How Will this Pandemic Change the Way We Think About Schools?

Over the last five years I have spent time researching school dynamics and design, trying to better understand how the changing world will affect the future of teaching and learning. This research is meant to inform me as a designer so I can grow as a designer of learning environments and understand their future. How will the future of teaching and learning impact the built environment?

This current global pandemic has me interested even more as schools have been forced to virtual classrooms and content delivery. In the past I have researched virtual classrooms, content, and how this could have positive and negative effects on teaching and learning. Now more than ever this is coming to the mainstream. It has been amazing to watch our school districts locally and around the state take this life changing event in stride. In just a few weeks we have transitioned from the physical to a virtual learning environment. Content is uploaded daily and students are asked to be responsible for a larger portion of their school life. Is this an opportunity to look to the future and think about how we deliver content? Can school play a larger role in giving students the opportunity to explore their passions while absorbing content in a virtual classroom. Spend time with teachers on innovation, creativity, and learning to collaborate?

You might wonder why I am asking these questions. The answers to these questions could have an impact in how we look at the design of schools. This topic is not new, it is just something which has come to the forefront given our recent situation. The questions I pose are meant to challenge our conventional thinking at school. What opportunities lie within this disaster. Our schools are amazing. In just weeks they have made the transition and opened new doors. What would it look like if our schools were given 1-2 years to re-think the way they worked?

The Final Piece: The Nebraska State Capitol Courtyard Fountains

Its plan was ingenious in that it was built around the then-current and crumbling Capitol, which was in service until the outer ring of the current building was completed. Then the old Capitol was then demolished and the center tower was built in its place, along with four courtyards, all virtually identical. Construction was completed in 1932, eight years after Goodhue’s death.

As it was in the midst of the Great Depression, some murals inside the building and the fountains planned for the center of all four courtyards were not completed at that time. The murals were added over the years, so the last piece of the original vision to be completed was the fountains.

The office of Goodhue Associates produced a sketch of the fountains in 1933. The original drawing kept to Goodhue’s directive that the design should follow Middle Eastern examples of a shallow bubbling fountain, as he contended the scarcity of water in the Midwest is similar to the Middle East; high shooting fountains that promote evaporation were a waste of this precious resource.

BVH has been involved with the restoration and preservation of the Capitol  In 2014, BVH Architecture was engaged to design the fountains, based on the original sketch. The consultant team included Alvine Engineering, Big Muddy Workshop Inc., Waterline Studios, and R.O. Youker. The general contractor was Kingery Construction. Most of the project is not visible to the naked eye, as it entails mechanical rooms in the basement and large conduits to the vaults under each fountain. Some liberties were taken, such as casting the bowls in bronze, instead of the original lead envisioned by the Goodhue team.

The paving stones in the courtyards were salvaged from the two original Capitol buildings that preceded it, an homage to the history of the site. They were pulled up, new concrete pads were poured underneath, and the stones were re-laid.

Restoration or New Construction?

BVH Architecture specializes in new construction as well as adaptive reuse and restoration. It may be easy to consider this project as preservation, rehabilitation, restoration or reconstruction, according to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the treatment of historic properties. These are all approaches that BVH has mastered in countless projects in the past, including hundreds of projects completed over the last two decades for the National Park Service. There are elements of preservation and restoration, as in the paving stones of the walkways. But the key features are the fountains. As they were never built, this is not a restoration. Some may argue the validity of basing the design on a 74-year old concept, but this is a special case. As noted, Goodhue died many years before the building was completed, and the driving force for the completion after his death was to realize his original cohesive vision. We didn’t add to the site, or introduce a new element, we are now a part of the design team for the Nebraska State Capitol, stretching from Goodhue’s original concept in the early 20s to BVH in the 21st century. After 95 years, the Nebraska State Capitol is now finished!

Olympus Digital Media

Mid Century Modern in the Midwest

This article originally appeared on 

Search for modernist architect Edward Durell Stone and you will discover his seminal works, such as The Museum of Modern Art, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the American Embassy in New Delhi. Some of his works are praised, others dismissed, as he layered decoration and pattern upon International Style basics. A recurring theme is that he was the arbiter of good, or tacky, taste for the middle class. New Formalism, or maybe pre-Post Modernism. Robert Venturi without a sense of humor? But that’s another story.

What will not show up in your initial search is the beloved Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island, Nebraska. Stone designed this landmark in 1963, the result of a naïve yet ambitious building committee who simply asked the major galleries and museums of the nation who they would hire to design for them if given the chance. The resounding answer was Stone.

Grand Island is a city of 50,000 today, roughly half that in 1963, located on the Platte River and Route 80, about 90 miles west of the state capital of Lincoln. The museum collection is primarily composed of 3D artifacts relating to Nebraska’s pioneering days. Also on the 207-acre site is Railroad Town, a pioneer village set in the late 19th century, a recreation similar to Williamsburg, Virginia.

You see the building from a great distance, centered on a round island within a round lake, approached by a long boulevard that circumnavigates the lake. You drive half way around before reaching the pedestrian causeway that stretches across the moat to the main entrance. When leaving you drive around the other half of the lake, thereby experiencing the perfect symmetry of the square building from all sides. It is monumental and resplendent with Stone’s signature style inside and out. The two story, square building is wrapped in a portico of slender square columns supporting a massive waffle slab, flat roof with a deep overhang, and a pyramidal skylight rising at the center. Windows are narrow vertical ribbons from plinth to roof with spandrels at the second floor. The building was designed to be poured-in-place concrete wrapped in large marble slabs, but budget constraints precipitated the value-engineered solution of CMU structure covered with a textured off-white, plaster-like matrix with marble chips called Granulux – a wonder product of the era.

The monochrome exterior aesthetic was carried throughout the interior with white terrazzo on the main floor, interior structural columns finished with Granulux matching the exterior, and white carpet on several exhibit walls. The entry sequence takes the visitor through a wide hall with a low ceiling to the center of the building, then to the watergarden, where the space opens horizontally into the main floor gallery space, and vertically to the skylight, with streaming natural light upon the grand curving, floating double staircase, interwoven with four square pools of water with fountains and planters overhead. The second floor is dedicated to exhibits, while the periphery spaces on the main floor contain the gift shop, meeting rooms, restrooms, curatorial, and mechanical spaces.

BVH Architecture was engaged in 2007 to evaluate the physical condition, code, and ADA accessibility issues of the building, and to develop a master plan for an evolving mission. To the delight and dismay of the architects, the building was found in virtually original condition. Single pane windows, no insulation anywhere, extension cords everywhere, and a mechanical system that relied on a constant worldwide search for parts on EBay to keep the 40-year old system on life support. Restrooms were not ADA compliant, nor were there enough fixtures, especially for the busloads of school children that visit every year. The expanded mission included a catering kitchen and flexible space that could properly accommodate community gatherings, wedding receptions, and various other public and private events that had become a part of the life of the building. The challenge was to fit larger spaces and an expanded program into a building that could not be physically expanded, as changing the appearance or adding on was not an option if the character of the building was to be maintained.

As the project unfolded, the intent of Edward Durell Stone became more apparent. The scope of work also grew exponentially. For instance, the Granulux completely failed during construction, resulting in a custom invention of an exterior textured plaster and marble matrix to replace it. Walls were furred on the interior to accommodate insulation and climate control, and the deteriorated windows were replaced with double pane, thermally broken units containing frames that match the profile of the originals. A double stair was added on the east side of the plinth to access the island for outdoor events. Restrooms were made larger and accessible, and the cobbled gift shop was redesigned in the spirit of Stone. The mechanical system was also completely replaced with a high efficiency system.

A subtle, evolutionary move was executed in the watergarden. The four square pools originally did not have railings. At a depth of 18 inches, they were not needed according to code. The result was a sophisticated drama of sunken pools in the broad floor plain, with the curved double stair rising and contrasting to the gallery above. Legend has it that soon after the building opened, a nun was gazing up at the stair and the sunlight streaming in and fell backward into a pool. The reasonable but unfortunate solution was to add white steel picket fencing around the pools. While they accomplished their intent, they changed the aesthetic from the great western plains to pens in a barnyard. Everyone agreed the fences had to go, but safety was still a concern, so the solution was to enclose the pools with tempered glass. Upon entering the building, the transparent rails reveal the open plains, again putting the space and intent into perspective, a compromise that restores the feel and drama of the space.

Outside, the long-gone crabapple trees were replanted in the garden plots of the plinth and the long-dead up lights were replaced with LED, again illuminating this temple of history as it was intended.

As the rehabilitation project neared its completion in early 2015, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The rehabilitation of the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer was also recently recognized by Docomomo at the 2017 Modernism in America Award ceremony with a Citation of Merit. The museum is celebrating 50 years through 2017.


Generational Vectors

That’s not going away anytime soon. In fact, according to an article in Forbes, there will be a total of five generations in the workplace by 2020. Here at BVH, we’re well on our way. Our firm currently employs professionals from the Millennial (1977-1995), Gen X (1965-1976), and Baby Boomer (1946-1964) generation, with the fourth generation, iGen or Gen Z (1996+) creeping around the corner of employment.

But what do these “labels” teach us about meaningful interpersonal relationships with our coworkers? Forbes quotes the 2014 book, The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business by Thomas Koulopoulos and Dan Keldsen in writing:

“Generational thinking is like the Tower of Babel: it only serves to divide us. Why not focus on the behaviors that can unite us?” The article goes on to suggest: ..we transpose the discussion from the focus on supporting characteristics of each generation to one that is independent on age demographics and instead on behaviors.”  

Writing as a millennial, I occasionally feel the strain of outrunning negative millennial connotations. Articles with titles such as, “The Real Problem with Millennials at Work,” and “5 Shocking Statistics About Real Millennial Problems,” are certainly no help.

While it’s a known fact of anthropology that folks of certain time periods tend to have similar behavior patterns, I would argue each person’s generational identity should be observationally and introspectively understood as a continuous vector, rather than a stagnant point of definition.

The stereotypical attributes of each generation act as creative kryptonite when working in a collaborative environment.  

The richness of our culture is because of our diverse generations. Our varying ages and consequently, areas of expertise, are to be celebratedUltimately, working among multiple generations is a crucial part of our culture at BVH. Our modern-day process is a far cry from Ancient Rome in that we no longer have a Master Builder who oversees the collective group that works beneath him. Rather, we operate as a creative collective in which we desire to learn from those who have more experience in areas that others do not.

Architecture in the 21st Century not only requires refined design intuition but an expertise in new materialities, sustainability, evolving modeling software – both physically and digitally – and a close analysis of the projected behavioral patterns of the newest generations who will inhabit the projects we build today. The concept of a Master Builder crumbles under the necessity to stay relevant in a quickly evolving industry.

During my time as an architecture student at UNL, I primarily worked with individuals of my generation, as Millennials made up a majority of the 2016 graduating class. Admittedly, I was caught off guard by the varying communication and design processes present within the firm when I first began. However, learning to relate and creatively interact with individuals who have vastly different life experience than myself has been an invaluable experience and, in turn, transformed my understanding and optimism towards our multi-generational workplace. Even if it means enduring endless dad jokes. 

Graduating Grad School: Working While Completing My M. Arch

I have been working here at BVH for about 20 hours a week while pursuing my Master of Architecture degree at UNL. While it has been a lot of work, and there have been some stressful times, I think it has been an invaluable opportunity to experience both practice and academia at the same time. They have simultaneously helped me get more out of each one.

One of the great things about working while in school is that I have had the ability to learn the technical side of design. I have learned a lot of technical knowledge here at BVH, thanks to a lot of great mentors who have taught me a lot about how a building actually goes together. Because of this, I have been able to come to school with a competent knowledge of how buildings actually go together, allowing me to really spend my time in design studios exploring new possibilities and ways to look at design as opposed to spending my time on designing something that works. I have had the ability to learn the technical knowledge here at work and it has really helped me push the boundaries in school without feeling the need to spend my time learning the technical aspects.

Above: Diagram from my studio project this fall, where I focused on pushing the boundaries of what housing is in the United States, blurring the line between residential and urban lifestyles.

On the other side of things, going to school has helped me bring a creative mind to the work place. It can be easy to get caught up in the details of designing a building, dealing with clients and putting out detailed construction documents. School has helped me keep a fresh and exploratory mindset to the studio. Along with many others in the studio, we are trying to bring theory and practice together, in order to design to change the way spaces we create are used.

BVH has made a commitment to people, knowledge, and wonder, and those core beliefs are one of the main reasons I will continue working here after graduation. I want to continue to have the opportunity to learn and explore new possibilities in design. I’ll strive to merge those technical skills I’ve learned while working at BVH with the wonder and knowledge inspired by school to create designs that positively impact people.

I’ve had a great last two years, and I’m excited and ready for the future.


Documenting Old Structures with New Tools

My passion stems not only in the act of preservation itself, but in my belief that historical architecture directly impacts our quality of life. I believe that we, both as a profession and as a nation, finally realize that our built environment and design legacy are vitally important.

In April, I had the pleasure of helping organize, plan and facilitate the Association for Preservation Technology’s (APT) Documentation Technology Workshop held at Joslyn Castle in Omaha. Nearly 30 preservation professionals from around the country participated in the workshop which included a combination of presentations, demonstrations and panel discussions. Several BVH’ers, including Roger Slosson, Kelley Rosburg, Adam Sitzmann and Julie Cawby, attended. They learned about the latest technologies for obtaining the critical information and data necessary for historic preservation project planning, analysis and diagnostics. Everyone also learned how to assemble effective data gathering strategies to fit various project needs.

The historic Joslyn Castle was the perfect setting for our workshop.

Workshop and hands-on sessions included: the history of measuring and documenting buildings; best practices for 3D laser scanning (including a case study on the Washington National Cathedral); non-destructive evaluation with a focus on surface penetrating radar and infrared thermography; portable x-ray fluorescence capabilities, limitation and applications for preservation projects; architectural digital documentation technologies for project design and project management; and commercial drone applications for preservation projects.

Portable X-Ray Fluorescent analyzers allow preservationists to discern what materials and chemicals, such as nickel or Magnesium are present, and how they change layer by layer.


Infrared technology can be used for energy conservation, easily spotting heat losses or gains throughout a building’s envelope.


Commercial drones are becoming more widely used for documentation and analysis.


Accurately gathering this data in the beginning of a project’s process is critical. Here’s why: it allows us to fully understand the building’s current conditions. It’s the platform for analysis and the basis for developing preservation plans, restoration designs and implementing treatment recommendations during construction. Technology including 3D laser scanning and radar and infrared thermography make this effort all the more accurate, and provides an in-depth analysis of the structure.

An example of the type of scans a 3D laser scanner can produce.


21st Century Learning Environments

In the past few years, my fervor has grown by leaps and bounds as the old industrial model has started evolving through new pedagogies and curriculum. These changes are based on approaches inspired in part by new technologies, and in part by fundamental shifts in how applied learning can truly produce better results. Some of the factors expounding those shifts in education were highlighted in a recent EdSpaces conference I attended. I share these highlights here to help kickstart a dialogue I hope we can continue.

As most of us know, previous generations were primarily focused on the 3 R’s: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. The focus has now shifted to the 4 or 5 C’s, depending on which camp you are in: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking (and Compassion). The fundamental shift is from mastering content to the ability to work with content to create meaningful results.

Now, Project-Based Learning (PBL) – a teaching method where students understand the material by engaging in research, investigation and solving real-world problems for an extended period of time – is pushing the learner to internalize the content rather than simply memorize it, which ultimately produces results. PBL also transcends the typical subject-based curriculum toward an integrated one with an interdisciplinary approach. Students are challenged to engage in design thinking, requiring them to learn and practice empathy to drive toward deeper solutions through the stages of definition, ideation, iteration, implementation and very importantly, feedback. The richness of the investigation and learning inspires in a way traditional rote memorization and digestion of content never can.

Learning spaces are adapting to these new methodologies in myriad ways. Desks are no longer arranged in rows and columns, but grouped in clusters to foster the 5 C’s. Rooms are changing from dedicated content spaces to small, medium and large exploration environments with mobile tools that travel from space to space where needed. A connection to the physical world is now recognized as essential, as is access to natural light to stimulate our circadian cycles. Outdoor environments to further students’ understanding of what’s learned inside the classroom is also seen as invaluable to relieve the continuity of indoor environments with strictly controlled elements such as temperature and light levels. All of this further awakens bodies from the under stimulation resulting from the sameness of consistency.

These agile learning environments are empowering students to have voice and choice in their environments and how they approach learning. This empowerment leads to motivation over listlessness. When the students have a say in what tool they use, how they utilize it, with whom and even where they learn, the environment becomes a resource that propels them forward rather than an obstacle to overcome.

The implications for architecture are only starting to be explored around the globe as educators and architects work together to explore ways to make learning better. I have never been more excited for the future of education and to work on these environments. While the design process just got harder and the outcomes are not as easy to predict, the real benefits and results that society will see as a whole make the effort easy to endure. What are your thoughts? Shoot me an email. Let’s push this forward together.

Designing Responsibly: Reinvigorating a BVH Legacy

The screening was hosted by the UNL College of Architecture student U.S. Building Green Council group. To be frank, the film, while beautifully shot by National Geographic, was quite sobering, shocking, and upsetting. However, I did find a positive message to take away: Humans are resilient, the planet is resilient and if we work hard, together we can impact the trajectory of our future in a positive way. While things don’t always go the way one hopes, I refuse to give up.

Deon Bahr, one of BVH’s founding partners, was also at the viewing of the film. He told me about his house that he designed back in the seventies which spoke to these same issues we face today. For BVH, environmental responsibility has been part of our dialogue since its founding. It’s a legacy within our firm that we are re-invigorating in the work we do today. We see environmental responsibility as a baseline for design. We believe this is the right thing to do, and that it brings a service which adds value for our clients in terms of energy savings and the longevity of their facilities.

Bahrhausen, 1971 / Deon Bahr, AIA

With this in mind, BVH has adopted the AIA 2030 Commitment. This means a commitment to work towards achieving carbon neutrality on all projects by 2030. It’s a growing national initiative that provides a consistent framework with simple metrics and a standardized reporting format to help firms evaluate the impact design decisions have on a project’s energy performance. The AIA 2030 Commitment was founded by Edward Mazria, FAIA, out of his think tank, Architecture 2030, back in 2006. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, buildings produce almost 47% of our country’s carbon emissions. This means architects can have a significant impact on changing this pattern.

We at BVH remain optimistic. We’re committed to designing to positively shape, enrich and preserve the planet for our current population and generations to come. We’re learning to track the energy use of the projects we design and compare them to a national baseline. This helps us understand how our projects stack up against local and national comparisons. By tracking this information, we can continue to learn how we can achieve high-performance buildings.

While we cannot undo the damage done, we’re hopeful that together we can make movement towards positive change.


Northeast Community College: Sustainable, Holistic Building Design

A recent example of this idea is the new dining space at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, NE. The project seeks to design a student center that fosters connection among students, including both campus residents and commuters. Situated on the western edge of campus, the building acts as a terminus to the pedestrian mall. This provides a visual connection to the rest of campus, as well as allowing room for growth. The student center is located between two new residence halls, each designed for 200+ students in suite-style apartments. The first phase includes the residence hall to the west, Path Hall, and the student center. The hall to the east will follow in a future phase.

The site naturally slopes from the northeast to the southwest. We saw this as an opportunity to create an interior terraced concourse space which acts as the main connection between the two residence halls. This space additionally serves as student lounges, a computer lab, and pre-function space for the conference rooms.


The concourse space is separated from the main dining area by a partial height wall. This wall, referred to as the “nest wall” by the client and design team, functions as a multi-purpose design element: It divides space, acts as the main distribution for the underfloor displacement ventilation, provides seating and countertops, and also acts as the backdrop for the stage.

Because Nebraska is heating dominated, we designed the building to take advantage of passive solar in the winter and provided a large overhang for summer shading. The size, shape, and position of this overhang shield the glass wall from the harsh summer sun while still allowing the warm winter sun to penetrate into the space. To ensure the admittance of direct sunlight doesn’t result in excessive amounts of glare, we strategically located PVB (polyvinyl butyral) layered into the patterning of the facade. This special layer on the inside of the glass diffuses natural light, significantly reducing glare.

The roof structure was organized around the nest wall layout, working to provide a column-free view of the stage from the main dining area. In order to achieve this, we designed a radial structure. This system allowed us more freedom in the placement of columns and became an aesthetic feature of the space.

Each of these elements and strategies work together to create an integrated solution. They are interdependent to one another for greater gains. Ultimately, we’re looking to leverage this interdependence, to do more with less, creating multi-purpose solutions which produce thoughtful, human-centered, high-performance projects.

What This Brand Means

The answer is yes. And no.

While any good brand has those identifiable elements that we’re all familiar with, they mean nothing without connotation. What do those elements mean? Do they evoke trust or fear? Are they familiar or aloof, fun or boring, old and stodgy, or classically cool? A good brand is almost incarnational, giving shape, color, and language to an idea.

As BVH embarked on this long process of refining and redefining what it means for us to practice architecture, we found it imperative to be wholly authentic to who we are as designers and individuals. Our brand needed to be a visual representation of our collective personality. When someone encounters our brand, they should also encounter us—for better or worse.

So, what does our new brand mean?

It means we are responsive.

We don’t design templated buildings. Rather, we believe every design, whether architectural or otherwise, should respond to a project’s unique circumstances and time. Likewise, our brand is designed to be an agile, responsive system concerned more with consistency than with uniformity.

Utilizing a minimal, type-centric design, the BVH Architecture wordmark adjusts easily to changing material, media, platforms, and size restrictions. This simple fluid approach allows the logo and overall brand to perform as a much more complex system while still being recognizable and easy to use.

See the logo in action here:

We are proud of our history.

The foundation of the logo is Neutraface, designed by Christian Schwartz and released by House Industries. Designed after the lettering of architect Richard Neutra, the typeface boasts sleek linear geometry paired with a simple approachability.

The logo utilizes the distinctive lowered waists of certain characters to strike a balance between a vintage yet modern aesthetic. The midcentury-inspired design is also a subtle nod to BVH’s rich architectural history. Classic yet unmistakably modern, it’s a simple but beautiful expression of the balance we strike as architects.

We are optimistic about our future.

With the advent of the new brand came a name change—from ‘Architects’ to ‘Architecture.’ This seemingly small shift acknowledges that we’re not just architects but a team of designers and creative thinkers whose goal is architecture. It allows our brand to reflect the entire scope of services we offer as a design firm, from space and master planning to interior design, even in-house fabrication. As we continue to develop new areas of thought leadership and design-focused services, the brand will grow and flex to incorporate these as “sub-brands” reflective of our strong studio design culture.

We believe in better design.

Our stance as a critical practice means we choose not to compromise our design principles. Reflecting this ethos, the new BVH brand boasts an intentionality of design that is stripped down, restrained and inevitable. There’s a strong logic of assembly behind the choices in color, proportions, and use, resulting in a fresh and distinctive identity.

Like each of us, a good brand is full of nuances and personality. At BVH, it’s exciting to know that as we challenge ourselves and our clients to design and think more critically, these nuances are reflected in something as simple as a logo. These things matter to us, even if no one else notices, because while God might not be in the details, good design always is.

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