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AIA announces 2008 laureates

In December, the American Institute of Architects announced this year’s top honors, and by its choices, seems to be making a statement about the importance of interdisciplinary and sustainable approaches in architectural practice. Renzo Piano received the Gold Medal, Stanley Tigerman earned the Topaz Medallion, and KieranTimberlake Associates netted the Architecture Firm Award. The 25-Year Award, which recognizes a building that has stood the test of time, will go to Richard Meier’s Atheneum in New Harmony, Indiana. The awards will be presented at the American Architectural Foundation’s Accent on Architecture Gala in February at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

Renzo Piano stands presents a model of the High Museum of Art (left). The New York Times Building is his most recent U.S. project. COURTESY THE HIGH MUSEUM OF ART; FRIEDER BLICKLE 

In winning the Gold Medal, generally considered the AIA’s highest honor and a lifetime achievement award of sorts, Piano was recognized for the impressive scope of his oeuvre. “His work demonstrates the complete range of architectural concerns,” Thomas Howorth, chair of the nominating committee, said in a statement. “It is sculptural, beautiful, technically accomplished, and sustainable. He integrates the diverse disciplines that combine in contemporary building into cohesive, humane environments.”

Piano came to the world’s attention for his work on the Centre George Pompidou in Paris, which he completed in 1977 with fellow Pritzker Prize winner Richard Rogers. He has gone on to create an internationally recognized body of work, including his expansion of the Morgan Library and his design for the New York Times Building, both in New York City, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum in LA, and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. He is also involved in Columbia University’s controversial plan for a new campus in West Harlem.

Stanley Tigerman (left) leads a class at ARCHEWORKS (right), the alternative architecture school he founded in Chicago. COURTESY TIGERMAN MCCURRY ARCHITECTS

Tigerman won the Topaz Medallion, an award in recognition of an outstanding architectural educator presented jointly by the AIA and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. He has been teaching for almost five decades, including repeat stints at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Tigerman is a nonpareil instructor whose impact on the students he has taught formally and informally for so long is magnified many times over by the informed and passionate love of architecture those students, now teachers and practitioners themselves, bring to the world,” Jane Weinzapfel, principal at Leers Weinzapfel Associates Architects , wrote in her nominating letter.

But Tigerman said that more than his teaching, the judges were impressed with ARCHEWORKS, an interdisciplinary design school that he and Eva Maddox founded in 1994. The school brings together a range of professionals to tackle social issues through architecture, art, and design. Tigerman sees the medallion as a recognition of not only his work but also that of the school. “They realize that there are other ways to educate a designer,” he said. “It’s nice that they are still recognizing this approach.”

Stephen Kieran (right) and James TImberlake (left) are the principals of KieranTimberlake Associates, whose Loblolly house uses advanced prefabricated technology. COURTESY KIERANTIMBERLAKE ASSOCIATES

The AIA has honored KieranTimberlake Associates before, awarding it the first Latrobe Fellowship in 2001 to help the firm pursue its R&D–driven approach to architecture. That research-driven approach helped it win the Architecture Firm Award, in addition to its commitment to sustainable design. “They see the holistic approach to what we do,” partner James Timberlake said of the AIA. 

Stephen Kieran, another partner, said he is pleased to have won the Firm Award because of what it represents. “What’s really gratifying is that it’s not about a building,” he said. “What we’ve won so far has been for our buildings. This is an award for a collaborative process that creates all these buildings; it’s really an award about what we believe, which is the power of collaboration.”

With the recognition of these architects, the AIA may be trying to lead the industry in a more progressive direction, Tigerman said. "It's in the air," he said. "There are three things kind of floating around: The first is a multidisciplinary approach, the second is global issues, and the third is social cause. The AIA is sending a message that ethical practice and ethical behavior seem to count."

Richard Meier, who won the Gold Medal in 1997, completed the Atheneum in 1979, and the project has been lauded ever since. In 1979, it won a Progressive Architecture award, and in 1982, an AIA Honor Award. According to juror Peter Eisenman, it is one of Meier’s seminal works.

Matt Chaban