A sense of place: Exhibit captures the best of Alabama architecture
by Lisa Davis
Jun 05, 2011 | 4036 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Goldsmith-Schiffman Elementary School in Huntsville has room for 800 students in 44 classrooms. The cafeteria is themed around a park lodge. Designed by Chapman Sisson Architects. Photo: Special to The Star
The Goldsmith-Schiffman Elementary School in Huntsville has room for 800 students in 44 classrooms. The cafeteria is themed around a park lodge. Designed by Chapman Sisson Architects. Photo: Special to The Star
Ever thought much about a parking deck? A hospital wing? An elementary-school cafeteria?

The way such spaces are designed can mean the difference between attraction and eyesore.

“Alabama Architecture 2010,” a new exhibit at the Berman Museum of World History, aims to draw attention to architecture’s place in our private and public lives. The exhibit, which runs through Saturday, is sponsored by the Alabama Architectural Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds college scholarships and works to raise awareness of the role that architecture plays in our communities.

On display are drawings, photographs and descriptions from among the 30 projects that were submitted to the Alabama Council of the American Institute of Architects’ annual design competition.

There are schools, hospitals, industrial facilities, corporate headquarters, airports, YMCAs, churches, houses, lake houses, historic preservation projects — and the new party pavilion for the president of Auburn University.

A treehouse at the Huntsville Botanical Garden has its walls deliberately and playfully askew.

An architectural office in Fairhope looks like an echo of a serene Santa Fe church.

An office building and parking garage for the Birmingham Parking Authority is actually eye candy, with a glass stairwell soaring up from one corner.

New student housing buildings at Auburn are clustered around a central greenspace. “The individual buildings are good, but when it becomes this village, it’s great,” said Jay Jenkins, of Munroe-Jenkins Architects in Anniston. Jenkins is chairman of the awards committee for the AAF and organizer of the exhibit.

“One of the purposes of this show is to educate the public on what architects see as good architecture. And that’s very opinionated,” Jenkins said. “It’s like that old idea from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: ‘What is good? Do we need someone to tell us what good is?’

“Well, no. You can tell if something is good. You can tell this is all good, thoughtful design — and our communities can benefit from more of the same.

“It can be a treehouse, a parking deck, a hospital — all of those pieces deserve the same attention.”

Two of this year’s award-winning projects — the Maritime Training Center in Mobile and the Robotics Training Facility in Huntsville — were designed by Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, the architectural firm that will be designing Anniston’s new Department of Human Resources building.

While the AIA has long held its annual design competition, this is the first time the entries have been displayed publicly. When the exhibit leaves Anniston, it will travel to Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham.

There are no local firms represented in the exhibit, because none entered the competition this year. The economy put a dent in entries this year, Jenkins said, because there are simply fewer projects being built.

Jenkins hopes to make the exhibit an annual event, eventually touring to 10 or so cities around the state. He’d also like to offer behind-the-scenes architectural tours — say, for instance, guided tours of loft apartments in downtown Anniston, or the historic St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, or the future Longleaf Botanical Gardens.

Because the spaces that we carve out for ourselves, they matter.

“Alabama Architecture 2010”

Through Saturday: At the Berman Museum of World History.

Hours: 1-5 p.m. Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.

Admission: Free to the architectural exhibit in the lobby area. Admission charged to the Berman’s regular exhibits.
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