2015 AIA Honor Awards Announced

John Hill
11. December 2014
Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, designed by 2015 AIA Gold Medal winner Moshe Safdie (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

The American Institute of Architects has announced the recipients of its annual Honor Awards: the Gold Medal, the Architecture Firm Award, the Topaz Medallion, the Edward C. Kemper Award, and the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award.

Yesterday, first via Twitter then on the organization's website, the AIA continued its "long tradition of recognizing individuals and organizations for their outstanding achievements in support of the profession of architecture and the AIA" by announcing the recipients of five major awards. The actual awards will be given at the AIA National Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, in May 2015.

Gold Medal: Moshe Safdie

The AIA's highest honor given to an architect, the Gold Medal "acknowledges an individual* whose significant body of work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture." Safdie is the 71st recipient of the medal, following 2014 recipient Julia Morgan. As the AIA puts it, "Safdie first burst on the architecture scene with bold proclamations on the future of dwelling with Habitat 67," the building that to this day springs to mind when hearing the architect's name. Recent projects highlighted by the AIA in conferring the award on Safdie include the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.

*Although it is worded this way on the AIA's website, as of 1 January 2014 the eligibility requirements were changed "so that not only an individual but also two individuals working together will be eligible to receive the award."

Habitat 67, Montreal, Moshe Safide (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Architecture Firm Award: Ehrlich Architects

The AIA's annual Architecture Firm Award is described as "the highest honor the AIA bestows on an architecture firm, [in recognition of] a practice that has consistently produced distinguished architecture for at least 10 years." The award to South California's Ehlrich Architects acknowledges the firm's skill "that fluidly melds classic California Modernist style with vernacular design elements by including marginalized design languages and traditions." Although known for many area single-family houses, such as the Cor-ten-clad 700 Palms Residence in Los Angeles, the firm is responsible for institutional projects on the West Coast as well as in other locales, including a laboratory building near MIT in Cambridge and a 500-seat theater in Zaria, Nigeria.

675 West Kendall Street Biotech Research Laboratory, Cambridge, MA, Ehrlich Architects (Photo: Ed Wonsek)

Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education: Peter Eisenman

The Topaz Medallion is awarded jointly by the AIA and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) to "an individual—who must be living at the time of nomination—who has spent at least a decade primarily involved in architectural education and whose primary contribution to architectural education has taken place on the North American continent." Peter Eisenman, whose sometimes controversial buildings and track record on unpaid internships will probably keep him from receiving the Gold Medal and Firm Award, is described by the AIA as "the iconoclastic educator who’s done the most to bring rigorous architectural theory back to the forefront of academia since the early 20th-century Modernist reformation." In addition to his eponymous practice and authoring numerous books and essays, Eisenman has been a full-time professor at Yale since 2005 and has taught at Princeton, Harvard, and Cooper Union, among other schools of architecture.

City of Culture of Galicia, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, Eisenman Architects (Photo: Duccio Malagamba Architectural Photography)

Edward C. Kemper Award: Edward Mazria

The AIA's annual Edward C. Kemper Award is named in honor of the AIA’s first executive director (serving from 1914 to 1948), the award is given "to an architect who has contributed significantly to the profession through service to the AIA." Mazria is best known for Architecture 2030, an organization he founded in 2002 with the goal of reducing global fossil fuel consumption in the built environment and creating resilient developments that can manage the impacts of climate change. Per the AIA's award, "through research, compelling imagery, and tireless public presentations, [Mazria has] made it clear that architecture is the gateway to true long-term global sustainability."

The 2030 Challenge, Edward Mazria/Architecture 2030 (Image: Architecture 2030)

Whitney M. Young Jr. Award: Auburn University Rural Studio

This award, established in 1972, "has honored architects and organizations that embody the profession’s proactive social mandate through a range of commitments, including affordable housing, inclusiveness, and universal access." Founded in 1993 by Samuel Mockbee and D. K. Ruth, to this day the design/build program is based in Hale County, Alabama, having realized more than 150 projects. Rural Studio's hands-on learning combined with social activism makes it a suitable choice for the 2015 award – if anything, it is surprising Rural Studio didn't receive the award earlier! The AIA says, "the award was granted in recognition of the student-led design/build projects that Rural Studio established to address the dire needs of one of the South’s poorest and most underserved regions."

20K Houses, Greensboro, AL, Auburn University Rural Studio (Photo: Timothy Hursley)

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