Growing Recognition for Architecture School

By Barbara Melendez


TAMPA, Fla. (Mar. 12, 2010) – The University of South Florida School of Architecture + Community Design was recently recognized by the magazine Architect for excelling in community design in its new guide to architecture schools. Coincidentally, an excellent example of the school’s community design program in action has just made the shortlist for a World Architecture (WA) Design Award. It was chosen from among hundreds of projects submitted from all over the world and joins a growing list of award-winning projects designed and built by USF students.  


WA describes itself as “an independent global forum and extensive database” working toward becoming the home page of the world’s architects.” Its WA Community Awards program highlights and publishes “remarkable projects that might otherwise remain unnoticed by the international public yet have the potential to inspire exciting questions about contemporary architectural discourse.” The Noah Nothing Caring and Teaching House is one such project.


Now under construction, the house is scheduled to be finished this spring. To build it, USF architecture Professor Stanley Russell and students in his design/build class took reclaimed shipping containers for the structure that will house a food pantry and multi-purpose space at the Church of the Kingdom of God church in East Tampa. Though constrained by a very modest budget, the organization is getting what it needs to meet its mission, which is “to meet the physical and spiritual needs of men, women and children with a center that provides food, tutoring, and other services so that those who are hurting can become fully functioning members of society.” Creativity joined with sustainability as the guiding principle, led to this inspired solution. 


“The containers are strong, inexpensive and relatively easy to alter,” said Russell. “The building economizes on material by having a slab in the central, truss roofed space while utilizing the existing floor structures.  I think this project will inspire others to use their creativity to make use of shipping containers.”  


Another green component is an innovative insulation material known as aerogel marketed in the Tampa area under the brand name Thermablok. Further steps are being taken to save on cooling costs. The containers are painted a heat-reflecting white and feature a white TPO single ply roof that reflects much of the incoming solar radiation. In addition the space is partitioned with sliding doors so that only half of the indoor space is continuously conditioned while the multi-use space and kitchen are only conditioned when activities are taking place there. The roof provides environmental and acoustic insulation while a continuous strip of clerestory windows provides daylight for the interior spaces – cutting down on the need for artificial lighting. They are using locally-produced lumber for framing and local cypress siding is being used on the exterior walls and soffits. They are doing without a concrete foundation by placing the container floors over a gravel crawl space.


Inside there is a pantry area for canned and frozen foods, a computer room, a small kitchen, a lobby/reception area, a small meeting room and a flexible multi-use space. The containers, arranged in a pin wheel pattern, cradle the multi- use space, with a 12’ high ceiling. They frame a protected outdoor space that flows uninterruptedly from the multi-use space out to two grand pecan trees whose enormous nurturing canopies provide shade for the outdoor space and the building. A huge panel slides from the front of the west side container across the main entry to signify that the building is open or closed. 


“The building will stand out in the community with the help of a very distinctive roof that seems to float above the containers and cantilevers a full 15’ over the entry porch,” Russell said. “There’s a bench for people to sit and talk with friends and a natural wood soffit that slopes up from the entry toward the street that we hope will be experienced as a warm welcoming gesture by all who walk by and enter.”


For the new director of the School of Architecture, Robert MacLeod, acknowledgment from the members of WA, who make their choices from countless submissions, is quite meaningful.


“As architects, we were already excited about the way World Architecture is sharing the amazing images you find on its Web site but gaining recognition from our peers through this important organization is especially gratifying.  To stand out in that impressive crowd speaks volumes about the quality of our program,” he said.


“When you look at who has signed on to make this project happen (Gerdau Ameristeel, Prattco Roofing and Sheetmetal, United Rental, structural engineers Hees & Associates, Inc., Aurora Civil Engineering, Inc., Jacobson Windows, Sebastian Design Implementation, AA-American Container, Florida Rock Industries, Inc., Tampa Bay Lighting, Inc., Chuck Henderson Plumbing, and Elements Design), and consider the hard labor being put into this project by our students, you can’t help but be moved by the generosity and good will that can change people’s worlds,” Russell said.


The new Architecture magazine guide, open to ACSA member and candidate member institutions in the United States, that has set out to “inform (and demystify) the process of choosing an architecture school,” will point those looking for an architecture school in USF’s direction.


“This guide truly meets a need,” said Russell. “Applicants needed a guide that spotlights the schools’ strengths in an easy-to-use way and that clearly states what it takes to get accepted. We’re excited about adding to the ranks of our top-notch students.”


Last year those students earned Certificates of Recognition from the City of Temple Terrace for a pavilion they created for Temple Terrace Riverfront Park. The City of Temple Terrace itself was honored by the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission for the pavilion which also earned a “Green Project” award at the county’s 27th Annual Community Design Awards competition.  Another project, the East Tampa Ponds Revitalization and the Canopy Park Village master plan, received awards of merit in environmental and master planning and urban design at the same event. Two teams of USF design students won awards in the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture Green Communities International Student competition for creating a project titled “Urban Green Community: Revitalizing the South Nebraska District.” The jurors praised it for how it addressed the relationship to the river’s edge, sustainability and the use of single and multi-family homes.


"Our entry in the Architecture Magazine guide states, ‘Community design is not just a current interest of the architecture faculty at the University of South Florida – it’s part of the institutional DNA,’ and there’s no better way to describe what we’re made of and how we go about teaching and working in this field,” said MacLeod.


The school and its affiliated research center, the Florida Center for Community Design and Research came into existence in 1986. Together they attract more than $1 million in contracts and grants each year. Design/build opportunities crop up on a regular basis and the school maintains a rare digital fabrication laboratory as well as summer studios in Italy and Japan.


“We’ve also had students travel to India and we have students traveling to Spain and Italy this summer,” MacLeod said. “Our students travel extensively during the regular academic year, fall and spring, to locations in the United States, including New York, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Portland, Miami, Charleston and Savannah. The summer abroad studios are a natural extension of the culture of travel built into the school which overall allows students to look at both cutting edge contemporary architecture, such as the Olympic buildings in Beijing, like the Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Swimming Pool Complex, and important historic architecture. It is also an immersion into a dramatically different cultural milieu. Students experience a range of urban environs from the mega-cities of Asia to the rich, vibrant urban locales of Italy, in Rome, Florence, Sienna and elsewhere.”


Studying with top architecture faculty, seeing the world and competing for the world’s top prizes are clearly taking USF’s School of Architecture + Community Design and its students to new heights. There is surely more to come.


Photos courtesy Stanley Russell 


The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.