Over two successive academic years, students in the third-year architecture course “design/buildLAB” transformed a post-industrial brownfield into a public park in the heart of Clifton Forge, Virginia, by working with the community to design solutions and build an amphitheater and pedestrian bridge. 

Their work on the Smith Creek Park project has been recognized with a 2014 Honor Award for Excellence in Architecture from the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects.

The VSAIA Awards for Excellence, also known as the Design Awards, honor the very best projects in Virginia that are no older than seven years, contribute to the built environment, and are clear examples of thoughtful and engaging design. The Architecture category award criteria focuses on aesthetics, adherence to the client program, proven and projected building performance, and concept development. 

Six projects received a 2014 Honor Award for Excellence in Architecture, including the Smith Creek Park.

The jury comments on the Smith Creek Park project noted "The beautiful, sculptural forms relate strongly to the site and amplify the sound of the creek.”

Award winners will be displayed at the Virginia Center for Architecture in Design 2014: A Retrospective of Winning Work, today through Jan.4, 2015. The exhibition will display the mid-Atlantic’s finest examples of architecture, interior design, and preservation projects from 2014 in the seventh annual exhibition featuring award-winning work from the region.

Under the guidance of Keith and Marie Zawistowski, both professors of practice in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies’ School of Architecture + Design, the two-semester design/buildLAB provides hands-on experience for third-year architecture students. 

Each year, a project is selected with the appropriate balance of technical complexity and scale that will allow students in the class to see the process through from concept to completion, from initial interviews and design work to the actual building of the structure. Projects are also selected based on their potential positive impact on a Virginia community.

The first design/buildLAB project in the Smith Creek area, designed and built in 2011-12, was the Masonic Amphitheater, which features a curving, sculptural form emerging from the landscape of the park that provides a public performance venue. 

The second phase, completed the following year, was the addition of a pedestrian bridge, park space, and creek access.

Following the completion of work on the Smith Creek Park, work in Clifton Forge has continued for the design/buildLAB. The students enrolled for 2013-14 designed a field house, including concessions and restrooms, for the Clifton Forge Little League. 

Just as two concurrent years built projects came together to form the larger Smith Creek Park, the 2014-15 cohort is expanding the Little League project, designing new fields adjacent to the field house that was completed during the summer of 2014. 

This award is part of the continuing success of the design/buildLAB. The first phase of the Smith Creek Park — the Masonic Amphitheater — was named American-Architects Building of the Year 2012. Smith Creek Park was also recognized with the Popular Choice in the Architecture + Urban Transformation category of the 2014 Architizer A+ Awards and an international AZ Award from Azure Magazine.

The Zawistowskis have also been recognized for their work with the program, receiving a national Design Build Award from the Associate of Collegiate School of Architecture, and the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects’ 2011 Award for Excellence in Architecture. The Zawistowskis and the design/buildLAB were listed among the Public Interest Design 100.