Great teams, great architecture

August 11, 2010

One thing is true about buildings: They are built by teams. The public often gets a decidedly different impression — from star architects, imperious owners, design/builders and egoistic engineers alike — that some individuals can singlehandedly conceive and produce works of architecture or construction. Save for the most basic of structures, it's not so.

In the realm of commercial and institutional work, the supporting cast is well-understood. Concrete, steel and glass rise to the sky by virtue of good teamwork and centuries of accumulated knowledge in thousands of areas of specialization.

This issue of Building Design & Construction easily erases any doubt that behind every great project is a great team. Six world-class examples prove the case; they're also winners of our fourth annual "Building Team" project awards (see pages 25 to 62). While they are submitted by individual firms, the projects are celebrated for best-practice teamwork and collaboration.

Each story bears out the significance of the building team in its own way. The Grand Award-winning Experience Music Project in Seattle, for example, benefits from a single-minded owner and an architect world renowned for creative excesses. The very concept — a shrine for rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix — demanded unique vision and deep pockets, but the structure itself would not be standing today were it not for two consultants, five specialty design/build suppliers and a novel CAD tool that bridges design and fabrication. (In fact, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that key coordination of some M/E/P systems were actually neglected as the team focused so heavily on architectural engineering!)

Another, Chesapeake Bay Foundation's new headquarters near Annapolis, Md., was built to prove the environmental group's belief that all buildings should be powered by the earth's energy, the sun's rays, rainwater and wind. The odd collection of materials and systems making it happen required that the general contractor — and unusual suppliers and dozens of specialists — be consulted and coordinated from the start.

Just missionaries and millionaires?

Upon examining these two projects, it might seem that good teamwork is only available when the budget is flexible or when the project is part of a broader mission. Not the case: Just take a look at the four Merit Award winners that follow: Carmel Clay Public Library in Carmel, Ind.; Block 89 in Madison, Wis.; the Ahold Information Services headquarters in Greenville, S.C.; and 401 Robert, St. Paul, Minn. In these cases, the mission was simply to deliver great architecture on time and on budget. The vision was to raise the bar — while meeting real-world needs.

From the modest to the flashy, from the offbeat to the everyday, these projects tell the story of the best teamwork. They remind us that inflated egos and unflagging self-promotion produce something, but it is not great architecture. In fact, projects dominated by a single influence are unlikely to be efficient, beautiful or even complete. Teams, as it turns out, produce great architecture.


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