Innovation in Architecture: 2022 AIA Nebraska Excellence in Design

Content and photos courtesy of AIA Nebraska

AIA Nebraska, a Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, has announced this year’s Excellence in Design winners.  Eight honor awards, three merit awards and four citation awards were presented at the AIA Nebraska Excellence in Design Gala on November 4, 2022.

The award-winning projects were selected by the following San Antonio, Texas jury members: Matt Wallace, AIA, Lake|Flato, chair and members Sara Flowers, AIA, LPA Design Studios, and Stephanie Lemmo, Associate AIA, LA-N-D. 

This year the jury reviewed 125 projects that are judged based on a variety of features, including unique design, originality, extended use attributes, sustainability, budget and use of environmental surroundings.  

The Excellence in Design program is an annual event for Nebraska architects who submit built and unbuilt projects for consideration. Projects may be located from anywhere in the world. Categories for consideration include Architecture, Interior Architecture, Unbuilt, Details, Masonry, Emerging Professionals – Built & Unbuilt, Regional & Urban and the 25-year award. 

AIA Nebraska supports architects in fulfilling their commitment to excellence in design and livability in our buildings and communities. Further information on this year’s design winners and past winners can be found on The American Institute of Architects, Nebraska Chapter’s website at

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Bellevue Sustainability Learning Lab 

HDR | Bellevue University

The Bellevue Sustainability Learning Lab, which was partially funded by a grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust, raises awareness by educating future generations of students and citizens about how to conserve, enhance and restore natural environments. The lab is a 7,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor learning lab, consisting of a greenhouse, algae pond, wind and solar generating stations, and a native plants garden that gives students a unique hands-on opportunity to study renewable energy. The greenhouse building’s interior illumination bleeds through the glass creating a beacon that’s seen from anywhere on campus. The guiding principles — People, Planet, & Profit — helped orient decisions made by the designers, contractors, and owners, which meant that the project is beneficial to the community, good for the environment, and makes economic sense.

Jury Comments: The pairing of the simple, functional form of the greenhouse with the understated, white headhouse is delightful. This charming lab, which seems to be aglow no matter the time of day, will certainly help move the conversations around bioenergy forward.

Academic Excellence Center 

BVH Architecture/Gould Evans | Southeast Community College

The new 55,000-square-foot, Southeast Community College Academic Excellence Center in Beatrice will be the first building constructed in a campus revitalization masterplan for a small community college in rural Nebraska. The facility houses classrooms, labs, offices, a large multi-purpose space, and outdoor learning areas, supporting a variety of disciplines spanning physics and health sciences to music and fine arts. Recognizing its humble surroundings, the building celebrates and emphasizes the rural vernacular of Nebraska through color, texture, rhythm, and scale, both inside and out. With energy conservation at the forefront, the parametric analysis of daylighting, systems, and assemblies creates a path to meet the 2030 Challenge. Integration of PV-ready infrastructure moves the campus master plan to consider net-zero-ready solutions.

Jury Comments: This project really stood out for beautifully executing a simple massing strategy with great details on both the exterior and interiors. The jury also found the exterior fiber-concrete screening to be an elegant application of the parametric sun shading analysis.

Hoff Family Arts & Culture Center 

Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture | PACE

The Hoff Family Arts & Culture Center combines new construction with the renovation of a historic 72,300-square-foot, world-class building that features a 282-seat performing arts theater and a multi-use facility building into a space for artists and the community to intersect through planned events, art classes, and summer camps. Within the historic part of the facility, the existing wood posts and beams were retained and exposed whenever possible, while precast and steel were utilized to shape the high volume, large span performance and practice spaces needed for theater and ballet events. Acoustics and vibration were heavily considered during design, as well as programmable artificial lighting and maximum control of daylighting.

Jury Comments: This is a great example of how a new addition and an old historic structure can be combined in a seemingly effortless way. The new addition of the performing arts theatre was such a clean, contemporary parallel to the handsome existing structure.

NorthStar Foundation Expansion 

HDR | NorthStar Foundation

The NorthStar Foundation is a nonprofit providing after-school programs and summer camps for underprivileged boys in north Omaha. Due to the need for additional opportunities and space for the boys, the design team programmed and designed a building expansion from the original design, middle school grades, to grades third to eighth and high school students. The building expansion was tightly bound by an existing circular drop-off to the east and an abrupt property line and rising topography to the west. The six large classrooms at the north were stacked into a slender, two-story architectural form that stretches to the north between these two constraints. The stacked classrooms are wrapped by a circulation platform that cascades down into a wood-clad “learning stair” at its core and connects to the landscape stair along the east giving students an unconventional route to and from the classrooms.

Jury Comments: The addition creates an elegant solution by breaking away from the old double-loaded corridor and placing circulation along the exterior wall which, in turn, allows an abundance of light to cascade into the building.  The new footprint also responds well to the parking and dropoff sequence which makes for a better entry experience.

Hardy Coffee Kiosk 

TACKarchitects | Hardy Coffee

Sited on a busy interstate thoroughfare in Omaha, Hardy Coffee wanted a coffee shop with maximum visibility. To save money, they partnered with a developer who owned a former bank, which allowed them to add the new Hardy Coffee Kiosk structure within the former bank tenants’ drive-through canopy area. Using shipping containers, a double-stacked concept was developed to maximize the budget, and also the visibility towards the interstate vehicular traffic.  

Jury Comments: The clever use of using the shipping container structures as a billboard for passing motorists coupled with salvaging a derelict bank drive-through, potentially saving it from the wrecking ball, is purely noteworthy.

City of Omaha Police Department, West Precinct 

Leo A Daly | City of Omaha

The Omaha Police Department’s philosophy of community policing drove the design of its new West Precinct, a facility that exudes warmth and invites civic engagement while remaining secure and functional.  The building is divided into two functional zones– an extroverted public face, and a more introverted secure zone – differentiated through material choices and forms. Surfaces oriented towards the street express transparency and cooperation, core ideals of community policing. Ribbons of wood sweep grandly from exterior to interior, guiding members of the public to a service desk, community meeting room, and workstations. An outdoor pocket park doubles as a security feature, integrating protective barriers, benches, site walls and shade trees.

Jury Comments: This project has a very strong civic identity. The subdued palette of glass, brick, metal and wood are nicely detailed and work together to create both a sense of hospitality and of security.

Colorado State University Branch

RDG Planning & Design | First National Bank of Omaha

Prioritizing authenticity, impact and effectiveness, this branch at Colorado State University sought to represent its commitment to community and customer experience in a prominent location within the University’s student union. Relocating to a more condensed space, materiality was given a figural presence to mediate between scale and occupation, while preserving the existing bank program. Approaching the project, the novel tactile and spatial experience invites habitation. A columnar formation holds a busy corner; where a glass wall slides away, blurring the edge of public space. Reinterpreting the traditional bank typology, the new forum is akin to the openness of the “town square.”

Jury Comments: The wood feature elements stood out not only for their beauty and exquisite detailing but also the smart placements within the space, allowing the occupants to come into close contact with these very tactile forms.

Mid-American Energy Adventure Tower 

HDR | Southwest Iowa Nonprofit for Collective Impact

The Mid-American Energy Adventure Tower is a carefully crafted intervention that activates a previously unusable portion of the Missouri River riverbank.  The vision for this swath of urban wilderness is to activate it with recreational use, allowing citizens of Council Bluffs and Omaha to enjoy its beauty in ways not previously possible due to increasingly common flood events which drown the site in several feet of water.  This project aims to facilitate a dialogue between user and nature, creating a place where people can connect with — and learn from — the natural environment. Once complete, visitors will access the project by way of a network of elevated walks that reach into and over the landscape (above flood stage), connecting to the tower.  Upon arrival, visitors can find moments of quiet respite among the trees at the elevated base level.  The platforms above contain access points to a 100’ tall climbing wall, simulated caving environments, a tree-top roll-glide course, and multiple observation decks.

Jury Comments: A big bravo goes out to this project for not only creating an instantly iconic landmark for the city of Council Bluffs but also salvaging an underutilized swath of urban wilderness and weaving in ecological education through the recreational programming component.  We need to have more thoughtful interventions along these lines within our built environment.

UNMC Voigtman

DLR Group | UNMC

The Voigtman Building proper as well as the steelworks building, and adjacent addition redevelop the site into a space for education and workplace. Renovation of the 16,000-square-foot site creates a flexible work environment for students and employees alike. The Steelworks Building can be transformed into an incubator for research, providing spaces large and small with long-and short-term tenancies that make the most of central shared infrastructure. This model provides benefit to the tenants as well as maximize the use of the key infrastructure to better warrant its expense. Through the celebration of existing structure, the historic past of the site will live on in its character-defining assets.

Jury Comments: This project breathes new life into these pre-World War II structures and gives them a new lease on life with innovative uses and lovely in-between spaces. The proposed expansion in Phase 3 also nicely complements the other two buildings in scale and materiality.

Conagra Campus Redevelopment Proposal 


Centrally located between downtown Omaha, the historic Old Market, and the Missouri River, the former Conagra campus sat for decades as a unique, commercial greenspace in the heart of the city’s urban core. This scheme sees a multitude of green terraces step up the building, creating authentic biophilic connections and flexible commercial spaces unlike anything in the Omaha market.  At the building’s heart, an expanded atrium and offset core bring natural daylight down through the entire building and into its deep floorplates.  This dynamic space connects the multitude of occupants through mixed-use programs and amenities in a workplace conceived to address the changing needs of the office of tomorrow.

Jury Comments: The jury felt this project should be applauded for elegantly deploying such a wide range of environmental considerations including the roof garden terraces, the mass timber structure, and rainwater collection. Layering on an analysis of carbon footprint for this array of strategies resulted in a thoughtful, well-rounded project.

3_4_5 Table 

Actual Architecture Company | Tyler Lenczuk & Danielle Galanti

Furniture as a detail of architecture — part of the space-making strategy of the domestic interior. Named for its three components, four-sided bases and five-sided tops, the 3_4_5 Table is a modular cocktail table set composed of three geometric solids of different sizes. The irregular, geometric solids fit together like puzzle pieces to form a large, six-sided table, or they can be distributed around a room in different configurations. Designed for a home in Chicago, the White Oak veneer and the facetted, angular forms directly relate to the permanent millwork that animates most rooms in the house. The table components are less furniture and more untethered architectural details, affording opportunities for reconfiguring space while maintaining clear formal and material connections to the surrounding architecture.

Jury Comments: The 3_4_5 Table was a joy for the jury to investigate and fully start to understand how these three forms come together so flawlessly.  In addition, the flexibility inherent in the design allows it to be used in a multitude of ways by responding so elegantly to the space in which it sits.

Academic Excellence Center 

BVH Architecture| Gould Evans | Southeast Community College

The Southeast Community College Academic Excellence Center in Beatrice houses classrooms, labs, offices, a large multi-purpose space, and outdoor learning areas, supporting a variety of disciplines spanning physics and health sciences to music and fine arts. An exterior scrim system passively controls daylight while framing an exterior walkway and supporting elevated exterior learning environments in the void between building and scrim. Taking inspiration from the repetitive and linear rhythms of its rural surroundings, the vertical fins effectively filter low western daylight while creating dynamic shadows throughout the day. The exterior scrim system consists of 516 individual bent 3/8” thick aluminum blades with four typical panel types.

Jury Comments: These blades cast lovely shadows as well as reflect light from the building’s interior. They are thoughtfully designed and detailed to mitigate the sun’s impact on this west-facing façade.

Corporate Office Building 3 

Clark & Enersen | Farm Credit Service of America

Farm Credit Services of America Corporate Office is the third addition to a corporate campus connected via skywalk. Using two brick colors, set at varying depths, the façade is an abstract view of the Midwest landscape taken from the vantage point of a drone. The different depths of brick provide an ever-changing pattern of shadows throughout the day. The brick patterns depict the drone’s vantage point to highlight precision agriculture and the current use of technology to aid farming and ranching.  As one nears the entrance, the brickwork creates a rolling pattern to mimic the experience of looking down corn rows in perspective as one passes by. This is accomplished by rotating the brick horizontally in a repeating, offset pattern.  The brick façade then folds back to reveal the building entrance. The fold is created by corbelling the brick out to meet the angular fold of the upper façade.  

Jury Comments: This was the clear winner for beautiful masonry detailing. The design could be appreciated from afar but was most impressive upon closer inspection where one could really respect the execution and feeling of depth.

Omaha Urban Core Strategic Plan 

HDR | Greater Omaha Chamber

In the last 50 years, Omaha’s urban core has lost 21,000 jobs and is falling short of capturing the jobs and population it should. At the same time, Omaha’s once unlimited frontier is shrinking. A combination of physical and legal barriers is beginning to combine to limit Omaha’s ability to expand. Soon, Omaha’s 200-year pattern of robust growth through annexation will slow significantly. The Omaha Urban Core Strategic Plan is a comprehensive strategic plan reaffirming the urban core’s historic role as the cultural, entertainment, residential and employment heart of the region. To do this, it proposes a comprehensive mobility plan, reclaiming underutilized spaces, densifying the urban form, equitable and inclusive policies, and attracting jobs and residents. By planning the core’s transit and urban form holistically, it can be more efficiently planned to focus the strengths, weaknesses, and synergies of different systems into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Jury Comments: By enhancing underutilized spaces, expanding urban infrastructure, and stitching together fractured parts of the city, this project accomplished a forward-thinking attitude all urban environments should strive to attain.  If developed, the City of Omaha has a very bright future ahead!

Millwork Commons

Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture | Black Dog Management

Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture worked with their developer client to create a master plan for a dynamic new neighborhood in north downtown Omaha. With a five to 10-year timeline, the multi-phased project includes the renovation of historically significant structures, the construction of new mixed-use buildings, and the development of multi-modal transportation infrastructure (pedestrians, bikes, buses, and cars). The district will host a variety of uses — including office, retail, and residential — that focus on providing access points to all demographics. To achieve an active neighborhood, the design of the spaces between buildings is critical, and as such, the district will feature a series of park and plaza spaces, anchored by a community green, that will encourage interaction between visitors and residents alike and will host an array of cultural programming opportunities. This neighborhood has been known for innovation since the first bricks were laid over 130 years ago, and it will continue to be an authentic blend of innovators, creators, and residents that help build the fabric of our community. The new design will preserve the district’s distinct industrial legacy and gritty character while adapting to support Omaha’s next generation of businesses, artists, and entrepreneurs.

Jury Comments: This urban development, with its eye on repurposing the old and infilling it with new feels eclectic, innovative, and utterly walkable. Kudos to the team for planning this delightful mixed-use village within Omaha’s downtown.

NBC | Union Bank Place 

I.M. Pei and Associates – Davis, Fenton, Stange & Darling |

Ameritas Life Insurance Corp.

The NBC | Union Bank Place, was designed by internationally celebrated I.M. Pei and Associates of NYC (Pei Cobb Freed & Partners); Architect of Record was Davis, Fenton, Stage & Darling (Davis Design). This cast-in-place concrete structure is among the most recognizable and iconic buildings in Nebraska, situated on a narrow site on the corner of 12th and O streets in Lincoln. Conceived as making a statement out of the understated, this structure project honesty in its relatively simple form. The primary structural frame is defined on the east by the façade itself, and on the west by the building’s supporting core.  Clear spans connect these two elements, creating office spaces within that are light-filled and column-free. The structure opens itself up on its northeast and southeast corners by way of two massive, cantilevered structural beams, providing clear emphasis and hierarchy to the entry sequences. The north and south facades elegantly bookend the adjacent, urban frontages, while the east façade projects a stoic image of strength, honesty, and elegance. The landmark opened in 1967.

Jury Comments: This cast-in-place concrete structure created an elegant form when it was built back in 1967 and is very much still relevant to this day.  Big moves within the design, such as pulling away from the corner and creating a four-story entry sequence from the street ensured this building didn’t fall into the traps of walling itself off from the city; a feature which unfortunately was all too pertinent during the time it was built.  Moving up the facade this thinking shows up again along the detailing for the corner offices, which angle themselves towards the city, allowing more daylight to pour into the space.  The interiors also still maintain a fresh feel today, which is extremely rare for a building that is 55 years old.  All-in-all, a worthy winner for the 25-Year Award.

AIA supports architects in fulfilling their commitment to excellence in design and livability in our buildings and communities.

Further information on this year’s award winners can be found on The American Institute of Architects, Nebraska Chapter’s website