The graduate student study center for the communication sciences and disorders department in the basement of Frances Searle recently won a 2009 Design Award by the Northeast Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
FGM Architects, an Illinois architecture firm that has completed numerous projects on Northwestern University's campus, were lead designers on the project. The award was presented at the AIA Northeast Illinois Chapter Honor Awards Program presentation in October.
The biennial awards, according to the AIA web site, are the chapter's highest acknowledgement of works that exemplify excellence in architecture. The competition includes two categories: "Un-Built Design," for designed projects that are not yet constructed, and "Built Design," recognizing design excellence in recently built projects. The study center, which opened in February 2008, won for finished projects.
Jurors of the contest called the center a "well-done, efficient interiors project for a difficult space. The design provides order and structure, so that all spaces are usable, while color and light create a sense of ease and effort."
The 8,000-square-foot basement was transformed into a large student lounge, workstation areas, private office, file room, storage area, and kitchenette. A staircase that didn't previously exist was added for students to have a way to enter the space without taking the elevator down. Department students have key-card access to the space whenever the building is open. W.B. Olson was the general contractor on the $2 million project, which also involved renovations to the first floor of Frances Searle.
"We're extremely proud to be recognized by our peers for architectural design excellence," said FGM interior designer Peggy Hoffmann.
Students appreciate the high-quality design of the space, as well.
"I am not very surprised to hear that the space has won an architecture award," said first-year communication sciences and disorders PhD student Aubry Alvarez. "It's extremely functional and very aesthetically pleasing, and I think that all CSD students would agree that it serves as a home away from home."
Senior CSD and biological sciences double major Eric Yoo agrees. "It's a cozy place to be — a hybrid between office and home," he said. "If there were a bed here, I'd live in this lounge."
Alvarez uses the study space daily and finds it "conducive to getting large amounts of work done in a short time period." She said it's easy to meet new people in the space, as everyone using it is studying something similar. "It's nice to know that there are others around you who understand where you are coming from."
CSD department chair Charles Larson said the department recognized the lack of study space as well as a need to "achieve a sense of community for CSD students."
Frances Searle is not the only School of Communication building to win an architectural award this year; in May, Annie May Swift Hall won the 2009 Margery B. Perkins Award from the City of Evanston for its extensive rehabilitation and historic restoration.