Peter Bohlin was selected today as this year’s winner of the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Gold Medal, the highest honor attainable by an individual architect. Bohlin is a founding principal of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, which has received over 400 design awards in its forty-four year history, including the AIA Firm Award in 1994.
“I’m so pleased and I’m surprised,” Bohlin said in a statement. “We all believe in architecture,” he added. “Like athletes, we all know that it’s hard work to make it look easy, and we’re all constantly striving to do that.”
Overseeing a 200-person firm with offices in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; Seattle; and San Francisco, Bohlin has championed a nuanced approach to contextuality. In New York City, the firm’s most iconic building is arguably the subterranean Apple store on Fifth Avenue, whose entrance is marked by a pristine, 32-foot structural glass cube that houses a transparent glass elevator and circular stair leading down to the store below. On the West Coast, he is also known for Seattle’s LEED-Gold certified city hall, a 200,000-square-foot building with a planted roof and gently curving curtain walls of steel and glass, built jointly in 2005 with Bassetti Architects.
These urban icons notwithstanding, Bohlin has done some of his most characteristic work in natural settings, earning plaudits for his environmental sensitivity and contextual materials. His portfolio includes numerous private residences, including a partially earth-integrated, 66,000-square-foot home for the Gates family in Medina, Washington, built with Douglas fir and surrounded by a recreated wetland.
In New York, a chain of low-lying buildings stretches along the edge of one of the Finger Lakes to form the award-winning Combs Point Residence. Bohlin’s rural institutional work has a similarly light touch: the Pocono Environmental Education Center in Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania, is a simple shed topped with an overhang roof and outfitted with a host of green features, such as south-facing windows and shingles cut from locally scavenged tires.
Along with the Gold Medal, the AIA also awarded top honors in two other categories today. The 35-year-old Pugh + Scarpa Architects garnered the 2010 AIA Firm Award, the highest award bestowed on an architecture firm, with the AIA praising its “seamless blending of architecture, art, and craft” and its “nurturing of in-house talent.” The Firm Award comes on the heels of Pugh + Scarpa winning the 2010 AIA California Council Firm of the Year Award in October. Finally, the AIA Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education went to Michael Graves, who has taught architectural design and theory for more than 40 years and is now a professor emeritus at Princeton University.