AIA Gold Medal to Ed Mazria

John Hill
9. December 2020
Edward Mazria, the 2021 AIA Gold Medal recipient (Photo courtesy of the AIA)

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has announced that Edward Mazria, founder and CEO of Architecture 2030, is recipient of the AIA Gold Medal.

December, even in a pandemic year, is a month when "year in review" and "best of" lists appear, and when the AIA announces its highest honors, usually given out at the AIA Conference on Architecture the following summer. The AIA Gold Medal, announced yesterday, is a refreshing for departing from the norm. It is being given to Edward Mazria, the architect best known for Architecture 2030, the organization he founded in 2002. (The name refers to the year when buildings should become carbon neutral in order to deter catastrophic climate change.) 

Architecture 2030's aims are "to achieve a dramatic reduction in the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions" in buildings and "to advance the development of sustainable, resilient, equitable, and carbon-neutral buildings and communities," as explained on the non-profit's website. As such, Mazria is being lauded for the initiatives and other actions of Architecture 2030, many of which have led to advances in the profession, rather than for the design of buildings, which the AIA Gold Medal tends to recognize.

Mazria's life story is a fascinating one. As recounted in a short film we posted a year ago, Mazria was born in Brooklyn in 1940. He attending Pratt Institute, where he studied architecture but also played basketball. He was so good at basketball he got drafted by the New York Knicks, but fate intervened when at the same time he received another draft notice: for the Vietnam War. In lieu of heading off to war, he enlisted in the Peace Corps and spent two years practicing architecture in Peru. 

After that South American experience he worked in the office of Edward Larrabee in New York but then departed for the West Coast, first for grad school at the University of New Mexico, where he also taught, then to the University of Oregon to teach passive solar design. Out of his research and teaching came The Passive Solar Energy Book, which the AIA says is "still heavily referenced to this day," having sold one million copies since its first edition in 1979.

Mazria founded his eponymous architecture practice in 1978, basing it in New Mexico and getting a considerable amount of work, much of it by clients wishing to incorporate the passive solar ideas he expounded. This work continued for a couple decades, but reading The Limits to Growth while vacationing around the turn of the millennium pushed him to learn more about the impact of buildings on the changing climate. That book shifted his priorities. 

After 2002, when Mazria founded Architecture 2030, he closed his practice and devoted his time to writing and lecturing — a lot of lecturing — to architects about the need for them to take responsibility for the emissions produced by the buildings they design. Architecture 2030's benchmarks for carbon reduction and initiatives to achieve it were eventually adopted by the AIA, first in 2006 with the Architecture 2030 Challenge (now called the 2030 Commitment) and then last year with "The Big Move" that is based on Mazria's ideals. Taking this last point into account, it seems the AIA is also acknowledging its own actions by conferring the 2021 AIA Gold Medal on Edward Mazria, a fitting recipient as we find ourselves less than a decade until 2030.

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