Gates Hillman Complex wins AIA architecture award

Credit: David Chang/Staff Credit: David Chang/Staff

The Gates Center for Computer Science and Hillman Center for Future-Generation Technologies have officially become one of the nine buildings recognized by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) this year, winning the 2012 American Institute of Architects Honor Award for Architecture.

Opened in 2009, the Gates Hillman Complex was designed by Atlanta-based firm Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Henry L. Hillman Foundation. They contributed $20 million and $10 million towards its construction, respectively.

The AIA jurors remarked in their official decision that the Gates Hillman Complex is “scaled perfectly within an urban campus and within a uniquely difficult site.”

“Perhaps the most wonderful aspect of the project is a set of views and visual connections created by transparent interior glazing and non-reflective exterior glazing, as well as carefully placed and angled floor plates,” the jurors added.

Stephen Lee, dean of the School of Architecture, said that the award was “the profession acknowledging good accomplishments and work in architecture.”

Lee said that the Gates Hillman Complex’s distinct, “contemporary” look visually separates it from the yellow-bricked buildings that line the Cut.

Guy Blelloch, a professor of computer science who described himself as “a university representative who guided the program,” was involved in the selection of architects for the building’s design as well as overseeing its development.

Blelloch said, “I think [the award] is great and well deserved. We’ve been very happy with the building.”

Blelloch described the benefits that the building offered to its inhabitants, stressing the natural sunlight the interior receives. “We’re not all in little boxes,” he said.

Lee also spoke of the advantages the Gates Hillman Complex offers to occupants, especially in the creation of an effective work environment.

Pointing out the building’s design and, in particular, inclusion of natural sunlight, Blelloch said that it presents an open atmosphere where students and professors will feel at home and be able to work collaboratively.

Many of these advantages, Blelloch said, are due to the unique architecture of the building, with angled windows to maximize sunlight and open cafe areas available on multiple floors, which foster a communal feeling.

Not everyone likes Gates’ architecture, however.

Ben Pattison-Gordon, a junior bachelor of humanities and arts student with a focus in architecture, said that, though he likes the exterior of the building and the fact that it has many environmentally friendly aspects, he has reservations about the interior, particularly the helix ramp.

“It’s cool that the handicap-accessible part is the central focus,” Pattison-Gordon said. “But navigating around the helix is really tedious. It makes getting anywhere take forever.”

Pattison-Gordon is also ambivalent about the Randy Pausch bridge, which he said he prefers unlit. “That much rainbow is really excessive. It detracts from the architecture around it,” Pattison-Gordon said.

The Gates Center for Computer Science and Hillman Center for Future-Generation Technologies has already been awarded Gold LEED certification, with the 2012 AIA Honor Award for Architecture adding another honor to the building.