The Hall of Laureates


By the mid-20th century, mass famine was imminent in certain regions of the world. In an effort to curb this pandemic, Iowan, Norman Borlaug, pioneered the introduction of a new variety of high-yielding, disease-resistant wheat. The increase in food production that resulted has been labeled the “Green Revolution” and Borlaug is often credited with saving a billion people from starvation.

Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 in recognition of his contributions to world peace through increasing food supply. He was subsequently also awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, becoming one of only three Americans to ever have received these three highest honors.

In 1986, Borlaug created the World Food Prize as an international award that would recognize the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. In 1990, John Ruan Sr. rescued the Prize when its first sponsor withdrew and moved it to Des Moines. In 2001, thanks to a $5 million pledge by John Ruan III, the World Food Prize found a permanent home in the former Des Moines Public Library, renamed the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, in downtown Des Moines.

“The Hall of Laureates was designed as a place to tell stories,” said Mashal Husain, Vice President of The World Food Prize Foundation. “Everything from the stained glass windows, to the mosaics, to the garden have been intentionally designed to convey the story of food security, the history of global agriculture and the ongoing challenges of food scarcity.”

One of the key aspects of the project was converting the prior parking area at the site into a lush public garden that would increase the green space downtown and reduce the city’s ‘heat island’ effect. This was the vision of Janis Ruan, and to achieve this goal, the Foundation engaged the world renowned landscape architecture firm, Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architecture of Chicago, and lead designer Doug Hoerr. Hoerr Schaudt highly recommended that the Foundation retain Perficut to plant and maintain the garden.

Mashal Husain inside the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates.
Mashal Husain inside the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates.

“When we began discussing the planting and maintenance of the gardens with Mashal it became clear that she and her team had a global vision,” said Matt Boelman, Vice President of Perficut Companies. “We knew that the garden would become a global stage upon which the Hall of Laureates would sit. It had to be executed perfectly.”

“Among the many design aspects that had to be considered during the restoration, was the desire for the Hall of Laureates to become LEED Platinum certified,” said Husain.

LEED Platinum certification is the highest possible rating awarded by the U.S. Green Building Counsel for leadership in energy efficiency and environmental design. To reach LEED Platinum, the building must meet standards in six different categories including: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality and Innovation in Design.

“The World Food Prize’s core mission involves making the most of our limited natural resources to feed a growing global population, so it was important to us to model sustainability in our new headquarters,” said Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of The World Food Prize.

World_Food_3“The material that was removed from the parking lot was crushed and reused on site, ultimately diverting 1,400 pounds of construction waste from the landfill,” said Husain. “And recycled materials were used for all aspects of the garden, including the curbing, planting circles and fences.”

“The irrigation system for the garden even utilizes recycled water,” Boelman said. “Runoff from the property is collected in an 8,000 gallon cistern under the east staircase, which is then used to irrigate the gardens and flush the toilets.”

In 2013, The Hall of Laureates was awarded LEED Platinum certification becoming one of only a handful of buildings in the country that have earned the rating which were designed in the 19th century and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The Hall of Laureates has become a model for salvaging historic treasures and transforming them into usable, sustainable, cutting-edge facilities,” said Husain. “Now that we have created an appropriate venue to share our history, we begin looking ahead to the next 100 years and the future of humanity.”

This public garden is a tranquil oasis in the heart of the city, welcoming visitors from the Riverwalk and honoring the great legacies of Norman Borlaug and John Ruan, Sr.

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