Montgomery Planning announces winners of the 2021 Design Excellence Awards, which exemplify the county’s best architecture and building design

October 21, 2021

design excellence awards
Universities at Shady Grove Biomedical Sciences and Engineering Building, The Darcy and The Flats at Bethesda Avenue, and The Wheaton Revitalization Project win top awards

WHEATON, MD –The Montgomery County Planning Department, part of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), announced the winners of its fifth Design Excellence Award competition at “Celebrate Design,” held on Thursday, October 21 at M-NCPPC’s Wheaton Headquarters. This year, an independent jury of accomplished design and development professionals honored three developments with Design Excellence Awards and two developments with special citations which exemplify Montgomery County’s best architecture and building design. The event was co-hosted by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Potomac Valley Chapter, which presented its Design + Leadership Awards at the event.

People sitting in green space in foreground; modern building in background

The Universities at Shady Grove Biomedical Sciences and Engineering Building received the Design Excellence Award for Excellence in Building and Site Design. The award jurors recognized the building, designed by Cooper Carry and Lake|Flato, for “defining the interior and exterior as part of the natural context, offering views to nature and informal yet inspiring places to collaborate.” The six-level, 220,000-square-foot-facility incorporates green-colored glass, reclaimed wood siding, and living green walls that mimic the natural environment. The LEED Platinum building, the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest environmental certification, is located at the headwaters of the Piney Branch Watershed and is dedicated to minimizing its impact on the adjacent wetland.

“This is the fifth time we have hosted our Design Excellence Awards and every year I am more impressed by how the quality of design has been elevated in Montgomery County,” said Montgomery Planning Director Gwen Wright. “This event is about raising awareness of how exceptional building design can lead to greater quality of life, economic opportunity, and environmental sustainability for Montgomery County.”

“Through high quality design, we create value in our neighborhoods and become more equitable through a strong public realm. We also become better stewards of our greater environment,” said Design Excellence project manager Paul Mortensen. “The independent jury had a tough job this year to recognize the best in excellent design and we couldn’t be more pleased with the awardees.”

Family cycles on trail past large apartment building

The Darcy and The Flats at Bethesda Avenue, designed by SK+I, won the Design Excellence Award for Exceptional Multi-Family Housing. The project’s mix of residences, retail, outdoor space, and expanded parking was once an underutilized public parking lot. The jurors noted that the LEED Silver development’s combination of low-rise apartments and high-rise condos creates an “active urban area that is walkable and with a well-designed human scale.” The building’s courtyard leads to the 11-mile Capital Crescent Trail, connecting Bethesda to Downtown DC and the site has a walkability score of 95 out of 100. The jurors also called it an “elegant urban infill project” that has “respect for the neighborhood and reestablishes the street grid.”

14-story Wheaton HQ and adjacent outdoor programming space

The Wheaton Revitalization Project, designed by Gensler Architects, won the Design Excellence Award for Public Project Design. This project was developed through a Public/Private partnership between Stonebridge, M-NCPPC, and the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. It includes a 14-story mixed-use building, a 200-seat auditorium, a 400-space underground public parking garage, and the Marian Fryer town square. According to the jurors, “This building, its lobby, and fronting plaza boldly heightens and celebrates civic engagement and public participation.”  The building, owned by M-NCPPC, is the headquarters of Montgomery Planning and Montgomery Parks. It also houses six Montgomery County departments. It is the first government-owned office building in Maryland to achieve LEED Platinum status.

Wheaton Library and Community Center

The jury also honored the Wheaton Library and Community Center as well as The Writer’s Center, located in Bethesda, with special citations. The Wheaton Library and Community Center, designed by Grimm and Parker and developed by the County Department of General Services, received the 2021 Citation for Innovative Public Colocation Design. This building combines reading, indoor and outdoor recreation with parking into one site, serving the diverse neighborhoods of Wheaton, Kensington, Aspen Hill, and Silver Spring. The jurors noted, “Unique programmatic combinations transform a suburban site into a community ‘hub,’ providing light-filled indoor spaces and exterior places well connected to interior program elements, all anchored by a color palette celebrating the multi-cultural composition of the community.”

Low rise white building with The Writer Center painted in red

The Writer’s Center, designed by McInturff Architects, received the 2021 Citation for Sustainable Building Reuse. This renovated mid-century modern building, which was previously a youth center that closed in 1970, now promotes the literary arts in the Bethesda area and offers no-cost workshops to military families. Its once uninhabitable spaces have been restored and transformed into additional classrooms, a lounge, and the creation of a Writer’s Studio. The jurors commented that it is a “simple yet elegant updating and transformation of a modest existing structure, skillfully integrating universal access, enhancing the civic presence of the institution.”

The Celebrate Design awards gala on October 21 both featured the winners of Montgomery Planning’s biannual Design Excellence Award competition and the annual awards given by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Potomac Valley Chapter, which co-sponsored the event. In addition to receiving the Design Excellence Award, the Universities at Shady Grove Biomedical Sciences and Engineering Building won the AIA Potomac Valley Chapter’s Honor Award and the PV Award.

Design Excellence Award presenters included Montgomery County Councilmembers Nancy Navarro (D-4), Andrew Friedson (D-1), and Craig Rice (D-2), all of which had award winners in their district. Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and Commissioner Partap Verma presented awards to the citation winners.

About the 2021 Design Excellence Awards

The award competition is part of Montgomery Planning’s Design Excellence initiative to improve the quality of Montgomery County’s built environment through design review, design guidelines, master plans and programs. The Planning Department’s Design Excellence Awards recognize exceptional work in architecture, landscape architecture and urban design that has been completed in Montgomery County over the past decade. The winning entries and citations were chosen in September 2021 by an independent jury of accomplished professionals in the fields of architecture, landscape architecture and urban design:

  • Matt Bell, FAIA – Principal at Perkins Eastman, Washington, DC
  • Tom Canfield, AIA – City Architect, City of Alexandria, VA
  • Luanne Greene, FAIA – President of Ayers Saint Gross, Baltimore, MD
  • Jair Lynch – President of Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners, Washington, DC
  • Trini Rodriguez, AICP, AIA, ASLA – Principal at Parker Rodriguez, Alexandria, VA

Review the bios of the jury.