2013 Architecture Honors
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Each year, Midwest Home magazine teams up with American Institute of Architects (AIA) Minnesota to honor two residential architects: An Architect of Distinction, an AIA member and licensed architect who has been practicing for at least 15 years; and an Emerging Talent winner, an AIA member and licensed architect who has been practicing for 10 years or fewer.
Rosemary McMonigal, AIA, is this year’s Architect of Distinction. In recognition of her award-winning work as founder of McMonigal Architects in Minneapolis, Midwest Home and AIA Minnesota will contribute funds for a scholarship in her name to the University of Minnesota’s School of Architecture. Ben Awes, AIA, co-founder of CityDeskStudio is the winner of this year’s Emerging Talent award.
Bryan Anderson, AIA
2012 Emerging Talent
Jennifer Yoos, AIA
Todd Rhoades, AIA
Vice President, Cermak Rhoades Architects
Midwest Home magazine
2013 EMERGING TALENT:
BEN AWES, CITYDESKSTUDIO
In cherishing everyday moments, the ordinary becomes a delight
Ben Awes never planned on becoming an architect. He didn’t play with Legos as a child. There weren’t any architects in his family, or any of the other usual factors that inspire a desire to design and build. Awes went to college to become a child psychologist. He worked for the business consulting company BI Worldwide, traveling around the globe to manage performance reward programs.
Awes then took a job as the house manager at Orchestra Hall, a position that changed the course of his career. The funky, populist structure fascinated Awes, and sparked his interest in design. He began studying Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School and collecting Arts and Crafts furniture. “You can’t go far in that direction without discovering those designers had an architecture background,” he says. “And they took great care in ridding things of excess decoration in order to build simply and with high quality.”
One Sunday at church, Awes’s pastor shared a Shaker quote: “The first step in the path to human redemption is in the making and eating of good bread.” Awes had an epiphany. “I decided I had to do what I love to do, and do it well,” he recalls. And it was architecture. He went home and registered for Leon Satkowski’s architectural history class at the University of Minnesota.
After graduating in 1996, Awes worked for Julie Snow Architects for seven years. In 2004, he started CityDeskStudio with two architects he met at Snow’s firm, Christian Dean and Bob Ganser. Today, Awes describes his work as “contextual modernism.” He explains: “I’m not a pure modernist, and I don’t enter into a project with preconceived design solutions. I see what’s going on around the project, and how that will influence the building. The design comes out of appreciation and understanding of the client, site, budget, and whatever other issues are involved.”
Awes designed his own house in St. Paul—which he shares with his wife, Rachel, two teenage sons, and several desert tortoises—on a slim lot surrounded by classic four squares. In this case, he says, contextually modern means that the scale, proportions, and materials of the house fit into the 1920s neighborhood. He anchored the house’s simple narrow shape with a broad set of welcoming front steps, and expanded it to the west with a porch that runs the full length of the house.
Awes’s work reflects his interest in placemaking, on a micro-level. “I try to find moments in homes that have intimate scale, where a small, yet meaningful, experience is explored.” His family cabin, which uses vertical log siding as a modern translation of the north woods vernacular, offers a fine example. Its curved plywood ceiling is a structural element, but also a playful gesture to the waves on the lake.
When designing a modern, boxy home clad in Cor-Ten steel for the Taylor family in Roseville, Awes worked intimate spaces into the open design, including a projected window box that provides visual connection to gardens. “Ben was open to our big concepts, like wanting a modern home that’s open but not cold, with places in which we could feel cozy,” says homeowner Matthew Taylor.
For Awes, residential architecture is about “enhancing the rituals inherent to ordinary moments”—cherishing the everyday acts that can often become rote, or go unnoticed, when moving at the modern world’s harried pace. “Making bread is a ritual,” Awes says. “Waking up in the morning is a ritual. Many rituals today occur in our built world, in our homes, and are moments to be celebrated. You should love walking in your front door everyday.”
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Architectural Style: Maybe I would call it contextual modernism. I’m drawn to modern that recognizes where it is and who it serves.
Public Building (local): I’m a sucker for the earlier modern stuff so I love Christ Church by Saarinen in south Minneapolis. For current projects, I think the new Lakewood Cemetery Mausoleum is a great building.
Inspiring Neighborhood (local): Merriam Park, I guess because I live there—it’s hard not to be very interested in the place you live—but I also really love University Grove in Falcon Heights.
Inspiring City (international): Florence, Italy is a dream, it feels almost medieval and in the midst of that there is art and architecture that still lifts the human spirit to a whole new place.
Room to Design: Borrowed space: I love designing rooms that borrow space either from the outside or other rooms to expand living, especially in Minnesota where we live half the year indoors.
Material/Design Trend: I think we are on the verge of lots of new options for residential siding, which has not seen much change over the generations. Composite materials like Richlite, Trespa, Parklex have been around and more are coming out, but they are now finding their way to residential projects—and hopefully the prices will begin to come down with them.