenge and the facility as a whole signifies a place of elevated learning.

The covered walkway is the central feature of the school.  Beyond its purely functional use as an architectural element of connection, circulation and energy distribution, it provides a place for casual and spontaneous interaction between students and faculty.  Along it’s length, a series of architectural elements or pavilions articulate the entrance to each of the different buildings or departments that branch off from the central walkway.  With its core academic buildings on one side and various studios, rehearsal rooms, and theater on the other, the portion of the walkway housing the arts magnet school becomes a “stoa”, an outdoor classroom, an outdoor rehearsal room or impromptu stage.  Along the portion of the walkway connecting the common facilities, outdoor recreational spaces for dining, congregation, and recess complement the walk.

A design emphasis on natural light prevails throughout each of the different buildings.  Large windows in the core, academic classrooms, north-facing expanses of glass in the visual arts studios and media center, fully-glazed walls in the dining room of the cafeteria, clerestory windows for performing arts rehearsal rooms and studios are all integral parts of the design.

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