Walkway at Morris Arboretum wins architects' award

Posted: October 15, 2010

Perhaps as a measure of the economy's stranglehold on new construction, this year's winner of Philadelphia's top architecture award went not to a building, but to an open-air children's attraction at the Morris Arboretum, the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects announced Wednesday at its annual meeting.

Metcalfe Architecture & Design received the gold medal for Out on a Limb, a delightful elevated walkway that twists its way through the canopy of the arboretum's oldest trees. Among the architects Metcalfe beat for the prize was the internationally known, Pritzker Prize-winning Fumihiko Maki.

Maki Associates, together with its local partner, Ballinger, received the second-place Honor Award for their Annenberg Public Policy Center, an elegant, impossibly light, glass office building on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

Two other firms also will receive Honor Awards for their completed projects: Atkin Olshin Schade Architects won for its skillful effort at camouflaging the new garage at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and its serene rooftop sculpture garden. Haley Donovan of Haddonfield received its award for Pentecostal Square in Chester, a small housing development for low-income seniors.

Despite the tough economy, which has left more than a third of the region's architects without jobs, many of this year's awards went to young firms that have been practicing only a short time, including Digsau, which received two awards, both for unbuilt projects, and Jibe Design. Another emerging trend was clearly sustainable design, a feature of several winning projects.

Digsau, one of the firms that participated in last year's architectural survey, "Fertile Ground," was singled out with an Honor Award for its design of Sister Cities Plaza, now under construction on Logan Square, and a proposed community center at the Oxford Street Lamp Factory.

Merit awards for built work went to KlingStubbins for an employee center at Campbell's Soup in Camden; QB3 for its curving Split Level House at Fourth and Poplar Streets; MGA Partners for an artists' studio; Interface Studio Architects for its energy-efficient 100K House in Kensington; and SMP Architects for its green science building at Germantown Friends School.

In the unbuilt category, both Jibe Design and Schwarn Architects received Honor Awards for schemes for public housing.

Michael Ryan Architects was noted for its "Divine Detail" on the facade of the new Sampan Restaurant on 13th Street. KlingStubbins and John Milner Architects received awards for preservation work at the Academy of Music Ballroom and Bryn Mawr's Church of the Redeemer, respectively. BWA Architecture & Planning was given the Community Design award for Connelly House, low-income apartments developed by Project Home.

Contact architecture critic Inga Saffron at 215-854-2213 or isaffron@phillynews.com.

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