Impact Awards recognize designs that catalyze communities

Three OPN-designed projects were honored with an AIA Impact Award at the 2023 AIA Iowa Spring Conference. The award recognizes projects that represent design excellence and directly benefit social, humanitarian, community, or environmental issues.

Each of these projects truly embody our vision to embrace our responsibility to care for each other and our planet through extraordinary design and a boundary-free practice.


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Marion Fire Station No.1

Honor Award

This two-level 21,000-square-foot fire station is the third for a rapidly growing community. The building, which also serves as the fire department’s headquarters is the city’s first new station since 1991, when it was around half the size it is today. Its location on the city’s northern edge was selected ensure that department continues to meet the national response time standards as the city continues to grow over the next decade. Biophilic design principles were employed to support fire fighters physical and mental health. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, cancer and cardiac arrest are the leading killers of firefighters.

Jury Comments: The project successfully elevates the civic building typology through thoughtful design, careful material selection, and well-composed spaces, expanding the public’s definition of a fire station. It clearly celebrates the firefighter’s service and commitment to their community. We appreciate the project’s ability to transition and extend the interior living spaces from inside to outside. The jury is impressed by the project’s impact and design excellence, particularly given its budget.

 Marion Fire Station No. 1 has also received an Honor Award from AIA Iowa, AIA Central States, and was recently published in both Architectural Record and “Contemporary Architecture: Masterpieces Around the World.”

Mount Vernon Wellness2


Lester Buresh Family Community Wellness Center

Merit Award

This multi-purpose community facility supports the physical, mental, and social well -being of residents as both an informal gathering space and fitness center. Located between a residential neighborhood and school campus, it was critical that the building be transparent and welcoming. Taking advantage of the site, the gymnasium is nestled into the topography creating a protected courtyard at the east, entry plaza to the north, and community garden and space for future pool to the west. In its first year, the center drew more than 1,500 members, some from 50+ miles away, and hosted more than 150 community or private events.

Jury Comments: The Wellness Center presents a beautiful and clearly resolved building, with two bars slipping past each other and integrated into the landscape. The result is a joyful and bright space that creates a place of belonging and draws in the community. The project communicates a clear concept resolved at multiple scales, a particular challenge given the building’s size and complexity.

 Lester Buresh Family Community Wellness Center has also received an Honor Award from AIA Iowa, AIA Central States, and was an Athletic Business Facility of Merit recipient.


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Lawrence County Public Library

Honorable Mention Award

The reinvention of a 1960s library in small, rural Louisa, Kentucky manifests a vision for a building that would be a beacon for learning in a place where light can struggle to break through poverty’s pervasive darkness. The renovation creates an epicenter for the county; embraces justice, equity, and care; addresses challenges head on; and highlights access and opportunity. The renovated library was open for one month before closing for a second time due to COVID in November 2020. After reopening in January 2021, the library saw a 25% increase in visitors compared to its last normal year of operation pre-COVID in 2019. The library has also been able to serve its community in unimaginable ways.

Jury Comments: “The Lawrence County Library showcases joy, whimsy, and a love of learning. The project’s transparent corner volume addition is a simple but powerful move that introduces a memorable landmark inviting the community inward. The project is a great example of a careful adaptive reuse project that leverages the qualities of the existing building and introduces components to inspire new life, excitement, and uses to the space. We appreciate the thoughtfulness of the transformation and how it was achieved with limited moves.”

 An OPN documentary about the Lawrence County Public Library was honored by the AIA Look Up Film Challenge as a finalist and People’s Choice Award winner.

 The 2023 AIA Iowa Impact Awards Jury

Chana Haouzi is an architect, educator, and fierce advocate that good design can and should be for everyone. Her practice and teaching promote socially engaged and inclusive design rooted in community and context. She is the founder of Architecture for Public Benefit, a benefit corporation dedicated to solving the unique challenges of mission-driven organizations and nonprofits.

Monica Chadha, AIA, LEED AP, is the founder of Civic Projects Architecture, a Chicago-based practice with a focus on high-quality design and long-term strategic thinking. Acting as the catalyst and incubating projects, Civic Projects Architecture is highly participatory, expanding the role of architecture to include project initiation, development, and neighborhood revitalization. Prior to starting her firm, she served as founding director of Impact Detroit and led project teams at both Studio Gang and Ross Barney Architects.

Iker Gil is the founder and director of MAS Studio, the founder and editor in chief of the nonprofit MAS Context, and the executive director of the SOM Foundation. He has taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, and the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Betsy Vohs founded the architecture and design firm Studio BV in 2015 in order to dedicate her ideas and energy to clients who want transformational design solutions. Vohs started Design Forward, which is the pro-bono division of the firm’s practice focused on doing design work for mission-driven organizations. To date, c has helped over 50 organizations leverage design to change the Twin Cities community.

H. Killion Mokwete is UK trained and registered Architect (RIBA chartered Architect) and a Co-Founder of Boston-based Social Impact Collective (SIC). Prior to co-founding SIC, Killion co-founded non-profit design practice Adativ and worked on international projects in Haiti, Togo and the USA. He is also an Associate Teaching Professor at Northeastern University where he teaches various studios including a current place-based and engaged graduate research studio working with local community partners in Dorchester and Roxbury in Boston.