Vinyl and resin solutions shine at the 2008 AIA Honor Awards
By Teresa Burney
Wood, glass, and steel are often considered the stars in award-winning architecture, grabbing the limelight while plastics labor anonymously in the chorus. Just spend a day or two talking to architects about the plastics used in their award-winning designs. Nine times out of ten, they will laugh, cite the classic Graduate reference, and confirm that they used the material in their buildings. Yet plastic is so ubiquitous in their designs that they have trouble singling out one installation that stands out in the crowd.
In 2008, however, several AIA Honor Awards went to designs where plastics-derived materials made major design statements, stepping into leading visual roles in both interior and exterior design.
Plastics planted in the garden
Architect Susan McNabb, of Mithun Architects in Seattle, specified concrete, glass, and wood for the Novelty Hill-Januik Winery in Woodinville, Wash., which won a 2008 Institute Honor Award for its interior architecture. But in its garden, jewel-like acrylic and resin panels dramatically punctuate the space.
“We used the acrylic (and resin) panels to highlight special areas,” says McNabb. “We used a series of colors that are special to the owners: red and orangish red and, at the front entry, a yellow color that matches the colors in the wine labels.”
The line of plastic panels outside echoes a theme with the suburban Seattle winery’s interior, where spaces are organized by heavy concrete walls going in one direction while clear glass or acrylic and resin translucent panels march the other way.
AIA judges picked up on the inside–outside ties: “The industrial construction with the interspersed use of natural materials brings an understated elegance to the space types within the project,” they wrote. “Details were well thought out, from the support elements (the concrete finishing and mechanical distribution) to the extension into outdoor space.”
McNabb turned to 3form for the Varia yellow resin panels featured at the entrance to the space. The color best matched the winery’s label and has the depth of a fine gem or glass of cabernet. That depth was created by sandwiching a ribbon-like fabric between the layers of resin, says Jill Canales, 3form’s vice president of design and marketing. The Varia product features a variety of materials, including organic items or fabric encapsulated in the resin panels, which boast 40 percent post-industrial recycled content.
The tomato red and orangish acrylic panels were provided by Calsak plastics. “They had a variety of colors and we were able to get the matte finish on it we wanted and a UV coating” to preserve the color of the polymethyl methacrylate in the sunlight.
“Just recently we have been seeing acrylic used in a decorative sense rather than glazing,” says Pam Berg of Calsak. “We sell to fabricators and for point-of-purchase displays and for store fixtures. The colored plastic panels usually go to sign manufacturers, but recently the company took an order for plastic panels in sunset colors to be fastened with chrome in the garden of a city hall.
“We’ve got what we call a fan of colors, a rainbow of choices,” Berg says.
A jewel box
M.J. Neal had a problem. The architect wanted to turn the inside of Anthony Nak’s flagship store in Austin, Tex., into a shiny, seamless, white box. The ceiling and walls had been easy, but the 20-plus-year-old concrete floor was too cracked to take the shiny white epoxy resin floor coating he had planned to use.
“We didn’t have the time to do it or the money,” Neal says.
The solution was Lonseal sheet vinyl flooring in bright white. Kinjal Husges, marketing director at Lonseal, says the product is often used in retail spaces. “I think it’s become a great backdrop for product,” Husges says. “It has a sophisticated chic look, but it still makes your eye go directly to the product.”
Ease of maintenance has also been a selling point for the vinyl sheet flooring because smudges can easily be cleaned with a damp microfiber mop. The vinyl flooring is also comfortable to stand on and its sound-absorbing qualities contribute to good acoustics.
“I was pretty happy with it,” says Neal. “It will be very easy on the workers’ feet…Plus [the installation] went very fast and [the price] was reasonable.”
The resulting 800-square-foot space won a 2008 Institute Honor Award for Interior Architecture. The white vinyl sheet floors make the transitions from floor, to walls, to ceiling, appear seamless, enveloping the visitor and making the round pod-like display cases appear to float in white space.
The AIA jury called the entry “elegant and subtle….This is a walk-in metaphor through intimacy and scale.”
“It’s a very untraditional type of jewelry store,” says Neal.
Smooth white floors and rough concrete walls
Fougeron Architecture’s senior designer Todd Aranaz had been looking for a chance to specify a poured-resin floor. Fairly inexpensive, durable, and bearing a contemporary look resin flooring seemed like a home-run for both indoor and outdoor applications.
He got his chance when a client wanted to convert a concrete San Francisco warehouse into an office/residential project with a light-filled, glass-clad penthouse. Aranaz used a gleaming white resin by Terra-Lite for the penthouse’s bathrooms as well as for the kitchen platform, which extends through a glass wall into an outside courtyard. “We wanted something to contrast with the existing concrete wall,” says Aranaz. The polished white resin flooring worked perfectly in textural counterpoint to the sand-blasted concrete.
“It was a real modern materials contrast,” he says. “We wanted to make it a little more industrial chic.”
The Terra-Lite resin floor is so tough that it’s used in mechanics’ garages. Installation of the resin flooring begins with an epoxy primer. Next, a body coat mixed with colored quartz sand is poured, followed by a clear coat. Combining the colored sand and pigmented epoxy resin can produce a variety of colors.
The result is a space of white and gray, glass and light rays that pour into the home, creating different lines of shadows inside the home throughout the day.
The AIA jury praised this study in contrasts: “A surprising integration of old and new elements, of competing urban forces, brings the remodeled warehouse alive….The rigidity of the original concrete structure is broken down in a subtle interplay of light, surfaces, levels, and indoor and outdoor spaces, making the urban living experience as richly textured as the city itself.”
Blending in with Habitat’s habitat
When building homes, Habitat for Humanity requires a lot of materials. The structures need to be sturdy, low-maintenance, affordable, easy to install, and attractive.
On its AIA award-winning Habitat Trails community homes in Rogers, Ark., Habitat used Crane Performance vinyl siding on the homes, which fits all those criteria. This vinyl siding also suits a community recognized for its high-tech land planning techniques. In this community, homes blend with green spaces designed to contain and purify storm water before it passes back into the ground.
“This project proves that buildings can work in harmony with nature to create a sense of community,” wrote the AIA jury. “Layers of indigenous landscaping are attractive and functional as they contain, consume, and thereby purify storm water that would ordinarily run off…The system is so well integrated that it is virtually invisible and is expressive of how a sustainable landscape can blend seamlessly with good urban design and architecture.”
The community may feel as natural as if it had been built a hundred years ago, but the homes are clad with modern materials—specifically Crane Performance vinyl siding.
Ease of vinyl siding installation was high on the list of reasons the product was specified, says Stephen Luoni, director of the University of Arkansas’s Community Design Center, the architects on the project. While vinyl siding may not usually be considered as “green” a product as some, Habitat’s need for an affordable, durable, easy-to-install vinyl siding solution, made the Crane Performance vinyl siding the obvious choice.
“We use it on all of our homes, not just the ones in the Habitat Trails neighborhood,” says local Habitat executive director Debby Wieneke. “It works out very well for us. It’s a blessing for us. It’s pretty. It’s neat. It’s clean and very easy to maintain.”