OPN Architects honored with 2019 Leadership Award from U.S. Green Building Council

OPN Architects is honored to be recognized — along with the City of Cedar Rapids — by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) with a 2019 Leadership Award for our partnership in building back better following the Floods of 2008 in Eastern Iowa.

OPN Architects President Daniel Thies and Director of Sustainability Tate Walker joined 19 other honorees at the at the USGBC Leadership Awards Ceremony on Nov. 20, 2019 during the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo. Each recipient was honored for using green building and sustainable practices to improve quality of life for those around them.

Obama, Thies Greenbuild 2019

Prior to the awards ceremony, thousands of attendees gathered at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta to hear the keynote in which former President Barack Obama spoke with USGBC president and CEO, Mahesh Ramanujam, about sustainability and affordability.

“Our Leadership Award recipients remind us that taking action – big or small – has the power to change lives and promote a higher living standard for us all,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president and CEO of USGBC. “Cedar Rapids, a LEED-certified city, is a global model for how cities can bounce back and better prepare for unplanned events. Their story of community and rebuilding following devastating events has inspired resilience work around the country.”

The 2008 flood was a crossroads for Cedar Rapids. Even though the flood – the fifth largest natural disaster in our nation’s history – was undeniably devastating, it forced our community to reinvent itself at a time when we had become complacent.

Immediately following the flood, city, county and community leaders came together to chart our region’s road to recovery. OPN was charged with researching, reporting, and presenting possible options and plans for more than dozen city-owned properties. Working directly with the city staff, city council, and the appointed review boards, OPN designed an open, transparent, and participatory process to engage the citizens of Cedar Rapids. More than 1,200 people participated in this civic dialogue over a six-month period. They learned, discussed, and shared their thoughts and ideas, shaping future development and helping the city to prioritize flood recovery projects.

“As architectural practice we could think more openly, more creatively, about what we wanted to become, how could we be better, stronger, more vibrant,” said Thies. “To have the opportunity to participate in your community in the recovery from such an extraordinary event, not everybody gets to do that. We did.”

In the years following the flood, OPN led the replacement or restoration of the: Federal Courthouse, Cedar Rapids Convention Center, Cedar Rapids Public Library, Human Services Campus, Hancher Auditorium, True North, Metro Economic Alliance, Linn County Community Services, Cedar Rapids Animal Control.

When we reflect at where our city is now, 11 years after the flood, we are confident that we have made more progress as a community than we would have been if the flood had not happened. Instead of regressing, we looked to the future and re-invented ourselves. We used each flood affected project as a chance to not only rebuild, but re-invent and build back better. The result is a great testament to the power of design and the unique opportunity that architects have to help lead a community dialogue on how each project had a chance to create great projects, but also how they could each impact the surrounding area.

The sum was greater than the individual parts. We went from a city that essentially rolled up its sidewalks at 5 p.m., to one that has great performance spaces, rich cultural facilities, outdoor public art, diverse restaurants, terrific outdoor spaces, bike lanes, and defined neighborhoods with an abundance of urban housing options. While we may have achieved this eventually, there is no doubt that the flood of 2008 was a catalyst. The flood fundamentally shaped our city and firm.

We built back better, together.