2011 Inform Awards

Each year, the Inform Awards recognizes the best projects by Mid-Atlantic firms and designers in landscape architecture, interior design, and object design. The program is open to anyone in Inform Magazine’s primary circulation area—Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Washington, D.C., and North Carolina—who have completed built or un-built projects in the last five years.

This year’s jury met on April 1st at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Institute for Urban Research; its members included Inga Saffron, architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Harris Steinberg, FAIA, founding executive director of PennPraxis in the School of Design at the University of Philadelphia, and George Skarmeas, Ph.D., AIA, a partner and design director at Philadelphia-based Preservation Design Practice.

For this year’s program, the jury evaluated 137 projects sent by a total of 76 firms. In the end, four were recognized with an Award of Honor and two with an Award of Merit. “It was a really interesting range of projects,” said jury chair Inga Saffron. “There were a lot of good ideas and I think it was difficult for us to make choices.”

In some ways, the jury’s choices this year departed from the choices that past juries have made. They elected to move not one, but two projects from their native categories to a different category (which is always presented to the jury as an option if they feel that the work is strong, but miscategorized). 2011 also marked the year in which an outdoor barbeque pavilion (in Montana, no less) garnered an award.

In other ways, the jury’s choices were in line with those of past juries. With so many office renovations in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., for instance, there is always bound to be a healthy number of them up for consideration and at least one that makes the final cut. That was the case this year and probably always will be.

It seems fitting that the following projects are such a motley mix. After all, the Inform Awards began 20 years ago as an alternative for projects that would normally fall through the cracks of traditional awards programs. And it continues to carry that purpose forward. Congratulations to this year’s winning firms.—William Richards


Honor Award: Dovetail Offices (Richmond, Virginia)

Walter Parks Architect

Citing its strength as an adaptive use project, the jury migrated this 1907 electric railway car barn restoration/addition to the Object Design category. “The interplay between old and new is compelling here,” noted one juror, “and it’s a responsible intervention—as a completely dismountable structure within the historic structure.” The design team matched a new building skin to the building’s original profile, maintaining the fabric of the neighborhood and creating an efficient weather barrier for the new office structure inside.

The “building-within-a-building,” which is on track for LEED Platinum certification, includes simple materials and a straightforward approach. Marmoleum, cork, and polished concrete floors; Dakota Burl cabinetry (composed, in large part, of recycled sunflower hulls); and aluminum scrap, reclaimed pine, and partially recycled stainless steel counters define the palette for a space shared by Dovetail Plumbing and Dovetail Construction Company. Noted another juror, “It’s an incredibly thoughtful project and a sustainable intervention.”

Historic Consultant: Kim Chen; Sustainable Design Consultant: Rebecca Syndor Aarons; Contractor: Dovetail Construction Company, Inc.

Photographer: Lee Brauer


Honor Award: Foley & Lardner, LLP, Conference Center (Washington, D.C.)

Group Goetz Architects

Arthur Cotton Moore’s 1986 Washington Harbour development for Georgetown—offices, homes, shops, and a plaza—divides Washingtonians. “Xanadu on the Potomac,” as J. Carter Brown once quipped, is a hulking pastiche of unresolved (and in some cases comical) design elements to some observers. To others, the mixed-use complex is unassailable in its success as a magnet for shoppers and diners. Within this context, Georgetown’s own Group Goetz Architects crafted a crisp, modern conference center for one of Washington Harbour’s most prominent tenants.

This 30,000 square-foot conference center (atop Foley & Lardner’s offices) supports a variety of fixed and flexible meeting rooms as well as pre-function spaces. Linking everything is a series of arterial passages that accommodate break-out space and informal functions. Importantly, these arteries draw light in from above as well as the building’s periphery. Long spaces can be monotonous, but the design team employed dark woods and white terrazzo to create a sense of rhythm. “The client should be applauded for breaking with law office convention and Moore,” one juror noted, “and the design team should be recognized for the clarity of its vision.”

Contractor: HITT Contracting; Structural Engineer: Tadjer Cohen Edelson Associates, Inc.; Art Consultant: Jean Efron Associates

Photographer: Group Goetz Architects Staff


Merit Award: Rincon Bates House (Washington, D.C.)

Studio 27 Architecture

Constructed in 1906 and renovated in the 1970s, this rowhouse was dark, cramped, and the conventional relationship between domestic program and space didn’t fit the owners’ lives. The design team removed a central section of the second floor and added skylights to create connections in plan and section. Besides being markedly more open, the house is also a lot greener: bio-based insulation; recycled, formaldehyde-free, and domestically sourced interior finishes; and tank-less, gas-powered water heaters limit its impact on the environment. “Bright, uncluttered space defined by clear lines makes this project stand out,” one juror remarked. “The most sustainable building is the one that’s already built and this renovation gets high marks for going even further than that.”

Contractor: Stalheber Construction

Photographer: Anice Haochlander




Honor Award: Riverside Barbeque Pavilion at Yellowstone Bend Ranch

 (Big Timber, Montana)

Muse Architects

In spite of its size (3,600 acres), Yellowstone Bend Ranch’s owners had begun to feel the pinch of encroachment by area development. In response, they partnered with other local ranchers to establish a limited development plan that aims to conserve 85 percent of the land. The remaining 15 percent is earmarked for home-site interests whose owners share the conserved land and common amenities like this barbeque pavilion. Originally submitted to the Landscape Architecture category, the jury felt that this project stood as a more compelling object that contributes to the conservation strategy.

Post-and-beam construction, galvanized metal corrugated roof, concrete block, and untreated wood define the design team’s vernacular approach. Inside, the pavilion creates a unique place of prospect over the mountains around Custer National Forest and refuge from the summer sun. “It’s an amazing story and an elegant structure,” noted one juror. “It’s beautifully executed and perfect for the site.”

Contractor: On-Site Management; Structural Engineer: Bridger Engineers

Photographer: Lynn Donaldson





Honor Award: Medlock Ames Tasting Room (Healdsburg, California)

Nelson Byrd Woltz

Charlottesville-based Nelson Byrd Woltz’s tasting room for two organic winemakers and farmers sits at the head of 335 acres in Sonoma County. But, the tasting “room” here is a series of outdoor spaces bordered by a few different elements: grape vineyards, an olive grove, and a vegetable and herb garden parterre. Beyond the raised steel planters, a 1920s gas station (saved from the wrecking ball in a nearby town) offers shelter from a passing summer storm. The repurposed structure’s trellis also funnels water to vegetated swales and an adjacent rain garden.

Small courtyards within the tasting room precinct utilize gravel and decomposed granite to accommodate groundwater recharge. Other design elements, like the perimeter fence and benches, utilize wood reclaimed from the site prior to construction. But, Medlock Ames Tasting Room is not entirely about grave matters of sustainability and stewardship. A central trough on the 10-foot dining table transforms into an enormous cooler for white wine bottles in the summer.

“When you consider the plantings, the site, and its systems,” said one juror, “it’s remarkable how rich and varied this project is while possessing conceptual clarity.”

Local Landscape Architect: Alexis Woods Landscape Design; Architect of Record: Tierney/Figueiredo Architects; General Contractor: EarthTone Construction; Landscape Contractor: Creative Environments

Photographer: Marion Brenner


Merit Award: Carnegie Hill House (New York, New York)

Nelson Byrd Woltz

Four different gardens atop and along this New York townhouse slice through a dense urban grid to create a family’s refuge. Plant lifecycles create seasonal changes for ground- and upper-floor terraces as well as a children’s garden. Slate and teak walls, Sentry Ginkos, and River Birch enclose the gardens while bluestone pavers, Locust slabs, and a child’s sandbox define the terraces’ planar surfaces. “It’s remarkable how much intimacy the firm was able to create without shutting out the city,” one juror remarked.

Contractor: Plant Specialists; Carpenter: Ivory Build; Structural Engineer: Gilsanz Murray Steficek, LLP

Photographer: Eric Piasecki
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