Page C1.3. 14 April 2010                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department
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Peter Bohlin - AIA Gold Medal


The spectacular Grand Teton visitor center seems to me the logical successor to the Forest House. At the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, a U-shaped structure is sited to take advantage of the views of the magnificent mountains. The glass walls at the rear, facing the mountains, join at angles and are slanted out at the top.

And the upward flow of the walls is continued in the overhanging roof, which appears not to contain the walls, but merely to redirect the upward flow at a slightly different angle. Along a rear wall there is a tall concrete-and-stone fireplace that visually draws visitors into the large gathering room, while also conveying a sense of warmth, community, traditional design, and human scale.

The courtyard (entrance) side of the building, with its horizontal wooden siding, massive wooden columns, and deep roof of standing-seam metal, not only evokes 19th-century Wyoming log houses, but also directs and prepares the visitor for the interior. With its magnificent views, prominent columns and rafters, and spindly frames for the window walls, the building's openness also evokes a Native American kiva, a large ceremonial space.

Green Buildings for Seattle

In the Seattle City Hall and at Seattle's Ballard Library and Neighborhood Service Center, as in the Tetons, Bohlin created highly transparent buildings with carefully thought-out connections to the surrounding built environment. These two Seattle buildings make a strong statement of conservation, articulated by the dramatic, sweeping green roofs of Ballard and of the City Hall's council chamber.

Each building serves a variety of city agencies and provides a range of services. This is articulated at each through a parti of two discrete, highly different structures united by a glass lobby connector. The glass lobbies draw people in, and suggest a government commitment to doing business in a transparent manner.

At Seattle City Hall, Bohlin collaborated with local architect Bassetti Architects in a joint venture. The team addressed the sloped site with a grand stair through a stepped plaza, designed by landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson.

Another feature that ties the building to the topography and to adjacent buildings is a curving pathway through the building. City Hall is LEED Gold-certified, designed with light shelves at the windows that help spread daylight through the interior, and underfloor air distribution, which is more efficient and economical.

At the Ballard Library, the vegetated roof was intended not simply as a "green" statement and a dramatic gesture, but also as a symbol of a government building, the way a dome might have been used in an 18th- or 19th-century statehouse or city hall. In the future, the library will likely be surrounded by taller commercial buildings that look down on its roof, notes David Kunselman, AIA, Seattle's Fire Levy Program Manager, who was project manager for the City of Seattle on the library.

Kunselman praised Bohlin for his ability to work with the public, for listening, and for showing members of the public how his design addressed their concerns.

In a touch reflecting Bohlin's attention to detail, he included a periscope and monitor windows that allow library visitors to see the roof. The building also includes photovoltaic glass panels shading the service center lobby, daylighting and natural ventilation in the underground parking lot via ground-level grilles, and many other sustainable features. The project was named one of AIA/COTE's Top Ten Green Projects for 2006.

Kunselman was so impressed with Bohlin as an architect and collaborator that he has retained him to design a fire station for the City.

Admissions in Context

At Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, Bohlin picked an unpromising, steeply sloping site, near a parking lot and near the symbol of the school — its stone chapel — as the site for a new admissions building, intended by the school as the new "entrance" to campus — the first stop for potential students and their parents.

Bohlin designed the three-story building to be built into the side of the slope, making it appear as a one-story building on its most important facade. He created a colonnade of limestone columns supporting a slate roof — both materials that visually reinforce and strengthen the chapel without mimicry. The alignment of the long admissions building also forms a visual connection between the chapel and a row of existing buildings.

The interior repeats the rhythm and exposed structural system of the exterior colonnade and creates an additional structural statement in the glass end wall and exposed roof trusses of the meeting room on the admissions floor, the building's top floor.

Dr. Ronald Thomas, then-vice president of the college and chair of its design review committee, recalls Bohlin saying in an initial meeting that he wanted the architecture to disappear because the landscape was more important in this project. Thomas observes that the main facade's colonnade leads the visitor's eye to the chapel, while the trellis above the colonnade emphasizes the landscape and provides a welcoming appearance to the building, which is carried through on the interior by the use of the warm-colored wood and the fireplace.

"It looks like nothing else and everything else and like it was always there and as though it disappears from the west side as Peter always wanted it," says Thomas.

Now president of the University of Puget Sound, Thomas has retained Bohlin to design UPS's Center for Health Sciences Building, which will be a modern interpretation of the school's 20th-century collegiate Tudor-revival architecture.

Thomas calls Bohlin an "American genius" — because he understood the landscape and captured the "spirit of the place," along with the goals of his client. As a scholar of American literature, Thomas appreciates how Peter articulates the American experience as seen in its natural environment and in its buildings.

All this enclosed in buildings that are welcoming, sheltering, full of energy and movement and communitas.

The AIA Gold Medal for 2010 will be awarded to Peter Bohlin at the AIA convention in Miami, Florida, June 10 to 12.   >>>

William Lebovich is an architectural historian and architectural photographer who documents buildings throughout the United States. His photographs are in the Library of Congress, Brooklyn Museum, and numerous state and local repositories.   More by William Lebovich


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The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Wyoming's Grand Tetons National Park was designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.
Photo: Nic Lehoux/ Courtesy ORO Editions Extra Large Image

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The simple material palette and forms of the visitor center's courtyard offer a visual contrast with the mountainous backdrop.
Photo: Nic Lehoux/ Courtesy ORO Editions Extra Large Image

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At the Ballard Library and Neighborhood Service Center in Seattle, Washington, the pure geometry of a curving green roof and regular grid of structural columns contrasts with the more fluid forms of the building's curtain wall.
Photo: Nic Lehoux/ Courtesy Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

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The visual rhythm of glulam beams is syncopated slightly to accommodate steel columns at the north-facing clerestory of the Ballard Library and Neighborhood Service Center.
Photo: Nic Lehoux/ Courtesy BCJ

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Ground-floor plan drawing of Ballard Library and Neighborhood Service Center.
Image: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

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Plan sketch of Ballard Library and Neighborhood Service Center.
Image: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

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At the Ledge House in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland, wood is the dominant material, from walls, posts, and beams of unfinished timber to lighter beams, joists, and decking of dimensioned lumber.
Photo: Paul Warchol/ Courtesy BCJ Extra Large Image

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The Ledge House is built around a shelf of stone, which features prominently in the home's living space.
Photo: Karl A. Backus/ Courtesy BCJ Extra Large Image

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Perspective sketch of Ledge House.
Image: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Extra Large Image

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The pool room of the Ledge House.
Photo: Karl A. Backus/ Courtesy BCJ Extra Large Image


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