In April this year, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) revealed the winners of its 2021 Interior Architecture Awards. AIA selected seven projects that they say display a “sense of place and purpose, ecology and environmental sustainability, and history”.

The firms behind this year’s winners are Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects in Berkeley, California, Trahan Architects/APAC in New Orleans; Marlon Blackwell Architects in Fayetteville, Arkansas; Aidlin Darling Design in San Francisco; LMN Architects in Seattle; William Rawn Associates, Architects in Boston; and Architecture Research Office in New York.

We feature the desert retreat with breath-taking views of the Coachella Valley and the San Jacinto Mountains, an historic shipyard reincarnation, Coca Cola’s swooping wooden stage at the Alliance theatre and the Ark, where the food provides an intense culinary experience in surroundings that offer moments of seclusion from the commotion of the surrounding market.


This shipyard reincarnation is centred on the adaptive reuse of six buildings in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighbourhood, where some of the most important naval innovations of the 19th and 20th century once emerged. The cluster of buildings, all constructed sometime between 1885 and 1941, is located on the site of the former Bethlehem Shipbuilding yards, one of the best-preserved industrial complexes west of the Mississippi River.

Balancing architectural heritage with modern demands
Faced with the challenge of shaping new homes for burgeoning tech companies, the team benefited greatly from the existing structures’ solid bones and the abundant natural light streaming in from sizable windows and skylights. All the buildings were carefully refurbished to accommodate a vibrant range of interior architectural concepts.

Building 102 is an architectural jewel constructed in 1912 and designed by the Beaux-Arts–educated American architect Charles Peter Weeks. Also known as the Powerhouse, the building originally was an electrical substation that generated compressed air and hydraulic power for the 69-acre shipyard.

Adapting the Powerhouse for a technology company in need of ample office space required the reimagining of many spatial functions. To do so, the team inserted a new heavy timber mezzanine along two walls that overlooks the main level and defines its entry and reception area. The building’s formal Spanish Renaissance Revival expression camouflages its earlier workaday life.

Giving new life
Nearby, in the interconnected series of buildings – Buildings 113 to 116 – demising the cavernous ship-building spaces with steel and glass walls has dramatically enhanced their spatial characteristics. The buildings house the research and development labs of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, which is focused on self-driving technology. The site’s naval and technological history makes it a fitting home for the company, and the adapted structures easily accommodate its needs for office space, communal areas, vehicle storage and laboratories.

Throughout the entire complex, the team endeavoured to retain as much historic material as possible while maximizing daylight and views. They worked closely with the Port of San Francisco, the National Park Service and the state’s historic preservation office during design and construction, ensuring that the respectful interventions, while distinct, complemented the colour and materiality of the existing structures.

Respectful preservation
Following the clearing of the aged machinery, switchgear and other equipment, the interior volumes were further enhanced through expansive windows and skylights. Many additional historic features, like inlaid tile flooring, gantry cranes and light fixtures were also respectfully restored.

Images by Billy Hustace
• Architect: Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects
• Developer: Orton Development, Inc.
• Structural Engineer: Nabih Youssef Associates
• Historic Architecture Consultant: Preservation Architecture
• Lighting: Architecture & Light
• Landscape: GLS Landscape Architecture
• LEED Consultant & Sustainability Services: Stōk Buildings 113, 114, 115, and 116:
• General Contractor (Core & Shell): Nibbi Brothers
• General Contractor (Tenant Improvements): Novo Construction
• Civil Engineer: Sherwood Design Engineers
• Mechanical Engineer: Engineering 350
• Fire/Life Safety/Code Consulting: ARS
• General Contractor: Orton Development Inc.
• Mechanical Design/Build Contractor: Allied Heating & Air Conditioning Co. Inc
• Electrical Design/Build Contractor: Helix Electric
• Branding: Macchiatto Strategic Design


The sensuous, sinewy form of the Theatre’s Coca-Cola Stage defies whatever expectations many have of live theatre design. The 650-seat, $32 million renovation of the Tony Award-winning theatre demonstrates how a centuries-old wood steaming process can create a striking new theatre expression that features about 30 kilometres of rift sawn oak strands now on permanent display at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta.

Daring vision
The curvy, undulating aesthetic required breakthrough laser scanning and projection to pull off the audacious look and performance-grade acoustics. The architectural vision belongs to Trahan Architects, led by founder Trey Trahan, FAIA and partners Leigh Breslau, AIA and Brad McWhirter, borrowing on the form-making ideas of celebrated furniture and design artist Matthias Pliessnig.

Wrapped intimacy
“Intimacy and envelopment drove our design,” says Leigh. “We wanted to wrap the audience in our arms and pull them together. The trick was how to make this affordable. Our budget was less than half of what initial estimates projected.”

Where there’s a will, there’s a way… and the way ran through tiny Plaistow, N.H. and a fabrication company called CW Keller. “They never used the word ‘complicated’ in speaking with us,” recalls Brad. “They weren’t scared by the complex geometry.”

Photo credit – Trahan Architects

Rapid payback
The confidence of the CW Keller team was rooted in extremes. At one end, the fabricator’s artisans understood wood bending. Their mastery of the ancient art could plasticise and form oak. But to what geometry? That task went to CW Keller’s engineers using modelling software, helping their counterparts on the shop floor precisely shape and install each strand within 1/32-inch tolerances.

Laser scanners and projectors made by FARO were indispensable. Laser scanning allowed accurate documentation of as-built conditions in Atlanta. CW Keller president Shawn Keller estimates, “If laser scanning could save us five field survey trips or change orders in the first 18 months, it’s paid for itself. That goal was met by a 10-fold factor.”

Laser precision
Laser projection allowed the assembly team in Atlanta to take fabricated oak panels and place them without reliance on measuring tape and plumb lines. The projector literally projects placement points on the theatre wall. Call it a virtual template.

Trahan project lead and design architect, Robbie Eleazer, likens the functionality to a spatial mould, eliminating the waste of registration rips, pallets and plywood sections. “We work more responsibly with a level of digital honesty no one can argue with,” he says.

Owner-friendly value
The Atlanta Journal, Constitution, hails “the Coca-Cola Stage as an opulent home for its world-class theatre.”

The word opulent might make some project team members smile. Trahan partner Leigh knows why, “Theatre design consultants tell us the room looks like it cost more than twice our actual budget.”

Today the Alliance Theatre earns rave reviews from patrons and critics alike.


The seemingly unrefined materials in this new fast-casual ramen restaurant, located in the bustling 8th Street Market in Bentonville, Arkansas, help create a quiet oasis. The simple materiality has been handled with care to shape a composed and richly textured space that focuses inward while creating a compelling dissonance between new and old.

Reflective setting for ramen
The market opened in 2016 inside a former Tyson Foods plant. Where processed chicken tenders were once churned out daily, a food hub now offers shoppers and diners exciting opportunities to share meals and build community. CO-OP Ramen provides a social and comfortable space, presenting ramen, a humble yet elevated dish, in surroundings that reflect its nature and popularity. While the food provides an intense culinary experience, the surroundings offer moments of seclusion from the commotion of the surrounding market.

Beaded steel curtains obscure views into the restaurant, shrouding the complete experience until diners enter the space. The curtains also reduce and soften the light entering the restaurant, furthering the calming aura and encouraging hushed tones among those dining within. Upon entering, guests are greeted by a wooden ceiling, which boasts careful joinery and detailing, and is illuminated by concealed fixtures. Light travels through the depth of the wood in the deeply coffered ceiling, forcing an interplay of light and shadow in its recesses.

Photo credit – Timothy Hursley

Warmth with wood
The wood’s warmth contrasts with the restaurant’s concrete block walls, a reference to its handmade character and the market’s industrial history. Its warm yellow finish resonates with the custom-made white oak furniture. While different, it is clear that they were both crafted by the same hands. A living green wall of 3.6 metres high helps soften the carefully laid block walls, and guests are provided views of the chefs at work in the open kitchen. A variety of seating, from booths, communal dining tables to bar seating is provided.

At just 185m², CO-OP Ramen has emerged as a destination within a destination. Its interiors are highlighted by a variety of spaces that are all aligned with the overarching design. Through the team’s design strategy, the restaurant offers an uplifting experience within an industrial remnant, lending it a clear sense of both humanity and scale.

• Engineer - Structural: Gore 227
• Engineer - MEP: HP Engineering
• General Contractor: Heart & Soule Builders
• Lighting: Taylor & Miller
• Acoustics: Daniel Butko


Perched on a rocky plateau near California’s Palm Desert, this retreat embraces the rugged climate and offers captivating views of the Coachella Valley and the San Jacinto Mountains. Informed by a simple brief that called for a modest home to serve as a retreat from the owners’ busy urban lives, this abode quietly contrasts with the surrounding landscape’s lighter palette.

Crisp geometry
Many camping trips on the site allowed the team to better understand the climate’s nuances, including the significant temperature swings between day and night and the positioning of the site’s pinyon pines and sculpture-like boulders. Enhanced by the power of the ever-changing light conditions, these trips shifted the thinking around the house, leading to a vision of it as a simple framing device through which to observe the dynamic terrain.

Crisp in its geometry, the house sits low to the ground to minimize its presence on the landscape, and it contrasts with the desert’s organic forms. The exterior is wrapped with wood siding that has been acetylated, burnt and wire-brushed to provide a highly textured finish that is both insect- and rot-resistant. Inside, the team opted for a mix of concrete, wood, stone and steel that works in concert to provide both durability and warmth.

Multifunctional roof
The home’s diagram is split into three discrete elements: a floating roof plane, a collection of wooden volumes and two concrete anchor walls. The square roof handles several functions, namely shelter from the intense desert sun and ample exposure through a single aperture at the pool area. Below the roof, seven wooden volumes define the home’s program, and the two anchor walls frame the entry sequence from the garage. The parallel walls not only lead to the glazed entrance of the home, they also frame the dining area and the grand view of the valley to the east.

Many who live in this remote region have pledged to keep the environment as intact as possible. In alignment with the owners’ wishes, no ancient pinyon pines or rock formations were disturbed during the construction process. On a site where wild meets constructed directly, the pool and other water features provide evaporative cooling and serve as fortuitous watering holes for local wildlife. The home’s open-air breezeways have not disturbed existing animal pathways, allowing jackrabbits, quail, and other animals continued access to their cross-ridge trails.

• Architect: Aidlin Darling Design
• Interiors: Client + Aidlin Darling Design
• Contractor: D.W. Johnston Construction Inc.
• Structural Engineer: Strandberg Engineering
• Mechanical Consultant: Monterey Energy Group
• Geotechnical Engineer: Sladden Engineering
• Civil Engineer + Surveyor: Feiro Engineering, Inc
• Low-Voltage Systems: Custom Controls

We thank the AIA for the information contained in this article. For further details visit:

Main image courtesy of Timothy Hursley

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