The 2023 Livable Buildings Award has been awarded to VMDO Architects for their Paul Jennings Residence Hall, a 500-bed student housing facility at James Madison University completed in 2019. This project is the first residential building to be recognized by this award program, held annually since 2007 by UC Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment. Candidate buildings qualify by having positive feedback across many aspects of building users’ experience as measured by CBE’s Occupant Survey. This year’s award jury, comprised of CBE industry consortium members, especially noted VMDO’s efforts to foster interaction among student residents. The project features a central community hub with a large flexible space, classrooms and a convenience store, plus meeting and study spaces throughout the building. (It also includes an exhibit to the building’s namesake, Paul Jennings, who was born into slavery and served James Madison for decades, and later gained his freedom and went on to a career as an abolitionist and author.) The awards also recognize the Bay Area Offices for SERA Architects with an honorable mention for their design that focused on creating a flexible and healthy workspace.

In addition to using the standard CBE questionnaire, VMDO had worked with Berkeley researchers to create a special additional survey ‘module’ to obtain detailed feedback from the building users related to health and belonging. Specifically, building users can respond to questions related to safety, accessibility, belonging and privacy. (As with all survey questions, responding to these is optional and anonymous.) The survey responses place the building at or close to the top decile across all categories, confirming that residents are happy with the numerous aspects of the building covered by this survey.

In a recent blog post VMDO explains that much of their success stems from a people-first approach, and focusing efforts to support vulnerable populations such as children and young adults. They also note how client leadership is key, and how each award winning project benefitted from a school principal or campus leader who was engaged with the designers and building users throughout the design and occupancy phases.

The staff at VMDO is excited to receive this award, their third. “Post occupancy surveys provide a qualitative balance to the often quantitative information we collect on energy and water use. In the end, architecture is about helping people (and the planet) thrive; that’s why the Livable Buildings Award means so much to us.”

Meeting area in SERA Bay Area offices.

Honorable Mention for SERA Bay Area Offices with a Focus on Energy, IAQ and Flexibility

SERA Architects converted several tenant spaces to a full-floor office in a historic 1905 building in downtown Oakland. The award jury was especially impressed by the project’s energy performance, with an EUI of 15.5 kbtu/st/yr, a 71% reduction below the baseline, and also the attention on indoor air quality, which has become a special concern after the Covid-19 pandemic. The project team added the first ventilation system in the building, with MERV-13 filtration coupled with the first North America installation of the RESET Air monitoring system, and also received Fitwel Certification. Craig Rice, SERA’s Director of Operations for the Bay Area, notes that the office represents an investment in employee health and flexible work environments for staff who are establishing new ways of working since the pandemic. “We enjoy meeting in this beautiful space and adapting it to our needs that change by project and by time.”

CBE thanks the award jury members for their consideration of the candidate buildings: Samantha Allen, Associate Director, M Moser Associates: Matt Bhumbla, VP of Business Development Sustainable Systems, Price Industries; Nate Holland, Design Innovation Director, NBBJ; Scott Shell, Associate Director for Industry, ClimateWorks Foundation; and Jeremy Tole, Vice President, Azbil North America Research and Development

Read more about the winning projects here >

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