Here are AN’s biggest stories of 2020

Hindsight is... 2020

Here are AN’s biggest stories of 2020

In a year full of big stories, of course the novel coronavirus pandemic would top our list. Pictured here: The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan was repurposed into a coronavirus field hospital, but shut down on May 1 after falling hospitalization rates. (New York National Guard/Flickr)

As 2020 draws to a close, AN has once again rounded up the typical end-of-year stories, but we would be remiss if we didn’t start with the largest of them all. Here are some of the biggest events in architecture of the year, and no worries if you don’t remember all of them; 2020 has been very, very long and divided into stark “before” and “during COVID” phases.

The novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) pandemic

Of course the spread of COVID-19 was the biggest story of 2020; how could it not be? After shuttering construction sites across the U.S., sending the global economy into a tailspin, and killing over 1.6 million worldwide, the pandemic has radically upheaved the way we work and live.

In March and April when the U.S. was first grappling with its outbreak, museums across the country closed (and most have closed again as we enter the second wave of infections), dining moved outdoors, and temporary triage hospitals were erected around the world (and were taken down just as fast) in everything from parking garages to convention centers.

The worldwide economy tanked, and so too did the intertwined architecture and construction industries; recent Architecture Billings Index reports from the AIA have charted consistent declines in billing every month since March, across every project type and region, with few exceptions. On-site safety measures, supply chain constrictions, and job site closures made construction even tougher to carry out, with most cities freezing all non-essential work for most of the year.

It’s easy to talk about how the pandemic has upended the office space world and forced architects and designers to work from home, but it’s harder to grapple with those we’ve lost to COVID. AN will follow this roundup with an “in memoriam,” but giants like Michael Sorkin, Enzo Mari, Vittorio Gregotti, and many, many more were all felled by the disease.

As closed cultural institutions teeter on the edge of solvency, designers start thinking ahead towards “post-COVID pandemic prevention strategies,” and the threat to personal health still looms overhead, unfortunately the biggest story of 2020 seems like it will continue into next year.

The former School of Architecture at Taliesin decamps for Cosanti and Arcosanti

Arcosanti, where the Taliesin School of Architecture is holding summer classes
Arcosanti as viewed from the southeast, showing the entire campus. The school is hosting online classes at Cosanti and Arcosanti during the pandemic, with plans to try to move to Cosanti permanently. (Carwil/Wikimedia Commons)

A falling-out between the former School of Architecture at Taliesin and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation led to the 88-year-old institution breaking ties and decamping from both Taliesin campuses in January.

After an outpouring of support from alumni and renewed funding commitments, the school reversed its vote to close at the beginning of March, changed its name to just “The School of Architecture,” and relocated to Paolo Soleri’s Cosanti and Arcosanti, a few miles from Taliesin West in Arizona. After a board refresh, the school has severed ties with the foundation and Chris Lasch is serving as interim dean until a replacement for Aaron Betsky can be found.

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara win the 2020 Pritzker Prize

architects yvonne farrell and shelley mcnamara, the 2020 Pritzker Prize winners
Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell pictured at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. (Andrea Avezzu/Venice Biennale.)

Irish architects and educators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, perhaps best known internationally as cocurators of the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, were named the 2020 recipients of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. This is the first time since 2010 that a duo has won; Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of Tokyo-based SANAA were named as Pritzker co-recipients that year.

Farrell and McNamara are the fourth and fifth female architects to be named Pritzker laureates, joining Zaha Hadid, Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA, and Carme Pigem of RCR Arquitectes.

Eva Franch i Gilabert fired as director of London’s Architectural Association

Eva Franch i Gilabert
Eva Franch i Gilabert (Stefan Ruiz)

After two weeks of rumors sparked by an internal vote at the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA) in London over her performance, Eva Franch i Gilabert was let go as director on July 13. Franch was previously chief curator and executive director of the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York City before being selected to lead the AA in 2018, the first woman to head the prestigious institution in its 173-year history.

The AA released a statement explaining its rationale after the decision, as well-known architects rallied to Franch’s cause in an open letter.

Their statement read as follows:

At the heart of the decision is the failure to develop and implement a strategy and maintain the confidence of the AA School Community which were specific failures of performance against clear objectives outlined in the original contract of employment.

Following the meeting and vote of the School Community on June 29, Council undertook a series of meetings and consultations with Ms Franch i Gilabert to give her the opportunity to outline her plans to rectify these issues. Unfortunately, the discussions did not provide Council with the confidence that she could fulfil her role as School Director of the AA, one of the leading architecture schools in the world.

Lesley Lokko resigns as dean of Spitzer School of Architecture at City College of New York

Photo of Lesley Lokko
Lesley Lokko (Courtesy Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture)

In other big academic news from this year, Ghanaian-Scottish architect, academic, and best-selling novelist Lesley Lokko resigned as dean of the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at City College of New York. Lokko, who was named dean in June 2019 to great fanfare, wasn’t fired but instead quit over a number of issues:

“My decision to leave Spitzer after less than a year is fairly straightforward: I was not able to build enough support to be able to deliver on either my promise of change, or my vision of it. The reasons why are more complex. Part of it has to do with COVID-19 and the rapid lockdown, which occurred after only three months in post. It’s hard enough to build social capital in a new place without having to do it over Zoom. Part of it too has to do with the wider inflexibility of U.S. academic structures. In an incredibly bureaucratic and highly-regulated context, change is as much administrative as it is conceptual. The lack of meaningful support—not lip service, of which there’s always a surfeit—meant my workload was absolutely crippling. No job is worth one’s life and at times I genuinely feared for my own. Race is never far from the surface of any situation in the U.S. Having come directly from South Africa, I wasn’t prepared for the way it manifests in the U.S. and quite simply, I lacked the tools to both process and deflect it. The lack of respect and empathy for Black people, especially Black women, caught me off guard, although it’s by no means unique to Spitzer. I suppose I’d say in the end that my resignation was a profound act of self-preservation.”

Architects speak out against Autodesk over Revit

Fed up with Autodesk’s failure to address concerns over rising prices and the sluggish pace of updates for Revit, a collection of 25 U.K. firms representing over 5,000 seats fired off a letter to Autodesk president and CEO Andrew Anagnost voicing their concerns.

“Practices would be less worried by these cost increases if they were mirrored by productivity improvements and a progressive software development program. Where once Autodesk Revit was the industry enabler to smarter working, it increasingly finds itself a constraint and bottleneck. Practices find that they are paying more but using Revit less because of its constraints,” reads the letter.

Eventually, the list of signatories swelled to over 100 firms, and Autodesk issued a response. Anagnost posted a blog acknowledging that the company needed to do better and promised to engage their customers more in the future.

The presidential election

We had to acknowledge that President-elect Joseph Biden’s choices for the future administration are bound to shake up planning, transportation, land use, environmental policy, and of course, any decisions related to the Mexico-U.S. border wall.

At the time of writing, Biden had tapped Ohio Representative Marcia Fudge to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development after her unsuccessful lobbying to head the Department of Agriculture. We’ll have a full breakdown available of what a Biden administration would mean for housing in the next few weeks, but in the meantime, our roundup of where the Democratic candidates stood on the issue should provide some guidance.

Similarly, the appointment of former primary opponent Pete Buttigieg to secretary of transportation could be a lifeline to beleaguered mass transit systems across the country, as many of the largest are crumbling after the collapse of their ridership during the pandemic (assuming the Senate falls into Democratic control or Republicans decide to agree on bailout packages). New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for instance, after warning of apocalyptic budget cuts for months if they didn’t receive $12 billion in federal aid, is now passing a $4 billion stop-gap budget and banking on a more favorable legislative climate.