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. , 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 , 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 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.