25-Year Award to Eric Owen Moss's 'City'

John Hill
9. September 2020
Photo: Tom Bonner, courtesy of the AIA

Considered the AIA's highest honor for an individual project, the Twenty-five Year Award was created in 1969 to recognize "a building that has stood the test of time for 25-35 years and continues to set standards of excellence for its architectural design and significance." Buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Louis I. Kahn, Eero Saarinen, Frank Gehry, SOM, and others have won over the years. 

Last year the award was given to the Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery in London, which was completed in 1991 per a design by the firm of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. It was arguably the first Postmodernist recipient of the Twenty-five Year Award, coming one year after the jury declined to give an award, an act that appeared to signal that postmodern buildings were not worthy of the award. The Sainsbury Wing squashed that take on the non-award, though a session at the 2018 AIA Conference on Architecture also indicated the convoluted submissions process played a greater role than stylistic concerns.

Samitaur Tower (Photo: Tom Bonner, courtesy of the AIA)

With the 2020 Twenty-five Year Award going to Eric Owen Moss's collection of buildings for one client — husband and wife developers Frederick and Laurie Samitaur Smith — the style has shifted from Postmodernism to Deconstructivism. Although Moss was not one of the architects in the 1988 MoMA exhibition that coined the Deconstructivist style (a style none of the participants agreed they were part of or even existed), there are few architects who have embraced its chaotic forms and assemblies like the Culver City-based Moss. With the Smiths, he found a client who appreciated his design skills, gave him apparent free rein on an almost never-ending series of commissions, and transformed a former industrial tract into a collection of architectural delights.

As explained in the announcement of this year's award: "Initiated in 1986 on the Hayden Tract, a former industrial site bounding Central Los Angeles and Culver City, Conjunctive Points–The New City began as simple additions and subtractions to an existing collection of warehouses. With architect Eric Owen Moss designing or renovating one eclectic building at a time, the project set contemporary standards for adaptive re-use, launched the concept of creative office space, and positioned architecture as a method to uncover new social and civic opportunities."

A map of Conjunctive Points–The New City in 2011, on the 25th anniversary of the project's initiation. (Photo via archidose)

Starting with 8522 National Boulevard (top photo), which was completed in 1988, "many" of The New City's 30 interventions were completed by 1994, per the announcement, apparently making the ensemble eligible for the award. Nevertheless, this year's award takes liberties with the Twenty-five Year Award's definition, both in awarding it to multiple buildings rather than one, and in terms of the 25-to-35-year criteria, considering how just as many of Conjuctive Points' buildings came after 1995, or 25 years ago. These include Samitaur Tower, Umbrella, and other pieces illustrated here in the photographs accompanying the AIA statement. 

These facts aren't presented as an argument for stripping the project of its award; rather, they go to illustrate just how special Conjunctive Points–The New City is. Many architects get repeat clients, but few as enthusiastic as Moss and the Smiths, who have worked together for decades to create a special place of work in the city. Or as the jury put it: "The New City represents experimentation in architecture and the opportunity to create change for the future....It uses architecture to encourage creativity and thought."

View from the rooftop canopy of Umbrella (1999) overlooking Slash (1999), Stealth (2001), Samitaur Tower (2012), and 8522 National (1986) (Photo: Tom Bonner, courtesy of the AIA)
The 2020 AIA Twenty-five Year Award jury:

  • Samuel M. Miller (Chair), LMN, Seattle, Washington
  • Merrill Elam, Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Atlanta, Georgia
  • Rebecca Sharkey, EHDD, San Francisco, California
  • Dale Frens, patterhn ives, llc, West Chester, Pennsylvania
  • Michael Johns, Mdesigns + MWJ Consulting LLC, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Michelle Acosta, SmithGroup, Phoenix, Arizona
  • Trinity Simons, Mayor's Institute on City Design, Washington, District of Columbia
  • Kevin Alter, Alterstudio Architecture, Austin, Texas
  • Caleb Bertels, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas

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