The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has announced the recipients of its top honors for the forthcoming—and, one would hope, less turbulent—year including the 2021 Gold Medal, Architecture Firm, and Whitney M. Young Jr. awards. The three honors have been conferred to Edward Mazria, Moody Nolan, and Pascale Sablan, respectively.
Throughout his career, Brooklyn-born, Pratt Institute-educated Mazria, recipient of the prestigious AIA Gold Medal, has helped lead the charge within the AIA—and within the architecture profession as a whole—in recognizing climate change and encouraging practitioners to take action in impactful, meaningful ways. An early progenitor of the sustainable design movement, Mazria’s early contributions to the field, many of which seemed radical at the time, included extensive research into architecture and renewable energy at the University of New Mexico and the University of Oregon. In 1979, his Passive Solar Energy Book was published and remains a wildly influential (it’s been translated into five languages) work on the topic to this day.
In the 1990s, Mazria helped to establish the AIA’s Committee on the Environment (COTE) and later went on to found Architecture 2030, a nonprofit environmental think tank that evolved from his (now shuttered) Santa Fe-based architectural practice, which he founded in 1978.
As detailed in an AIA press release, the influence of Architecture 2030, which has included multiple collaborations with the AIA, has been nothing short of monumental:
“Supported by Mazria’s decades of research, teaching, writing, and practice, Architecture 2030’s influence has shaped some of the world’s actions on climate change, including the United Nations’ 21st Conference on the Parties that followed the adoption of The Paris Agreement. There, Mazria presented his organization’s research on the greenhouse gas footprint produced by buildings created through standard business practices and principles. He delivered hopeful data and best practices while outlining Architecture 2030’s comprehensive Roadmap to Zero Emissions for the building industry.”
This all considered, it’s worth noting that Mazria, a collegiate basketball star, was drafted by the New York Knicks in 1962 but ultimately decided to serve in the Peace Corps as an architect—a move that can best be described as a loss for the NBA and a gain for humanity.
The bestowal of Columbus, Ohio-headquartered Moody Nolan with the 2021 AIA Architecture Firm Award comes at a time in which intensified scrutiny has been placed on diversity—or more specifically, a dearth of diversity—within the architecture and design communities. The largest African American-owned -and operated firm in the United States with 11 offices nationwide (Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Houston, Nashville, New York City, and Washington, D.C., in addition to Columbus), Moody Nolan and its diverse staff could be considered aspirational anomalies in a profession where Black talent has been historically underrepresented. Born from the merging of Moody and Associates (an architecture practice founded by Curt Moody in 1982) and engineering firm Howard E. Nolan & Associates, Moody Nolan has, per the AIA, “long operated at the critical junction of architecture and citizenship, demonstrating that responsible design requires a flawless marriage of art, function, and community.”
While Moody Nolan’s sizable, award-winning portfolio (a total of 320 design citations including more than 48 awards from the AIA and 44 awards from the National Organization of Minority Architects, or NOMA) is comprised of projects of varying typologies, one of its most impactful recent undertakings has been the Legacy Home project, an initiative—established in 2017 and fully funded by the firm and select partners—that involves building a home for a family-in-need in underserved neighborhoods located in each of the cities where it maintains an office, starting in Columbus.
Like Moody Nolan, Pascale Sablan, the recipient of the 2021 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award, is similarly advancing change in a field not historically known for racial or gender diversity. Moody Nolan itself received the same award in 1992, which was established to recognize architects and architecture firms working to address a range of social issues. As pointed out by the AIA, Sablan, currently a senior associate at New York-based S9 Architecture and previously with FXFowle (now FXCollaborative), was only the 315th Black woman architect to attain a professional architecture license in the United States. Over her career, Sablan has acted as an advocate, activist, and educator with her work taking her from Lower Manhattan (the African Burial Ground National Monument) to Cap-Haïtien, Haiti (the rebuilding of the Association of Haitian Physicians Abroad School Campus) and various other points across the globe.
Sablan, who has served in numerous leadership roles within both NOMA and the AIA, is also the founder of Beyond the Built Environment, an organization that “engages community through architecture to advocate equitable, reflectively diverse environments.” Among Beyond the Built Environment’s program is the SAY IT LOUD series of exhibitions.
“Pascale has been a leading advocate in moving the debate from merely acknowledging the challenge of the lack of diversity and representation in the profession and the wider built environment to being about constructive ways to use diversity itself to design solutions to these challenges,” wrote Alan Vallance, chief executive of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), in a letter supporting Sablan’s nomination for the award. “Just like climate change, diversity is a global phenomenon and not a topic relevant only to the United States or the United Kingdom. Pascale has recognized this and is now active on the international stage, working with organizations such as the RIBA and also the United Nations.”