Google the phrase "Hall of Fame," and you’ll get back just under 60 million results. The most familiar ones are for sports and music, but there are also halls of fame for famous robots, inventors (did you know George Washington Carver invented 325 ways to enjoy the peanut?), clowns, quilters, Armenians, zydeco, dinosaurs (largest: Argentinosaurus hinculensis), and even readers.
This pantheon also includes myriad halls that recognize the lifetime achievements of the elite within the housing and development industries. Builder’s annual Wm. S. Marvin Hall of Fame for Design Excellence is one of these, and this year’s inductees can only add to its prestige by their selection.
“We’ve been very fortunate and have won 110, 120 design awards,” notes Stephen Muse of Muse Architects. “But the ones that matter most to me are those that honor the body of our work.” Muse and this year’s other inductees, David Baker of David Baker + Partners Architects and Alan J. Green of The Green Co., share a common goal: to create homes and communities that are designed to enhance their surrounding environment and, at the same time, fulfill the needs of residents beyond their expectations.
Their excellence manifests itself in results that celebrate the connection between form and function.
Senior Principal, Muse Architects, Bethesda, Md.
Stephen Muse calls his residential design work “corrective surgery.” Muse explains that his 25-year-old architectural firm, Muse Architects, eschews what he sees as the two extremes of architectural renovation: radical change or mimicry. “Our work is always about the bigger picture, and we know we’re successful when you look at an addition and can say the house is better for it.”
One project that put this surgical approach to the test—and for which his firm won a Builder’s Choice Grand Award in 2003—was Muse Architects’ renovation and expansion of a historic 18th-century manor house in West St. Mary’s County, Md., built on that state’s first land grant and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Muse recalls a “quite small” house with no first-floor bathroom and tiny bedrooms on the second. The owners wanted to open up the house to accommodate more first-floor living space and rooms for their grandchildren when they visited. But expansion required approval from the Maryland Historical Trust, which had purchased an easement on the property to prevent the previous owner from selling the 412-acre property to a developer that wanted to subdivide.
The Trust’s plan for an addition to the house “didn’t make sense to us,” says Muse, because it was simply a smaller version of the existing home. But the Trust’s objective, he learned, was keeping the existing house as the focal point of the site. So in its design, Muse Architects doubled the size of the house, to around 5,000 square feet, by attaching several secondary rooms whose exteriors blend seamlessly with the main residence, which now has a downstairs master bedroom and bath, and a large kitchen/family room area. West St. Mary’s Manor’s owners were “very involved” in its planning and design, recalls Muse. But he still encounters homeowners who greet architectural design with a shrug. “I was talking with a friend who said he got what he hoped for from a redesigned house. I thought ‘how sad,’ because architectural changes should always trump expectations.”
Partner, David Baker + Partners Architects, San Fransisco
David Baker was born in a passive solar house in Tucson, Ariz., that his father designed. In the ’70s and ’80s he ran a solar consulting firm. So it follows that his architectural firm has been injecting sunlight into residential and commercial design whenever it can. “It’s part of our philosophy to expose space to daylight wherever a resident might be standing,” Baker explains. “It’s a more humane approach.”
Since its founding in 1982, David Baker + Partners has burnished its reputation as a socially conscious design firm specializing in nonprofit affordable housing. A distinguishing characteristic of its designs, says Baker, is how they strive to incorporate the details of higher-priced homes without busting the projects’ budgets. And in San Francisco, where development can sometimes be confrontational, it doesn’t hurt builders to hire a design firm whose work is recognized and respected by neighborhood groups, “which makes the approval process go smoother,” says Baker.
One of Baker’s signature achievements, for which he won a Builder’s Choice Project of the Year award in 2004, is Northside Community Center + Mabuhay Court in San Jose, Calif.’s historic Japan Town area. This project combines 96 low-income, senior-citizen rental units with a new 16,000-square-foot community center. Collaborating with the city, the project’s developer BRIDGE Housing, and a seniors community organization, Baker created a larger footprint by expanding the housing site into the air rights over an addition to the existing seniors center. That move made the project more economical to build.
The 96 apartments rented for $300 to $750 per month and are distinguished by each having a private entrance. Other flourishes marking this project include its use of color and natural materials, its attention to energy efficiency, and its access to courtyards for social interaction by residents.
Currently, Baker’s firm is diversifying into whole neighborhood design such as the 7.5-acre Tassafaronga in Oakland, Calif. Anchored by a public plaza, each of Tassafaronga’s three housing areas will have a semi-private shared space. Twenty-two of its 191 affordable homes will be built by Habitat for Humanity, and the project is pursuing Platinum certification from LEED for Homes.
Alan J. Green
Chairman, The Green Co., Newton Centre, Mass.
Few subdivisions with attached homes dare to promote “privacy.” But that’s the alchemy The Green Co. dares to achieve within the communities it has been developing for more than half a century.
Alan Green, The Green Co.’s chairman, has been building homes since 1953. He sees community design “as a function of the circumstances we’re placed in.” The design for a project in Newcastle, N.H., called Wentworth by the Sea, arose from the need to create a community that would include both oceanfront and inland areas. What separates his company from others, Green contends, is its attention to site selection and planning, and its goal of meshing a community and its natural setting while preserving the surrounding environment.
“We start at the very edge of a site and at the rear of the home, so what we’re trying to preserve flows naturally into the project,” he explains. “You can’t improve on what nature does.” The Green Co. also creates privacy through open interior courtyards and by front- and backyard exposure to natural habitat. At its latest community, The Pinehills in Plymouth, Mass., homes are built on only one side of the street. (Homes there include attached townhouses that start in the $300s and larger custom homes in a new neighborhood called Five Lanterns that start at $1.2 million.)
The Green Co. designed The Pinehills to evoke the atmosphere of an old New England town. And as would be the case in one of those towns, Green takes pride in the fact that “we know every one of our owners.” Sons Tony and Dan now run the company, but Green still calls every customer upon closing. “We work hard at customer service,” he contends, “and it starts from the top down.”