“This is the first AIA chapter headquarters building ever built from the ground up expressly for this purpose,” says Frank Harmon, FAIA, about the building he designed for the AIA North Carolina chapter. The chapter officers and administrators move into their new space this month with an open house scheduled for Jan. 20, 2012. Harmon, who won a statewide competition to design the building, says he saw the commission as his chance to create “an embassy for architecture.”

Officially known as the North Carolina Center for Architecture and Design, the building sits near the state capitol building and government complex in downtown Raleigh. In addition to AIA chapter activities, the building also will house programs for area architecture students as well as exhibitions and events for the general public. “It’s a very prominent building,” Harmon says. “It’s meant to excite people about architecture and design.”

The long, narrow building occupies the shortest edge of a triangular lot and features a glass window wall facing a public plaza. Indigenous plants frame the spacious plaza, which was designed along with the rest of the low-maintenance landscape by Charlottesville, Va.-based landscape architect Gregg Bleam . “The building and landscape were designed together as the same concept,” Harmon explains. “The landscape is an extension of the building and the building is an extension of the landscape.” To that end, adds Harmon, the plaza serves as a functional event space where the chapter can “display sculptures, build a Habitat house, and start an annual program similar to PS1 in New York where young firms compete for the chance to build something.”

The use of native species extends to the built environment as well. The primary building materials consist of local stone, Cypress wood from North Carolina’s Great Dismal Swamp, and a zinc roof. Harmon has been producing environmentally responsible buildings for more than 30 years, so incorporating local (as well as recycled and reclaimed) materials is just the beginning of a litany of sustainable features that includes the first green roof in Raleigh, geothermal heating and cooling, abundant daylighting, cross ventilation in every room, rainwater collection for use on site, 90 percent recycling of construction waste, and keeping all of the earth moved during construction on site. In addition, the building’s energy-efficient Lutron lighting system is “complicated but very cool,” according to Harmon. “There are no switches,” he says a little incredulously. “If you walk into a room the lights go on in proportion to the light needed depending on how much natural light is available.”

Harmon’s simple, open floor plan also contributes to the building’s expected LEED Platinum rating. The 12,000-square-foot space is separated into two floors—a continuous open office space occupies the top floor, while the lower level is simply divided into two rooms. There are no screens or movable walls throughout, Harmon says. The open plan is meant to foster a sense of community among occupants, and it also makes temperature and lighting control more efficient. “I thought of it as a big country house where I imagined a Fellini movie taking place with all sorts of things going on at once. A small seminar can be held in one spot while another group is meeting to discuss sustainable building somewhere else, all while people are working in the upstairs offices.”