At the Oklahoma chapter of the American Institute of Architects Awards of Excellence program in November, it was all about Oklahoma City. From a collection of 76 statewide entries, projects in OKC took nearly all top honors, most of which were in Downtown and the inner city, by architects who office in the same areas.
Projects ranged from restaurants and museums to private residences, and represented renovations and additions that debuted on the landscape in the last five years.
Oklahoma City-based Elliott + Associates Architects cleaned house with one-third of the 12 total awards. Other awards went to Beck Design for the historic Colcord Hotel; Randy Floyd Architects for an addition to the state Capitol building and a private residence; and Fitzsimmons Architects for a private residence and the redevelopment of several cottages into a commercial strip. Frankfurt-Short-Bruza received a 25-year award for the Hertz Data Center in northwest Oklahoma City.
The only two awards for projects outside the metro were the historic Old Central at Oklahoma State University by TAParchitecture, and a residence in Tulsa by Tulsa-based Selser Schaefer Architects.
Rand Elliott of Elliott + Associates took home honors for two projects for Chesapeake Energy Corp., and for the design of Red Primesteak, in a nearly century-old Buick dealership on Automobile Alley. His firm also won the Adaptive Re-Use Honor Award for the conversion of the 1927 Mid-Continent insurance building into the Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum.
The judging process involves a blind jury of esteemed architects from around the country, and there is no set amount of awards. Rather, it is up to the jury to decide which and how many projects receive honors. It created a new category – the Urban Design Honor Award – for a project that did not fit into any existing one.
That project, the 23rd Street Courts by Brian Fitzsimmons of Fitzsimmons Architects, took a collection of aging cottages that had been rental property on a busy, inner-city corridor and turned it into a lively strip of shops, while staying true to the integrity and history of the 1930s buildings.
For Fitzsimmons, who launched his company in 2005, the awards were his firm’s first statewide from the AIA, and they mean much more than just bragging rights.
“Because it is the jury’s prerogative, it validates you as a firm, but within the state, as well, that we are doing quality architecture here and making a difference,” he says.
Fitzsimmons says the awards speak volumes to the caliber of work by local firms, especially in inner-city projects.
“It’s probably a reflection that we have a lot going on in Oklahoma City,” he says. “The bar is being raised on the local level.”
Jan Loftis, executive director of AIA Oklahoma, sat with the jury members while they went through the projects during the AIA state convention in Stillwater.
“They were really overwhelmed with the richness and depth of the projects that were entered,” she says. “They were very impressed.”
And since the jury did not know where each project was, or who was responsible, Loftis says there was no bias that tipped the scales toward OKC architects or their projects.
Floyd says this batch of awards provides a certain validation to her firm and others, and continues the momentum for designing new and interesting projects in the inner city. She previously won an AIA statewide award for her own inner-city residence.
“To have your work recognized is so important,” she says. “You’re putting a piece of yourself out there for the public to judge and your peers to judge.”